TCM. Traditional Chinese Medicine

 TCM. Traditional Chinese Medicine in China.


Traditional Chinese medical education has a history going back thousands of years, and it has kept abreast of the development of TCM culture and Chinese civilization, which is rarely seen in the world medical history. Numerous practitioners have been trained and they have offered much in medical and health care for the Chinese people, and promoted development of traditional Chinese medicine. So far, it occupies an important place in national medical education.


A Brief History of the TCM Education System in China.

The ancient medical examination system took shape during the Zhou Dynasty fro 1100-256 B.C. Laid down In the Zhou Li Yi Shi (The Chief Practitioners Book of Rites) the requirements for TCM chief practitioners were recorded. Their compensation depended upon the response to their treatment, e.g. those whose patients responded well to their treatment without any failiure received the highest level of compensation, whilst those whose treatments were not effective received lower levels of compensation.

From the Qin to Han Dynasties 221 B.C – A.D 24 the teacher apprentice system prevailed, but by the Southern and Northern Dynasties 386 A.D – 589A.D, there was a systematic government run education. In the Sui Dynasty 581A.D – 618 A.D, the Imperial Administration of Health was set-up, and in the Tang Dynasty 618A.D – 907 A.D, the Imperial Administration of Health expanded and medical schools appreared throughout China. Through the Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasties 960 A.d – 1911 A.D, the medical education system was gradually perfected.

The Basic Principles of TCM, Traditional Chinese Medicine.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine all illness symptoms are based on the theory of eight principals.  They are grouped in the four pairs of opposites.

They are:-

  • Cold and Heat
  • Exterior and Interior
  • Deficiency and Excess
  • Yin and Yang

These four pairs represent eight elements and explain the nature of diseases and the location of pathological changes. These principals lay in the basics of differentiating the symptoms and giving the analysis.

  • Cold and Heat

These two principles indicate the nature of disease.

Manifestations of cold syndromes include absence of thirst, slow pulse, tastelessness in the mouth and many others. These are the signs of having an excessive Yin and may be caused by Yang deficiency. Cold syndromes may also be caused by pathological changes. 

Fever, thirst, red eyes, rapid pulse, red tongue, constipation, yellow urine are some of the symptoms of heat syndromes. They all all caused by a yin deficiency

  • Exterior and Interior

Exterior conditions can affect muscles, skin and channels. This refers to flu, viruses and cold. These conditions are caused by the invasion of the body by pathogens while Interior result from pathogens entering the interior of the body. These symptoms affect brain, bones, nerves and other inner organs.

  • Deficiency and Excess

These principles are used to analyze the bodies resistance to pathogenic factors. Deficiency is explained by the lack of something in the body. It may be caused by a weak constitution, low immune system, deficiency in Qi flow or loss of weight. Among the symptoms are weakness, tiredness, dull pain and  many others. 

Irritability, rapid breathing, constipation, pain in the chest and abdomen are the main symptoms of Excess. To give you a clear idea here is an example: a common; fast developing cold with high temperature, sore throat and sweating.

  • Yin and Yang

Exterior, Heat and Excess belong under Yang; Interior, Cold and Deficiency belong to Yin. 

People who belong to the yang category are usually dynamic and outgoing. They are extremely energetic and choose careers to display their abilities. It is often very hard for them to sit back and relax. That’s why the symptoms of diseases are usually sudden and among them are:- fever, thirst, swellings and other Yang symptoms. Yang people need to take frequent breaks and learn to calm down, meditate from time to time. Chinese herbs will help them achieve this change to their hectic lifestyle.

Yin people on the contrary are pretty quiet. They choose careers where they can be supportive and more reserved in their outlook on life. They are happy with their quiet lives and go with the flow. The problem may be in their Qi flow. In order to strengthen their Qi flow and yang they also should take special herbs.

It doesn’t mean that being reserved or active is either bad or good , all our emotions and states are natural and given to us by God. Sometimes we can become tired and quiet and sometimes we feel, joyful, happy and are dynamic.


The only thing that is very important is balance.

Traditional vs. Western Medicine: Which One Is Easier for Chinese Consumers to Swallow?


