How does Chinese Medicine

Acupuncture & Herbal Medicine work?


Chinese Medicine has been practiced for over five thousand years.  Twenty-three hundred years ago, the first book on the subject, The Yellow Emperor"s Canon of Internal Medicine was printed to guide more Chinese people to study and practice Chinese medicine.  Over the years, Chinese doctors developed the theory of Chinese medicine, forming a unique comprehensive scientific system, which include both theories and practice.  Chinese medicine has many advantages such as remarkable curative effects with few side effects.  It is a very effective way in which people can prevent and treat diseases in order to live longer and healthier lives.


Nowadays, more and more people worry about the side effects of drugs or are apprehensive about surgery or feel helpless and frustrated about some health problems that modern science cannot help.  They want to find a natural way to solve their problems.  Chinese medicine is the best choice; it has been proven to be a very successful substitute for chemical pills and certain operations.  It can even treat some chronic diseases that Western medicine may be bewildered to tackle.


You may have some health problems that have bothered you for a long time and that Western medicine cannot help.  You may have heard of Chinese medicine before and would like to try it for your problem.  But you want to know how does Chinese medicine work?  To answer this question could take a hundred pages.  However, I would like to give you some general ideas about Chinese medicine.


According to the ancient Chinese medicine theory, the human body is formed by the Zang-Fu organs, vital Qi (pronounced: 'Chi'), the blood, and the Meridian system.  Zang organs refer to the heart, liver, the spleen, the lung, and the kidney.  Fu organs refer to the small intestine, the large intestine, the stomach, the gall bladder, and the urinary bladder.


Every organ's function can be classified into 'Yin' and 'Yang'.  In other words, 'Yin' and 'Yang' are the names of the organ's function.  For instance, the heart is classified as heart-Yin and heart-Yang, the kidney as kidney-Yin and kidney-Yang, the liver as liver-Yin and liver-Yang, etc.   Yin means nourishing substances like blood, fluid, and essence.  Yang means functional activity (physical function, such as the beat of the heart, breathing of the lung, urination of the kidney, detoxification of the liver, immune function of the spleen).  The normal life activities of the body are a result of keeping a perfect harmony or balance between Yin and Yang.  If not in balance, either Yin or Yang is deficient or excessive, and you will be sick.


I would like to mention that the organ's function, in Chinese medicine, includes the function of the organ and its related function.  For example, the heart function is in charge of blood and vessels (blood circulation).  It also is in charge of mental activities, responsible of joy, and reflected in the complexion.  The heart's opening is the tongue.  The lung's function is to dominate Qi and respiration, fulfill the dispersing and descending function, participate in regulating water metabolism (distribute and discharge the body liquid by dispersing and descending function).  The blood flows along the vessels to all parts of the body through the lungs to complete the air exchange.  The lungs assist the heart in maintaining the normal circulation of Qi and blood.  The lungs, which extend upward to the larynx and open into the nose (the nose connects with the larynx and further communicates with lungs, the larynx is the gateway of the lungs.  The nose is the external orifice of the lungs), are related outward to the skin and its hair, so that the lungs are the important defensive organ against foreign pathogens, i.e., wind, cold, damp, heat, dryness nasal and throat discharge derived from the lungs.  The lung is responsible for melancholy and sorrows.  The kidney function is to store essence, to dominate reproduction, growth, and development.  It also governs the metabolism of water and reception of air.  It regulates bones and hair, and controls the ear and urination.  It is also responsible for the feeling of fear.  The kidney has its opening in the ear, anus and urethra.  The liver's function is to govern the normal flow of the Qi, adjusting emotional activities, storing blood, responsible for the feeling of anger, and is related to tendons and nails.  The liver has its specific body opening in the eyes, tears being the secretion derived from the liver.  The spleen's function is to digest the foodstuff and the drink that you intake every day.  The nutrients from the intake are absorbed and then distributed to each part of the body.  We call this function 'The Transporting-Transforming Action of the spleen.'  This function also works on the metabolism of water.  It is in charge of absorbing, conveying and spreading body fluids.  The normal function of the spleen can prevent body fluid from accumulating, so that the pathological changes like dampness, phlegm and water retention won't happen.  The blood flow is controlled by the spleen.  The spleen is responsible for anxiety, and is related to the muscle.  Saliva is derived from the spleen.  The spleen has its body opening in the mouth and its outward manifestation on the lips.


