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The following is a reference to the theory and practice of Traditional Chinese Medicine. This is used for the sole purpose of educating our customers in order for them to become knowledgeable consumers in the complex and extensive background of Chinese Herbal Therapy. This is only a small part of TCM and its theories. Please click on the sections in the outline below to read more about it.

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A. Basic Characteristics of Traditional Chinese Medicine

1. The Concept of the Organism as a Whole
The Unity Within the Body
The Unity Between Body and Nature
The Guiding Function of the Concept of the Organism as a Whole
Diagnosis and Treatment based on an Overall Analysis of Signs and Symptoms
The Formation of the Theory of Yin and Yang
The Content of the Theory of Yin and Yang
Opposition and Interdependence of Yin and Yang
The Waxing and Waning of Yin and Yang and the Transformation Between Yin and Yang
Uses of the Theory of Yin and Yang in TCM
Using Yin and Yang to Explain the Tissues and Structures of the Human Body
Using Yin and Yang to Explain the Physiological Function of the Human Body
Using Yin and Yang to Explain the Pathological Changes of the Human Body
Using Yin and Yang to Diagnose and Treat Diseases

B. Theory of Five Elements (Page 2)

C. The Theory of Viscera (Internal Organs) (Page 3)


A. Basic Characteristics of Traditional Chinese Medicine

1. The Concept of the Organism as a Whole

The term "organic whole" means the unity of the human body and its surroundings. The human body is an organic whole itself and has close relations with its external surroundings. TCM is based on this relationship. This unity between the two is known as an organic whole.

a. The Unity Within the Body

Viscera, bowels, tissues, and other organs make up the human body. Each has their own physiological functions, which make up the life process of the body. The different functions are all related, supplementary, and conditional to each other, and therefore are unified with each other. These relationships are shared between the main five viscera through channels and collaterals: the heart, liver, spleen, lung, and kidney

b. The Unity Between Body and Nature

As man lives in nature, he is influenced by the changes in nature. For example, as the climate changes within the four seasons, the normal pulse conditions change as well. With this fact, doctors have been able to relate certain diseases with the seasons. For example, epidemic febrile diseases are more likely to occur in the spring. People do physical exercises in order to avoid seasonal diseases.

TCM physicians have also observed relationships between diseases and the time of the day. Diseases may become milder or more severe depending on the whether it is early morning, late afternoon, or night. There are diseases that are mild in the morning and get worse by night. This is because the body has more vital energy, which overcomes the pathogenic factors. By nighttime, the body returns the vital energy to the organs, leaving the pathogenic factors to get stronger. There have been findings that show human pulse conditions, temperature, the amount of oxygen taken in, carbon-dioxide releases and the amount of hormone secreted have a pattern during the 24 hours of the day.

The theory of the circulation of Qi characteristics of TCM tells us that periodic changes of the climate, which come every 12 or 60 years, have an effect on the pathogenesis of the human body. In the cycle of sunspots, the radiation of sunlight effects the magnetic field, which in turn effects the physiology and pathology of the human body.

TCM believes that different geographical locations bring different effects on the human body. People living at a high altitude tend to live long lives, which may be due to the concentration of hydrogen anions at high altitudes.

 c. The Guiding Function of the Concept of the Organism as a Whole

The concept of the human body as a whole and its relationship with nature gives TCM the basis for its development of medical methods of treating diseases. This lead to the belief that the appearance of the tongue can determine the health of the heart. A pale tongue indicates blood deficiency in the heart and a purple tongue shows blood stagnation of the heart. With this method, the key pathogenesis is determined. Acupuncture is another example of methods of treating diseases based on the theories of TCM. Points and time for acupuncture are determined according to the relationship between channels, pulse, vital energy, and blood of the human on two sides. Time is also an important factor when taking herbal medicines. For example, Ten Jujube Decoction (Shi Zao Tang) is best when taken in the morning on an empty stomach, and insulin is best when taken at 4 p.m. There are reasons why the human body has such a precise time rhythm and regularity. Scholars have found that the human body has adapted and accustomed itself to the earthís rotation, which occur every 24 hours. It has been proved that the nucleus suprachiasmaticus (SCH), epiphysis, pituitary bodies, and adrenal gland are structures that control the time rhythm and regularity. This shows that the concept of Tian Ren Xiang Ying (or the relevant adaptation of the human body to natural environment in TCM) has a scientific backing.