"He who takes medicine and neglects to diet wastes the skills of his doctors." This Chinese proverb highlights one of the key findings of a new study exploring how consumers in China choose between traditional Chinese remedies and Western medicine when seeking treatment.

In "Health Remedies: From Perceptions to Preference to a Healthy Lifestyle," Wharton marketing professor Lisa Bolton, New York University doctoral student Wenbo Wang and Peking University marketing professor Hean Tat Keh looked at how people's perceptions of a given remedy, their perceptions of their illness and other factors influence medical decision making. The researchers also examined how the choice of remedy, be it Western medicine (WM) or traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), impacts the decision to follow a healthy lifestyle.

They found that on the whole, Chinese consumers tend to prefer TCM but will opt for Western medicine in particular situations, such as when they are hoping to quickly alleviate their symptoms or when they are certain about what is making them sick.

Their study has implications beyond the Chinese market, Bolton and her coauthors note. "Consumers today face a wide array of choice options. Proliferation in choice extends to remedies for illness or disease -- including drugs, supplements, radiation, surgery, chiropractics, acupuncture, massage therapy, homeopathy, Ayurveda and traditional Chinese medicine, to name a few. In many countries of the world, medical pluralism is the norm, with Western and traditional medicine existing side-by-side in the marketplace. Even in countries with a dominant medical tradition, complementary and alternative medicines are increasingly available," the authors write.

According to Bolton, China was an especially good place to study what influences people's health decisions, because Western and traditional Chinese medicine operate alongside each other there, and both forms of medicine are respected. In fact, she says, people will pick what doctor or hospital to go to depending on whether they are looking for a Western or traditional approach.

"In China, TCM and WM have coexisted for more than 200 years ... and both types of medication are licensed as patent medicine and are widely available at pharmacies, hospitals and other outlets," the researchers write. "The majority of Chinese consumers purchase over-the-counter drugs for self-care, and the market performance of the two types of health remedies varies significantly across illnesses."

Scientific vs. Holistic Approach

As a backdrop to their research, which arose from collaboration initiated by the Guanghua-Wharton Joint Research Initiative, Bolton and her coauthors present a basic tutorial on the differences between Western and traditional Chinese medicine. Western medicine "is closely linked to the scientific method and emphasizes empirically measurable biochemical processes that drive disease, its treatment and health," they write, adding that this form of treatment "views all medical phenomena as cause-effect sequences" and relies on drugs, radiation and surgery to alleviate symptoms and cure disease.

"On the other hand, TCM favors a holistic approach, views the universe and body philosophically and develops inductive tools and methods ... to guide restoring the total balance of the body." In Chinese medicine, they add, "the correct balance between Yin and Yang make up the vital energy, 'Qi,' an essential life-sustaining substance of which all things are made." Traditional remedies include herbal medicines, acupuncture, massage and moxibustion, an herbal heat therapy. Herbal medicines account for about 90% of the Chinese drug market, according to the paper. In China, drug labels are legally required to include all ingredients, whether what's inside the bottle is a pharmaceutical product or an age-old remedy.

The researchers analyzed consumer perceptions and preferences by presenting small groups of undergraduate and graduate students in Beijing with various combinations of questions and health scenarios. For instance, the students were asked what category of medicine they preferred for a variety of conditions. They favored traditional Chinese medicine for rheumatoid arthritis and insomnia, and Western medicine for the common cold, coronary heart disease and diarrhea.

Treatment goals and patients' time frames influenced their preferences. "Consumers perceive TCM (versus WM) to have slower action and milder side effects and a greater focus on treating the underlying illness versus alleviating the symptoms," the authors note. Likewise, when consumers were uncertain about their condition and not in any particular hurry for a resolution, they preferred traditional remedies.

"You're matching your goal with the product," Bolton says. "If you want a quick fix, you go for the Western medicine." For instance, a person may want quick relief from insomnia and choose to take a sleeping pill if he has to go on a long drive several days from now, as opposed to looking for a slower-acting remedy (stress reduction techniques, for instance) that may eventually address what's causing the sleeplessness.

The 'Boomerang' Effect

Bolton and her colleagues also discovered that the decision to select Western medicine over traditional remedies has broader implications for health.

