Medical Theories with Thousands of Years' History


Chinese medicine was built on the foundation of thousands of years of Chinese medical practice. Combining the success of medical practice and ancient Chinese philosophies, multiple sets of Chinese medical theories were later developed. Until now, Chinese medicine is still widely used by the Chinese around the world. There are increasing research efforts put into this area by Western researchers in recent years.

While the Chinese medicine theories are not completely based on scientific knowledge and are in lack of logical mechanism of action, there are a few successful cases of pharmaceutical companies creating new drugs from traditional remedies. This makes more and more people seeing Chinese herbs as an alternative to health supplements.

In Western medicine, doctors try to find out the specific causes of diseases and conduct treatment on that particular body parts. However, Chinese medicine works in quite a different way, which takes a more holistic approach. This idea is applied at two different levels:

1. Human body itself is one organic whole, with all body parts interconnected, dependent and influencing one another pathologically. The body’s vital energy (i.e. qi) circulates through channels, called meridians, that have branches connected to bodily organs and functions. Maintaining the balances of all body parts is the key to stay healthy.

2. Human existence is closely tied with the universe. Human is just a part of the material world. When there is a change in the natural environment, human bodies would also change accordingly. For example, seasonal changes or geographical changes would result in different climate, water and soil composition, and would then influence our bodies.

Three Major Sets of Chinese Medical Theories

There are three major sets of Chinese medical theories, developed from three different ancient Chinese philosophical ideas:

1. Vital Energy Theory (Jing-Qi Theory)
Ancient Chinese philosophers believed that everything in the world was composed of Qi. When Qi is on the move, we can no see it. When Qi groups together, it forms different objects that we can see. Jing-Qi is the vital essence of Qi and the building block of all forms of lives. Human bodies are also made up of Jing-Qi. A considerable part of Jing-Qi is inherited from the parents. We inhale Jing-Qi from the air and generate Jing-Qi throughout the course of our life from food and drink.

2. Yin-yang Theory
Yin-yang Theory originated from the Book of Changes. Yin-yang describes two opposite forces that are actually complementary to each other in the natural world. Light and darkness or fire and water are thought of as physical manifestations of yin-yang. A balance of yin-yang within human bodies is the key to health. If the yin-yang within our body is out of balance, we would feel sick.

3. Five Elements Theory
The Five Elements Theory also originated from ancient Chinese philosophies. It presumes that all phenomena of the universe and nature can be broken down into five elemental qualities – represented by metal, wood, water, fire and earth. The Five Elements generate action and counteraction on one another.

Correspondence between body parts and the five elements are identified. If one organ is in trouble, it would affect other organs. This is again an illustration of the holistic approach of Chinese medicine.
The earliest record about Chinese herbs was dated back to 2,070 B.C. The legend has it that Shennong tasted hundreds of herbs to test their medical value and the record was passed down through the generations.

A Brief Understanding of Chinese Medicinal Herbs

Chinese medicine has evolved over the past 4,000 years. In addition to the herbal medicine (e.g. roots, stems, leaves and fruits of plants), Chinese medicinal doctors nowadays also make medicine from animal parts (internal organs, skins and skulls) and from other minerals. As herbal medicine still makes up the vast majority of all, the herbal medicine is what always inferred when people talking about Chinese medicine. There are over 5,000 types of Chinese medicine in China. Every herb has its own nutritional and medicinal values. The Chinese medicinal doctors would mix different herbs together for powering up or complementary purposes, so as to cure different types of diseases.

All the Chinese herbs are processed or refined, as to prolong the storage time, better preserve their nutritional values, or to get rid of any impurities or toxins within.

Before we talk about the values and functions of Chinese herbs, it is necessary that we first know of some basic theories about Chinese medicines. This will make it easier for us to choose the herbs that fit our body needs, and understand under what circumstances should we use a particular herb.

 

Classification of Chinese Herbs

Chinese herbs can be classified according to their functions, medicinal parts, flavors, etc. One classification method is called “The Four Natures”. The Four Natures are hot, warm, cool and cold. Hot and warm herbs are used in treating cold diseases whilst cool and cold herbs are used in treating hot diseases or detoxification. On top of the Four Natures, herbs can simply be neutral. Here we classify the herbs into three types based on their nature:

1. Cold and cool, e.g. green tea and bitter melon

2. Neutral, e.g. wolfberry

3. Hot and warm, e.g. rose, red dates and angelica root

Below is a table showing more details about the nature of each herb from the angle of Chinese medicine, as well as their health benefits discovered in modern research

Herbs Nature

Functions Identified by Chinese Medicinal Doctors

Health Benefits discovered in Modern Research
Green Tea Cool - Aid digestion and get rid of stomach fat.

