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Chinese medicine.

According to tradition, there was a time when patients paid their doctors when they were healthy and stopped paying them when they were ill because Chinese medicine seeks to preserve health rather than to combat illness. The classic authors say that not to act until the patient is ill is like waiting until the battle has started to make one's lance. In Chinese culture, treating illness is the province of bad doctors, those who do not know how to prevent them.

Chinese medicine has a very diverse pharmacopoeia, whose therapeutic effectiveness has been confirmed over many centuries by qualified doctors and a refined and demanding population. It considers that every substance is subject to the influences of heaven and earth, and can thus influence the human body and help to eliminate any disorders affecting it. These remedies are not recognized in western medicine and are often unknown, academically inaccessible and hidden behind incomprehensible ideogramatic prescriptions. Chinese medicine does use unusual remedies, which are the result of centuries of empirical exploration of the action of countless substances of animal, vegetable, or mineral origin. The copious written texts on Chinese medicine give detailed descriptions of their action on the human body.

The most highly valued remedies to increase vitality include lizards, sea horses, the horns of young deer or antelopes, the shell of turtles, etc. The most highly-valued treatments for fever include rhinoceros horn, and gallstones from the macaque Macaca mulatta and from some cattle. Equally surprisingly, remarkable anti-rheumatic effects are attributed to certain bones, especially those of tigers and leopards, and the sedative effects are attributed to some fossils, which are used to combat insomnia, palpitations, anxiety, and emotional disturbances. The hundreds of plant and animal products needed by a well-stocked Chinese pharmacy include leeches, snakes, scorpions, beetles, cuttlebones, oyster shells, pearls, the sexual organs of the male seal, human placenta, asses' buttocks, the ovaries of mantises, and many other unusual products, such as the dried secretions of the skin of a certain type of toad or the extremely expensive product musk, which the male musk deer uses to attract a female.

The legend goes that to discover new remedies the mythical Emperor Shennong tried 100 plants every day and poisoned himself 70 times. The Chinese deduced the potential action of substances from their taste or smell, rather than from their color or shape. Everything that is acidic, bitter, or rancid concentrates qi (the energy-matter that animates all beings and natural objects) from the liver and gall bladder, while things that are salty and nauseating acts on the kidneys and bladder. The action of a particular substance on the human body also depends on how "hot" it is. "Cold" (yin) substances are useful to treat "hot" diseases, such as fevers, rashes, and plethora.

In addition to the substance's taste, smell, and composition, it is important to take into account whether it increases or decreases the qi, and if they drive it inside or outside. Thus, a medicine that causes qi to rise upwards and outwards (yang) can disperse "perverse wind," favor sweating and warm the inside of the body. Remedies considered to be spicy-hot, sweet, and warming usually channel the energy upward, while bitter, salty, sour, and cold remedies make the energy move down. The remedies consisting of leaves and flowers favor movement upward and outward, while denser medicines (such as seeds and roots) usually have the opposite effect. The channeling also depends on the form of the preparation (the same product may lower qi when it is toasted with salt, but raise it when dissolved in alcohol) and also on the person's physical or psychic state.

These concepts, which appear strange to western medicine, have led to the description of the action of countless substances on the human body. They constitute, through a shared language, the point of union between the contemporary physicians and their predecessors, and allow today's patients to benefit from the therapeutic values of ancestral remedies. These concepts are ancient and rooted in a medicine that is thousands of years old, but they are not outdated, as they continue improving health effectively, meeting the main objective of medicine. Traditional Chinese remedies have been in use for longer than those of any other system, and they are an original and effective method of considering remedies, health, and illness.

The most appreciated remedies are innocuous substances that can be used by both the healthy and the ill. This is true, for example, of the root of ginseng (Panax ginseng), and wu wei zi, the magnolia vine (Schisandra chinensis), gan gao (Glycyrrhiza uralensis), du zhong (Eucommia ulmoides, the only member of its family, the Eucommiaceae, and which is endemic to the Chinese evergreen broadleaf forests), and ginger (Zin-giber officinale). And in the another category, there are substances comparable to many western pharmaceutical drugs, whose therapeutic action borders on toxicity.

The curative products used in Chinese medicine are rarely taken alone. A prescription usually contains from four to eight components, following a strict "imperial" hierarchy. Each prescription has a main ingredient, or "emperor," which is the main therapeutic principle. In addition, it has an ingredient that functions as a "minister" and which reinforces the action of the main ingredient and a "commanding officer" that reduces the possible toxic effects of the "emperor" while at the same time acting beneficially on the secondary symptoms. Finally it also contains and an "ambassador," responsible for correctly channeling and directing the other components.

Preparing a prescription is a very complex analytical process. The nature of the illness has to be examined, and the characteristics of each remedy must be considered, then in combination, and then the correct amount of each ingredient must be calculated. Thus, the starting point is the hundreds of classical prescriptions that gather together most usual pathologies, though they need to be adapted to the special features of each patient, rather than to each illness.
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Publication:Encyclopedia of the Biosphere
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2000
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