In one experiment, they asked participants to read hypothetical scenarios involving a patient's high blood pressure diagnosis and treatment advice based on either a Western medicine or TCM approach. Half of the scenarios in each group (WM and TCM) also included an "intervention" -- additional information about health-protective behaviors that would complement the proposed treatment. Participants were then asked to gauge the patient's motivation to follow through on the treatment advice and to what degree they would recognize the importance of healthy lifestyle factors. 

The researchers found that, in general, Western medicine (versus TCM) "reduces the perceived importance of, and motivation to engage in, complementary health-protective behavior, thereby undermining a healthy lifestyle." In other words, patients taking pills for their high blood pressure may be less apt to see the need to exercise, watch their diet or lose weight.

"We know what remedies are supposed to do. They are supposed to improve your health, but Western drugs can actually backfire and boomerang healthy lifestyle intentions," Bolton says. For example, people taking cholesterol drugs may figure they don't need to cut fat from their diet because the pills are protecting them from heart disease.

This "boomerang" effect has been documented in other instances, Bolton adds. She has researched how the marketing of products such as nicotine replacement patches, debt consolidation loans and identity theft products influence consumer perceptions and risky behavior. "Debt consolidation, identity theft protection and drugs should all reduce your risk, but they can, in fact, increase your risk because you say to yourself, 'Well, the risk is manageable so I don't need to worry about it.'"

Traditional Chinese medicine "is seen as holistic, and when you take a certain kind of medicine you are told specifically what behavior to engage in," she notes. For instance, a patient may be advised to avoid greasy foods in addition to taking an herbal remedy. If a consumer sees medicine as a "supplement to other things they need to do, then they are going to be more likely to engage in healthy choices."

While the study was done in China, the findings have implications for the U.S. and elsewhere, given the tremendous growth in the popularity of alternative medicine. "The world market for TCM is estimated at over $23 billion, with most of the growth coming from Europe and the USA," the researchers note. In the U.S., 36% of adults use some form of complementary or alternative medicine, according to a survey published in 2004 by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, a branch of the National Institutes of Health. That increased to 62% when use of megavitamins and prayer (specifically for health reasons) were added to the definition of alternative medicine. Ruth L. Kirschstein, the center's acting director, testified to a Congressional committee in March 2007 that 78% of medical schools teach courses on alternative medicine, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. Some doctors, knowing that their patients are going elsewhere for alternative therapies, are responding by expanding their own repertoire of services.

The authors point out that their research "shed[s] light on the lay theories of medicine that guide consumer behavior." Bolton says the study's findings could be important to marketers and advertisers because while people do rely on doctors and other health practitioners for advice, they also make decisions for themselves about health, and the consumer voice in healthcare decision making is increasing. "People are going to their doctors armed with all this information," she says, whether from the Internet, TV or magazines.

For example, while U.S. marketers of TCM might emphasize the gentle effectiveness of various remedies as opposed to the "harshness" of Western medicine, manufacturers of Western drugs looking to gain a wider market in China could turn that image to their advantage by playing up the get-better-quick aspect and emphasizing the importance of a speedy recovery. "A lot of money is spent on healthcare advertising," Bolton says, "and companies can do a better job marketing their products."

The findings could also help in the debate on whether there should be more regulation of health marketing, given how consumer perceptions of remedies influence their choices.

"From a consumer perspective, decisions in the health domain are important for individual health and the welfare of society as a whole," the researchers write. "Consumers may be driven by lay theories to make health care choices that do not maximize health outcome -- for example, choosing health remedies out of potentially inaccurate perceptions of their action rapidity or treatment focus, or neglecting health protective behaviors when consuming WM (vs. TCM). Thus, our findings add to the growing debate on the regulation of health marketing, the role of direct-to-consumer advertising, and marketing efforts to promote a health lifestyle."


TCM Food Therapy for Asthma

By Helen H. Hu, OMD

Asthma is a disease of diffused airway inflammation caused by a variety of triggering stimuli, resulting in partially or completely reversible bronchi constriction. Symptoms and signs include dyspepsia, chest tightness, coughing, and wheezing. The diagnosis is based on the individual’s medical history, physical examination, and pulmonary function tests. Treatment involves controlling the triggering factors and drug therapy, most commonly with inhaled β2-adrenergic receptor agonists and inhaled corticosteroids.