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2. Diagnosis and Treatment Based on an Overall Analysis of Signs and Symptoms

The four methods of diagnosis of TCM, which are observation, listening, smelling, inquiring, pulse feeling and palpation, allow us to determine relevant information, signs, and symptoms. The analyzing of these findings is called "Bian Zheng". Determining the corresponding therapeutic method according the conclusion of the data received is called "Shi Zhi."

TCM physicians do not focus on the actual disease itself but rather the symptoms of the disease. Same symptoms are usually treated in similar ways. Some types of the cold are caused by wind and cold, which calls for strong sudorific drugs pungent in taste and warm in property, whereas some colds are caused by wind and heat and should be treated with mild diaphoretics that are pungent in taste and cool in property. This method is referred to as treating the same diseases with different methods. Sometimes different diseases have similar syndromes and are treated similarly. This is called treating different diseases with the same method.

Colleges of medicine and scientific research institutes are recognizing the essence of "Zheng", or the syndrome. They believe that "Zheng" is an extensive manifestation of the disorderly relations within the human body. Further development of this method would contribute to the advancement of modern natural sciences.

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3. The Formation of the Theory of Yin and Yang

According to the theory, Yin and yang exists in all things. At first, Yin meant a place not having exposure to the sun, and yang described a place that had exposure to the sun. Now, Yin and yang represent two components that oppose each other. Their interactions and plays against each other promote the occurrence, development, and transformation of things. They are used in reasoning things out while analyzing the things that occur in the world. It is believed, according to the Dao (the basic law in the natural world) that all things carry the two components of Yin and yang.

The theory of Yin and yang has an impact on the science of TCM, as it has promoted the development of the theoretical system of TCM.

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4. The Content of the Theory of Yin and Yang

The five main components with the theory of Yin and yang are opposition, interdependence, relative waxing and waning, and transformation.

a. Opposition and Interdependence of Yin and Yang

Opposition refers to the idea that all things in the natural world contain two opposite components. The heaven is considered yang and earth is Yin; outside is yang and inside is Yin; day is yang and night in Yin; heat is Yang and cold is Yin.

Not only to they oppose each other, but Yin and Yang also depend on each other. Without the other, neither can exist. For example without outside, there would be no such thing as inside. This relationship of coexistence is referred to as interdependence. TCM holds that "functional movement" belongs to Yang, and "nourishing substance" is Yin. For example, if "nourishing substance" cannot be digested through "functional movement" of the kidneys, the kidneys would cease to move if "nourishing substance" is not provided.

b. The Waxing and Waning of Yin and Yang and the Transformation Between Yin and Yang

The opposition and interdependence of Yin and Yang help to explain the waxing and waning of the two. For example, while Yin wanes, Yang waxes, and vice versa. The changing of the seasons is a good example. The weather gets warm when winter gives way to spring, and hot when spring gives way to summer. These are times when Yin wanes and Yang waxes. However, the change between autumn and summer bring colder weather, which means Yin waxes and Yang wanes.

The transformation of Yin and Yang occur under certain conditions. For example, a patient suffering from a disease has a high fever, has a red complexion, and has a rapid pulse condition. All of a sudden, he feels calmer, his face is pale, and his pulse is almost cut off. This is an example of transformation between Yin and Yang.

The general rule in finding out if something is Yin or Yang is if something is excited, hot, moving, strong, bright, invisible, light, clear, upwards, and outwards it is characterized as Yang. All that are waning, restricted, cold, weak, dark, visible, heavy, downwards, and inwards are characterized by Yin. Yin and Yang property of things is not absolute, but relative, because of the intertransformation between Yin and Yang where Yin may transform into Yang and vice versa. Either characteristic of Yin or Yang can be divided into another pair of Yin and Yang. For example, day is characterized as Yang, but the period from dawn till noon is the Yang aspect of Yang, and the period from noon till dusk is the Yin aspect of Yang.

