Understanding Chinese Herbs Medicine

Posted by Liu Willow on

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has been practiced for more than two thousands years. Its theoretical system was partly derived from the philosophy that informs Taoist and Buddhist thought and complemented through practice. The basic theories include Yin and Yang, the five elements, Zang-Fu theory, theory of Qi, blood, and body fluid, theory of meridians and collaterals, and theory of etiology and pathogenesis, etc. These theories have been applied to diagnosis of diseases and guide treatment with herbs, acupuncture, diet, and other methods. Among all of these treatment methods, Chinese herbal medicines (CHM) are most widely applied.  


CHM has survived over several thousand years. Even though conventional medicine has dominated, CHM is now not only still popular in China, but has also extended to many countries all over the world. This is because it has therapeutic effects on many diseases that modern medicine can not treat, with less side effects. In China, even in modern hospitals, CHM treatment has been combined with the method of modern medicine for some diseases, such as rehabilitation of stroke sequelae, prevention of diabetes complication, and many others. In the US and many European countries, Chinese doctors are welcomed by more and more people. However, TCM has not been accepted by most Western medical doctors with believe like "There is no scientific proof" or "That is just psychological effect".  

In fact, CHMs have been widely studied using modern scientific methods for a century. Most of the of common CHMs have been well investigated, and the bioactive ingredients and their pharmacological activities in these CHMs have been well known. In addition to the language obstruction to read academic journals in Chinese, I would say that the main reason for CHM's lack of recognition amongst Western doctors is due to the difficulty of understanding the theories and terminologies of TCM that guide the application of CHM. Most physicians in the West are too busy to learn TCM and CHM. As a consequence, they doubt abut the effect and worry about the safety.   

To do research for CHM, one should first understand TCM theories that guide the treatment of CHM. To scientists who are interested in research on Chinese herbs and trained with modern science but with no enough knowledge and clinical experience of CHM, the study is mostly copying methods for drug development. Therefore, they are often disappointed when the research shows that the biological activities of individual compounds isolated from herbs are less effective than that of modern drugs. Some may gradually lose confidence in Chinese herbal medicine. Others may wonder why a Chinese formula works better than modern drugs, when no compounds with better bioactivity were found from these herbs. 


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