The prevalence of asthma now affects an estimated 4-7% of the worldwide population. More than 20 million people in the US are affected. Asthma is one of the most common chronic diseases of childhood, affecting more than 6 million children.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, it is believed that asthma is due to three main organ deficiencies, either from birth, and/or from a lifestyle that has a negative impact on the lungs, spleen, and kidneys, together with external pathogen invasion. Some cases, especially asthma that occurs at a very young age, are due to a family history of asthma in which there is more kidney organ weakness (that tends to trigger childhood asthma).

In some cases, there is more of a digestion system problem at a young age, with the tendency to have ear infections, upper respiratory infection, and asthma. These children tend to have spleen and lung deficiencies with asthma. The food therapy focus is different according to the case. Especially for those with a family history of asthma, there should be an emphasis on active preventative measures and the strengthening of the kidney organs after asthma remission. During the remission period, food therapy is one of the best remedies, along with acupuncture and an herbal formula, depending on the severity and frequency of the asthma attacks.

There are four patterns of asthma according to TCM diagnostic patterns.  These are cold type, hot type, lung and spleen Qi deficiency type, and kidney deficiency types of asthma.

If there is actually an asthma attack, besides traditional bio-medicine intervention, I recommend that it be identified as a cold type or hot type of asthma attack. Then one should integrate the appropriate food therapy to assist the healing process.

During remission, try to consult a TCM doctor to determine which organ is deficient, and to apply Chinese food therapy and other preventive therapies.

Here are some samples, as a reference, for food therapy for cold and hot types of asthma, as well as for different organ deficiencies:

I. Cold Type of Asthma

This type of asthma presents with shortness of breath, more thin or watery mucus, no blood or pus-like discharge, and no feeling of thirst or desire to drink. The face looks dusty and there is a feeling of fullness of the chest.

Food therapy:

Ginger Rice Soup:

Fresh ginger: 9 grams Cut into very small pieces.

Apricot kernel:  6

Sweet rice: 50 grams

Cook sweet rice and apricot kernels together in water at low temperature; when the rice is very soft, the soup is done. Add ginger to the boiling soup before serving.
Take as breakfast and part of dinner.

Green Onion Rice Soup:

Fresh Green Onion: 15 – only use white part of green onion cut into 3 cm long pieces

Spring rice: 50 grams

Fermented soy bean (black color): 10 grams

Salt: a little.

Cook rice with water first to make soup; when the soup is done, the rice becomes soft. Then add green onion, fermented soy beans and salt and then cook for another 20-30 minutes.

Serve: once day at dinner


Soothing Asthma Powder

Bone from octopus: 500 grams

Wash bone clean and then bake it dry and then grind it into a powder.

Organic brown sugar: 1000 grams

Mix the octopus powder and brown sugar together.

Adult:  take 20 grams with warm water, three times a day for 2 weeks.
(Young children should take 1/3 to 1/2 of adult dosage.


II.  Hot Type of Asthma

This type of asthma manifests with wheezing and rasping breath, coughing up with a thick, yellow, hard-to-cough-up mucus,  anxiety, sweating, red facial complexion, a bitter taste in the mouth, dry mouth and feeling thirsty.

With this type of asthma, one should seek medical care when the asthma attacks. Treatment along with food therapy will be of greater benefit for recovery and assist in faster healing.

Food therapy:

Tofu Turnip Juice

Fresh turnip: 500 grams  juice it

Fresh soft tofu: 500 grams cut into small pieces

Light molasses: 100 grams

Juice the fresh turnip, then, add fresh tofu and molasses into the juice. Bring it to a boil. Take the juice in two parts, drinking twice a day for one day.


Green Tea Egg

Green tea: 15 grams

Chicken egg: 2

Cook green tea leaves with the eggs in water until the eggs are done, then peel the eggs and put them back into the tea to continue cooking until the tea water is almost evaporated.

Eat the eggs.


Sang Ye Peanuts (one serving)

Sang ye: mulberry leaves; 15 grams (if fresh, 45 grams)

Raw peanuts without the shell: 15 grams

White rock sugar: 15 grams

Cook everything together in water, until the peanuts are done.

Serve: eat the peanuts only, once a day.