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5. Uses of the Theory of Yin and Yang in TCM

Yin and Yang provided the basis for every aspect of TCM. It helps explain the structure of the human body and also helps to find diagnosis and treatment.

a. Using Yin and Yang to Explain the Tissues and Structures of the Human Body

The oppositeness and unity between Yin and Yang helps us understand the human body. The upper part of the body is described as Yang, while the lower part is described as Yin. When referring to the internal organs, the five viscera (heart, liver, spleen, lung and kidney) are Yin, because their function of preserving vital substances is stable. The six bowel organs (gallbladder, stomach, large intestine, small intestine, urinary bladder, and triple warmer) are Yang because their function of transmitting and digesting water and food make them active. The five viscera can be split up, making the heart and lung Yang because they are higher, Following this guideline will help to distinguish whether an organ is Yin or Yang: the function is Yang, while the substance is Yin; for channels and collaterals, the channels can be divided into Yin channels and Yang channels, the collaterals may also be divided into Yin and Yang collaterals; for the twelve channels, there are three Yang channels of the hand, three Yin channels of the hand, three Yang channels of the foot, and three Yin channels of the foot; for vital energy and blood, vital energy or Qi is Yang while blood is Yin.

b. Using Yin and Yang to Explain the Physiological Function of the Human Body

The coordinate, opposite, and unitedness of Yin (substance) and Yang (function) are what determines the physiological functions of the body. Yin and Yang are always is a state of balance. Without substance like blood, energy, and body fluid, there would be no source for functions. Yin and Yang must aid each other in order for life to continue. In TCM, "the divorce of Yin and Yang means the end of oneís death.

c. Using Yin and Yang to Explain the Pathological Changes of the Human Body

The imbalance of Yin and Yang lead to a disease. For example, dominance of Yang may lead to hyperfunction and heat manifestations. Dominance of Yin may lead to hypofunction or endogenous cold. Deficiency of each may also lead to different diseases. When one dominates over the other, both are involved and end up getting damaged. In this way, someone with hypofunction (a disease brought on by too much Yin) may have symptoms of hyperfunction (a disease brought on by too much Yang).

 d. Using Yin and Yang to Diagnose and Treat Diseases

The knowledge that diseases are brought on by the imbalance on Yin and Yang gives doctors the ability to diagnose and treat that disease. The first step is to determine whether a disease is Yin or Yang. This can be accomplished by looking at the patientís complexion. Bright patients have a Yang disease while a dark and gloomy complexion shows signs of a Yin disease. Another method is to listen to the patientís voice. A loud and clear voice has a Yang characteristic while a low and weak voice has a Yin characteristic. Inquiring may also determine the type of disease. Those who have a fever, are thirsty, have constipation, and have a rapid pulse have characteristics of a Yang disease. Those who have a cold, do not feel thirsty, have loose stools, and have a slow pulse have characteristics of a Yin disease. Feeling the patientís pulse is another method. Pulses that are floating, rapid, large, and slippery are of Yang characteristic. Pulses that are deep, slow, small, and rough are of Yin characteristic.
The dominance of Yang leads to a Yang disease called asthenic heat syndrome. This can be cured with drugs of cold nature. The dominance of Yin leads to a Yin disease called cold-asthenia syndrome. Drugs of warming nature will treat it.

Deficiency of Yang is called deficiency-cold syndrome. Drugs of warm and invigorating nature will treat it. Deficiency of Yin is called asthenic heat syndrome. Drugs or nourishing Yin will treat it. Since the deficiency of one can damage the other, both the Yin and Yang of the human body must be replenished. Vital essence (Yin) should be restored as well as vital function (Yang).

TCMís method of deciding which herbs to use in the treatment of disease comes from knowledge of the property, flavor, and function of different Chinese herbs. Herbs with sour, bitter, and salty tastes belong to Yin, while herbs with pungent, sweet, and bland tastes belong to Yang. Herbs with astringent and subsiding function belong to Yin, while herbs with dispersing, ascending and floating function belong to Yang. Diagnosis is based on whether the Yin or Yang dominates within a human body, or whether the Yin or Yang is weakened.

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** A Practical English-Chinese Library of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Basic Theory of Traditional Chinese Medicine (I). Publishing House of Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Written by Zhang Enqin. Translated by Zhang Enqin and Xu Xiangcai. Revised by Xu Guoqian and Wang Zhikui.