- Detox colon and aid urine flow

- Polyphenol in green tea significantly lowers LDL (bad) cholesterol and raises HDL (good) cholesterol in both animals and people. It can also block cholesterol and triglycerides from being absorbed in the intestine, which helps lower one’s risk of clogged arteries and cardiovascular diseases.
- Catechin in green tea helps sensitize cells so they are better able to metabolize sugar, which is good for people with diabetes as it helps the metabolic system functions better.
- Aids digestion, speeds up energy expenditure and fat oxidation.
- Catechin is a powerful antioxidant, which helps delay aging.
- Catechin have various protective effects on neurons, potentially lower the risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
- Catechin can kill bacteria in the mouth, reducing the risk of tooth decay and bad breath.
Bitter Melon Cold - Reduce internal body heat and quench thirst. It is also applied when there are signs of excessive body heat due to heatstroke.
- Detox, and suitable for people suffering from tooth pains, sore eyes or constipation due to too much toxins inside the body.
- Bitter melon contains at least three active substances with anti-diabetic characteristics, including charantin, plant insulin/polypetide-p and lectins.

- Charantin and polypetide-p are confirmed to have a blood glucose-lowering effect whilst lectins can suppress appetite and hence reduce blood sugar concentration levels. All three of them can produce similar effects of insulin in the brain and hence are good for people with diabetes (Type II).
Wolfberry Neutral - Replenish the vital essence (Jing-Qi) in the liver and kidney. The deficiency of vital essence in the liver and kidney is deemed as one of the causes for dizziness and eyesight degradation in Chinese Medicine. The use of wolfberry can help alleviate these symptoms.
- Improve liver functions. Applied to patients with liver problems e.g. chronic liver diseases, fatty liver, etc.
- Enhance immune system
- Wolfberry contains betaine, which can regulate lipid metabolism and prevents accumulation of fat in the liver.
- Wolfberry is rich in carotenoid, known as zeaxanthin. The zeaxanthin can also filter harmful high-energy blue light, protecting healthy eye cells. Studies also show that wolfberry can provide health benefits against cataract and macular degeneration, that is associated with blindness due to ageing.
- Polysaccharide in the wolfberry enhances immune system. And both zeaxanthin and polysaccharide are good anti-oxidant.
- Wolfberry can also interact with drugs and may cause bleeding. Warfarin is one of the drugs that has been known to be reactive with wolfberry. People on blood thinning medication e.g. warfarin, should not consume wolfberry.
Rose Warm In Chinese Medicine, rose is associated with the liver meridian. The change in people’s mood would also affect the qi circulation in the body. If in bad mood, people would have qi stagnation in their liver, resulting in distended stomach or irregular menstruation. The function of rose is to regulate qi, nourish blood, improve digestion and regulate menstruation. - Taking rose tea consistently can help relieve abdominal pain and swinging moods during menstrual periods
- Rose contains abundant Vitamin A, B, C, E, K, which are good antioxidants. It helps reduce wrinkles and delay aging.
Red Date Warm - Chinese medicine theories deem both spleen and stomach as a part of the digestive system. Red dates can strengthen the spleen and stomach, suitable for people who lose appetite, with a weak stomach or frequent loose and watery stools.
- Replenish qi, nourish and produce blood, particularly good for old people with poor blood circulation.
- Tranquilize mind, good for those suffer from stress and insomnia
- The vitamin C content of red dates is 20 times of citrus fruits, and hence it is useful in boosting the immune system.
- Scientists identified multiple flavonoids in red dates, including spinosin and swertish, which have sedative properties. This explains why red dates are used for treating anxiety and insomnia in Chinese medicine.
- The flavonoid apigenin contains antioxidants, as well as anti-inflammatory and anti-tumor properties.
Angelica Root Warm - In Chinese medicine, angelica roots enrich blood and invigorate blood circulation. It is used in treating sallow complexion, dizziness and palpitation due to blood deficiency and weak liver.
- Angelica roots are suitable for people with irregular menstrual cycles, amenorrhea or dysmenorrhea caused by blood deficiency.
- Angelica roots can rehydrate the intestines and loose the bowel to relieve constipation due to intestinal dryness.
- Angelica root contains two substances that have opposing effects on the uterus. The volatile oil substance, which includes ligustilide, inhibits contractions, whilst the non-volatile substance, including ferulic acid, stimulates contractions. A research conducted in Japan shows that the net effect of these two opposing forces very much depends on the status of the uterus. Under high pressure, the use of angelica root tends to make the uterus contract. Therefore pregnant women should avoid taking angelica root. On the contrary, angelica roots can relax the uterus for women not conceived, thereby relieving the menstrual pains.
- Angelica roots may prevent accumulation of platelets in blood vessels, reducing the risks of atherosclerosis and coronary heart diseases.
- Angelica roots have abundant vitamin and mineral contents (e.g. vitamin B12, folic acid, etc.), which are helpful after injury/surgery to replenish red blood cells and increase blood volume. Though the ancient Chinese did not know about the scientific evidence, they included angelica roots in nearly all Chinese herbal blood-building formulas.
- People taking blood thinning agents and women who bleed heavily are also not recommended to take angelica roots during the menstrual periods as it may result in hemorrhage.