Single herbal tea:

Kuan dong hua (Coltsfoot Flower) or Kuan dong ye (leaves): one teaspoon –Boil in one cup of water for 30 minutes. Add a little honey to taste.

Niu xin cao: (Cyathula Officinalis):  mix one teaspoon with one cup of boiling water for 10 minutes.  Drink as tea with honey.


III.  Asthma with Lung and Spleen Deficiency

The following recipes are food therapy treatment for harmonizing or strengthening the organs during asthma remission time. This is Traditional Chinese food therapy to strengthen and harmonize the lung and spleen organs, with or without an herbal formula.

White Fungus Mushroom Soup

White fungus mushroom: soak in warm water for 30 minutes, then tear it into small pieces

Rock sugar: 60 grams

Chicken egg: one (egg white only)

First, cook the mushroom and sugar in water until the mushroom is soft, then filter the mushroom out while the soup is still boiling. Gradually add the egg white into the soup, stirring the soup at the same time. Then serve.


Walnut Apricot Soup ( one serving)

Walnut: 5 grams

Apricot kernel: 5 grams

Honey 30 grams

Put everything in a bowel and steam it until the nuts are cooked well. Take it out from the steamer; add fresh ginger juice: 20 drops. Then eat the nuts and drink the soup.

Intake: once every other day, 5-7 times.


Walnut Duck

One whole fresh duck

White sugar: 120 grams

White rock sugar: 120 grams

Honey: 120 grams

Walnuts 120 grams

Put all ingredients into the duck’s stomach. Boil it in water until fully cooked.

Serve:as a dish.  Eat two ducks as one course of treatment.


Eight Treasure Chicken: (4 servings)

One old hen chicken: about 500 grams

Sweet rice: 60 grams soak until soft in water

Lotus seed:  20 grams  soak until soft in water

Chicken pea: 75 grams soak until soft in water

Cox seed: 30 grams soak until soft in water

S***ake mushroom: 20 grams soak until soft in water, then cut into small pieces

Ham: 30 grams cut into small pieces

Salt, ginger, other spices, as desired.

Put all ingredients into the chicken’s stomach and sew it up. Boil it in water until fully cooked (it is best to steam the whole chicken until the meat is done).

Serve: as dish


IV.  Asthma with Kidney Deficiency

People with kidney deficiency and asthma tend to have inhalation difficulties  (besides of shortness of breath) exaggerated by movement, more weakness in both knees and the lower back, ear tinnitus, pale complexion, and a feeling of coldness. Some people might have red cheeks, and anxiety, with a warm feeling, and sweating.

Walnut Duck Soup:

One whole duck;

Walnut: 200 grams

Water chestnut: 150 grams cut into small pieces

Ginger, salt, cooking wine

Cook everything together until the meat is well-done.

Serve: as dish


Pumpkin Date:

Fresh pumpkin: 500 grams peeled

Chinese red date: 15-20 (without kernel)

Boil together and mash it, like mashed potato

Serve: once a day as a side dish


Cordyceps  Duck Soup

One old duck

Cordyceps: 3 grams

Put the Cordyceps into the duck stomach; add ginger, salt, and cooking wine in a slow- cooking pot until the meat is well-done.

Serve: drink the soup and eat the meat


Tea: Ginseng and walnut tea

Ginseng: 6 grams (cut into thin slices)

Walnut: three whole nuts

Boil in water; after boiling, cook at lower temperature for an hour. Drink it as tea.  It can be taken for long time.


[Dr. Helen Hu, originally from Beijing China, has studied Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) since the age of 12. A Cardiologist and practitioner of integrated medicine for nine years before immigrating to the United States, Dr. Hu passed the "U.S. Licensing Medical Exam" (USLME) in 1997 while simultaneously obtaining her Oriental Medical Degree (OMD) in the US.   Dr. Hu currently directs and manages a successful TCM practice in San Diego. She lectures locally on Acupuncture and the benefits of combining Eastern / Western styles of Medicine.  Dr. Hu has been practicing Tai Ji and Qi Gong over 25 years, and she teaches these ancient Chinese arts Saturday mornings on Shelter Island in San Diego as a gift to the community and to help promote well being and longevity. or ]



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