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Chinese Medicine for Dummies

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Chinese medicine dated back to its early civilization more than 4500 years ago. It was based on the empirical knowledge collected, documented, and refined by the medicine men who treated illness and sickness overtimes. The empirical knowledge was first published in a medical treatise in 200 BC called the Huang Ti Nei Ching. It consisted of two parts, namely, the Su Wen (simple questions of the Emperor Huang Ti) and the Ling Shu (on the usage of Acupuncture). What made Chinese medicine unique, long-lasting, and useful even to the present day was the philosophical ideas that explained and enhanced its workings.

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Philosophical Ideas

At the time, the Chinese saw themselves as an integral part of Nature. They observed how Nature regulated and controlled the alternating and opposing forces to make life possible on Earth:

1) The drought and flood of seasonal changes,

2) The heat and cold of summer and winter, and

3) The decay and rejuvenation of growth.

When one of the opposing forces dominates, disaster and chaos usually ensued. Chinese deduced that the same force was running inside the body to maintain the equilibrium between the opposing energies that they called Yang and Ying. When one was dominating, the body would be susceptible to internal illness or sickness from the outside world.

Chinese found that there were 12 vital organs in the body to keep people alive. Chinese designated the 6 organs (large and small intestines, stomach, urinary and gall bladders, triple warmer) that processed food and excrete waste as Yang. The 6 organs (heart, lung, liver, spleen, kidneys, and heart governor) that converted food to energy and storage as Ying. Chinese observed that the life energy flowed through the 12 vital organs in the timeline and order in 24 hours as described below:

1) 1 am – 3 am Liver

2) 3 am – 5 am Lungs

3) 5 am – 7 am Large Intestine

4) 7 am – 9 am Stomach

5) 9 am – 11 am Spleen

6) 11 am – 1 pm Heart

7) 1 pm – 3 pm Small Intestine

8) 3 pm – 5 pm Urinary Bladder

9) 5 pm – 7 pm Kidneys

10) 7 pm – 9 pm Heart Governor

11) 9 pm – 11 pm Triple Warmer

12) 11 pm – 1 am Gall Bladder

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Since the proper functioning of each organ was crucial to the overall health of the body, Chinese medicine devised 3 methods to detect, regulate, and restore any abnormality that the organs were behaving.

Pulse Examination

Chinese had detected that when organs were not functioning properly, the symptoms would manifest themselves in the irregular pulse beatings in the wrists of each hand. There are 14 different pulses that can be felt at the styloid process of the radius on the radial artery. Each pulse corresponds to a specific organ.

There are 6 pulses on the left wrist and 8 pulses on the right wrist. They can be felt with 3 fingers positioned on a resting hand by applying different pressures as described below:

1) Left Index Finger - superficial: Small Intestine, deep: Heart

2) Left Middle Finger - superficial: Gall Bladder, deep: Liver

3) Left Ring Finger - superficial: Urinary Bladder, deep: Kidneys

4) Right Index Finger- superficial: Large Intestine, deep: Lungs

5) Right Middle Finger- superficial: Stomach, deep: Spleen, Intermediate: Pancreas

6) Right Ring Finger - superficial: Triple Warmer, deep: Sex Organ, Intermediate: Heart Governor

An experienced practitioner can discern the pulse beating’s rhythm/amplitude/characteristics and deduce if an organ’s functional disorder is due to an excess of Ying or a deficiency of Yang energy and vice versa. However, the final diagnosis will also depend on the examination of the patient’s physical signs and activities.


Chinese noticed that some organ disorders also showed up as discomfort or pain in specific areas on the body's skin. Stabbing the affected areas with sharp objects brought relief to the disorders. Further, some rural physicians observed that in times of war, patients were free from some long-suffering ailments (like back pain) when certain arrows that were inflicted on specific areas of the body were removed. Through trials and errors, the Chinese had discovered finite and specific points of sensitivity for each organ arranged in a line along the skin of the body. A total of 14 such lines called Jing or Meridian were defined over various parts of the body as described below:

1) Lung meridian – begins at the left collarbone and ends at the left thumb.

2) Large Intestine meridian – begins at the right index finger and ends beside the right nostril.

3) Stomach meridian – begins at the right hairline of the head and ends at the right 2nd toe.

4) Spleen meridian – begins at the left big toe and ends below the left armpit.

5) Heart meridian – begins in the left armpit and ends at the tip of the left little finger.

6) Small Intestine meridian – begins at the nail of the left little finger and ends in the left front ear.

7) Urinary Bladder meridian – begins at the inner angle of the left eye and ends at the left little toe tip.

8) Kidneys meridian – begins at the sole of the left foot and ends below the left collarbone.

9) Heart Governor meridian – begins at the right breast and ends at the right middle fingertip.

10) Triple Warmer meridian – begins at the right middle fingertip and ends below the right eyebrow.

11) Gall Bladder meridian – begins at the left outer eye and ends at the second joint of the left 4th toe.

12) Liver meridian – begins at the right nail of the big toe and ends at the right 8th intercostals space.

13) Governing Vessel meridian – begins at the back’s tailbone and ends at the upper gum of the mouth.

14) Conception Vessel meridian – begins at the perineum and ends at the chin in the front of the body.

By inserting thin, metallic, and sterilized needles at specific points and depths along the meridian, the Yang and Ying energy equilibrium could be adjusted and reestablished. It was also found that applying heat at those points could produce similar results. So, acupuncture refers to the use of a needle and or heat at the points on the organ’s meridian to assist it to heal itself.

Herb Medicine

Chinese herb medicine was primarily based on plants, although some animal parts, insects, and minerals were also utilized. The earliest known book (Shen Nong Roots and Shoots Treatise) that documented their properties and remedies was written around 2200 years ago. It contained 356 individual ingredients, their characteristics, and how each was prepared to be used in combination to treat ailments.

It started out as a collection of local folklore on how certain plants have magical healing power. Later, the magic was dispelled through careful studies employing techniques of taste, smell, and experiment. Formal schools were sanctioned by the imperial court to further the study of the old and the development of new medicines in their treatments of ailments. Today, a total of 11146 varieties of plants, 1581 varieties of animal parts, various insects, and 80 varieties of minerals are documented to have disease-fighting or healing properties.

Before the designated plants, animal parts, insects, or minerals can be used as medicine; they are cleaned and boiled with water or steamed to rid of the impurity and toxicity. They are then dried and made into the pill, paste, or powder for ease of application and long-term storage. The herb medicine is prescribed as a complement to the pulse examination and acupuncture treatment, though some are used alone for preventive and long-term health purposes.

They have the same function of balancing the Ying and Yang energies according to the action of each ingredient on the meridians. Since herb medicine is based on natural ingredients with no preservatives and chemicals, they have very few side effects on the body when they are taken as prescribed.

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