 

 

逾千年歷史的醫學理論


中醫學的理論源於臨床實踐, 亦受中國古代哲學很大的影響。時至今日, 中醫學在華人圈內仍被廣泛使用, 近年亦越來越多西方國家研究中醫學。雖然中醫藥於科學上的認證仍不足, 但已有藥廠成功將傳統的中藥配方研發成新藥,令世界各地亦越來越多人視中藥為保健產品。

西方醫學著重找出病源, 針對性為身體有病的地方進行治療。但中醫卻完全不同, 很著重整體概念,可大致分為兩個層次:

1. 人體的器官都是通過全身經絡而亙相聯系起來, 維持各系統平衡乃健康之道。
2. 人類活在自然環境之內, 是整體物質世界的一部份。當自然環境產生變化時, 人體也會產生相應之變化。因此, 季節的轉變, 不同的地區, 基於氣候, 水質及土質的不同, 會對人體產生不同的影響。

主要的三套中醫學理論

中醫學有三大學說, 從三套不同的中國古代哲學發展出來:

1. 精氣學說
中國古代哲學家認為, 世上一切都由氣構成。當氣運動時, 是肉眼看不見的; 當氣凝聚在一起時, 就形成看得見摸得著的實體。精氣, 指氣之精粹, 生命產生的本原。人體也是由氣組成。出生之前, 從母體獲得先天之精氣; 出生之後, 通過肺吸入天之清氣, 以及由脾胃吸收水谷之精氣。

2. 陰陽學說
陰陽概念源於易經,為存在於自然界兩種對立但又亙相補足的力量,光與暗,火與水,正是陰陽的一個形體化的代表。人體的正常生命活動, 是陰陽保持協調平衡的結果。如人體內陰陽失衡, 就會出現各種病痛。

3. 五行學說
五行學也是屬於古哲學範疇。五行以金, 木, 水, 火, 土五種自然界的物質為基礎, 以其”相生”及”相剋”的規律以解釋萬事萬物的一種世界觀。

中醫的五行學說指人體的各個器官, 有如五行一樣, 相生相剋。任何一個器官生病, 都會引致其他器官有問題。 這也體現了中醫以整體為觀念的基本特點。

 

簡單認識中草藥

有關草藥的記載,在中國最遠古可追朔至夏朝(公元前2,070年)。相傳神農嘗百草,並將其醫學上功效記下,一代一代承傳下去。

經過四千年的演化,現代中醫所用的藥主要由植物藥 (根、莖、葉、果),動物藥 (內臟、皮、骨)和礦物藥組成。由於植物佔大多數,中藥亦被稱為中草藥。中國各地使用的中藥達5000種。每種草藥有自己的營養價值及療效,中醫亦會將不同草藥複合成藥方,令功效更強,或亙補不足,醫治更多不同的疾病。

坊間所售賣的中草藥,都經過處理或煉製,目的在於延長保存時間,令其有效成分含量不變,及去除當中的雜質或毒性。

 

要認識中草藥的價值及功用, 是需要先認識一些中醫藥的理論基礎。這樣就會更了解哪一些草藥較適合自己體質,以及在什麼情況下使用什麼草藥會較恰當。

中草藥分類

中藥分門別類的方法有很多, 例如按藥物功能, 按藥用部分,按味道,等等。其中一個方法是按藥性分類,又稱四氣。 所謂四氣,指熱,温,涼,寒。温熱的草藥用於治寒病,而寒涼的草藥用於治熱病或解毒。有些草藥性質平和,不屬於在這四種藥性之內,稱為平性。就算一般常見的食物,也可根據其屬性分類。我們茶包所用的材料,也可按此準則作出分類如下。

草藥 性質 中醫學上的價值 現代醫學研究發現的營養價值
綠茶 涼性
- 幫助消化, 去腸胃中的肥膩
- 解大小腸中的熱毒, 利尿
- 綠茶裏的茶多酚,能降低身體內的壞膽固醇,及提升好膽固醇,亦有效阻隔腸道吸收食物中的膽固醇及三脂甘油酸 , 減低患上心血管病的風險
- 綠茶裏的兒茶素刺激細胞代謝血糖, 對糖尿病患者有幫助
幫助消脂, 加快脂肪氧化。
- 兒茶素, 是有效的抗氧化物, 能延緩衰老
- 兒茶素能保護神經系統, 減低患上腦退化及柏金遜的風險
- 兒茶素殺滅口腔細菌, 減低蛀牙風險, 解決口氣問題
苦瓜 寒性 - 清熱解暑, 用於中暑發熱, 生津止渴
- 排出身體毒素, 適合因毒素積聚而導致牙痛, 眼痛, 腸熱便秘之人士
- 苦瓜含有至少三種物質帶有抗糖尿的特質, 包括苦瓜素, 植物胰島素 以及凝集素 。

- 苦瓜素和植物胰島素能降低血糖; 而苦瓜所含有的凝集素,能透過抑壓食慾去減低血糖濃度。這三種物質能對我們的大腦產生類似胰島素一樣功效,因此對糖尿病(第二型)病人, 很有幫助。
杞子 平和
- 補肝腎不足以引致的 頭暈, 視力減退
- 改善肝功能, 用於慢性肝病, 脂肪肝等肝病
- 增加免疫力
- 杞子含大量甜菜鹼,研究顯示甜菜鹼能促進脂肪代謝, 防止脂肪肝。
 
- 杞子含有胡蘿蔔素和玉米黃素,可以抗氧化, 過瀘藍光,有助預防老年性白內障和黃班點退化。
 
- 杞子含多糖, 能增強免疫力,亦具抗氧化能力。
 
- 薄血藥用者不宜食用杞子。
玫瑰 温性 中醫認為,心情鬱結令氣機不暢, 氣聚於肝, 轉化為各種痛症, 如肝胃氣痛, 或月經不調。 玫瑰可用於理氣解鬱, 和血止痛。
- 長期飲用玫瑰花茶, 有助減輕經期時的腹痛及情緒不安
- 含有豐富維他命A, B, C, E, K, 有助抗氧化,減少皺紋, 延緩衰老
紅棗 温性 - 中醫角度, 脾胃同屬消化系統, 用於補脾胃, 脾虛食少泄瀉
- 益氣生津, 尤可治療老年人氣血津液不足
- 養心安神,心悸失眠, 有鎮靜減壓作用
- 含豐富維他命C,比任何柑橘類生果多20倍, 能增強人體免疫力。
- 科學家在紅棗裏找到多種類黃酮, 有鎮靜作用, 亦解釋了為何中醫會以紅棗醫治焦慮和失眠。
- 類黃酮亦有抗氧化, 消炎消腫之功效
當歸 温性 - 補血活血,用於心肝血虛所致的面色萎黃, 眩暈耳嗚, 心悸怔忡。
- 調理血虛而致的月經不調, 痛經, 閉經
- 養血潤腸通便, 用於血虚腸燥便秘
- 當歸對子宮既有收縮亦有放鬆兩個相反的作用。其中的揮發性油物質如ligustilide,能阻止子宮收縮; 而非揮發性物質如阿魏酸,則令子宮收縮。日本的研究顯示,究竟當歸對子宮的作用,會是放鬆還是收縮,乃取決於子宮的狀態。當歸在宮內壓高的時候會加強子宮收縮, 故孕婦不應服用當歸。相反, 用於未成孕的動物上,可令子宮平滑肌放鬆,以達致調經止痛的效果。

- 當歸能阻止血小塊在血管內凝結,有助減低動脈硬化及冠心病的風險。

- 當歸含豐富維他命及礦物質(例如維他命B12, 葉酸等) ,能促進血紅蛋白及紅細胞的生成, 增加血流量。雖然古時的中國人沒有相關的科學知識,但卻懂得當歸有補血活血的功效。故此,幾乎所有補血的中草藥方內,都會見到當歸的踪影。

- 薄血藥使用者,流血量大的女士在月經期間,應避免服用當歸,因有機會導致血崩。