Vital Qi and blood are the essential materials that make up the human body and maintain its life activities.  The Vital Qi refers to:


  1. The body's functional activities - including the function of Zang Fu organs (Yin and Yang).
  2. Meridian's function.
  3. The Qi and the blood's function.
  4. Disease-resistance capabilities.
  5. Rehabilitation capabilities.


Everybody has the Qi naturally, when the Qi ends, life ends.  The Qi is the essential energy of our body.  The Qi pushes the blood flow in the blood vessels, and the blood serves as the carrier of the Qi.  Only when the Qi and the blood are full and regular, can the organs be nourished sufficiently and function well.  Then you will be healthy.  If not, disease will be brought about.


The Meridian system is a general term for channels and collateral.  There are 14 channels in the human body.  They are related to Zang and Fu organs.  There are nearly 400 acupuncture points along the body's 14 major channels.  There is plenty of collateral in each channel.  The channels take a definite route in the body, but the collateral is widely distributed throughout the body, like a 'network'.  They make everything connected.  The meridian acts as a specific passageway for the circulation of the Qi and the blood, the interconnection between the organs and the extremities, and the communication for the upper body with the lower body, and of the interior with the exterior.  For a healthy man, the meridian system (channels and collaterals) should be clear and smooth.  Once it is blocked by certain pathogenic factors, such as 'wind', 'cold', 'summer-heat', 'dampness', 'dryness', emotional disorder, blood stasis, phlegm, or an accident injury, the organ's function (Yin and Yang) will not be balanced, and the man will suffer from a variety of problems and sicknesses.


The principles to treat disease with acupuncture and herbal medicine are:


1.      Adjusting organ's Yin and Yang.

2.      Regulating and nourishing the Qi and the blood.

3.      Keeping the channels and the collateral open and clear.


Before a Chinese doctor treats your problem, he or she wants to know what has caused your sickness.  Upon ancient Chinese medicine theories, there are three pathogenic factors, which can cause disease.


1.         External Factor:

A disease can be caused by the pathological products as six excessive climate conditions: wind, cold, summer-heat, dampness, dryness and fire.


2.         Internal factor-Internal impairment by seven emotions:

A disease can be brought about by emotional disorder: over-joy, anger, melancholy, anxiety, sadness, fear and terror.  These emotional disorders can damage internal organs directly, and cause the dysfunction of the Qi and the blood in organs.


3.         Non inter-external factor

This includes improper diet, imbalance between work and rest (overwork or undue leisure), traumatic injury, phlegm retention and fluid retention blood stasis.


When any of the pathogenic factors described above invades our body, it injures the Zang-Fu organs, the Qi, the blood, the channels and collateral, and we will become sick.


A typical Chinese medicine diagnosis will include looking, smelling, questioning, and feeling.  First-time patients will generally fill out a questionnaire regarding their medical history.  The doctor will study the patient by observing the color of the face and any coating on the tongue; listen to the tone of the voice, check breath, and odors; and question about various problems, such as chilliness or fever, perspiration, pain, sleep, appetite and digestion, eating habits, thirst and drinking habits, urination, bowel movement, sensitivity to temperatures and seasons, and emotional stress.  For the female patient, the doctor will ask about menstruation and white discharge.  Finally, the doctor will feel pulse on the wrist over the radial artery to make the diagnosis.  After diagnosis, the doctor will make a treatment plan according to the patient's condition/or illness.  The treatment principles are:


  1. Selection of treatment based on the specific diagnosis.
  2. The concept of wholeness: adjust the whole body, regulate the Qi and the blood, enhance organ's function, harmony Yin and Yang, support the vital Qi to strengthen body's defense system, and eliminate pathogenic factors to protect the vital Qi.
  3. Aim at the primary cause of disease.  Take a headache as an example; the headache can be brought out by different pathogeneses, such as deficiency of blood, blood stasis, phlegm, dampness, excessive liver-yang and liver-fire, or weakness of kidney-yin or kidney-yang.  Therefore, the treatment should be nourishing the blood, promoting blood circulation by removing blood stasis, eliminating dampness and phlegm, calming the liver and suppressing its yang-hyperactivity, and strengthening kidney yin and yang.  This is what is meant by treatment aiming at the primary cause of disease.


There are two major approaches in Chinese medicine to treat illness: Acupuncture therapy, and herbal therapy.  (Moxibustion is part of acupuncture therapy and in Chinese, acupuncture means needle therapy and moxa therapy).  Also, the cupping therapy and manipulation therapy is used from time to time.


After diagnosis, the doctor will make a prescription, which contains a group of acupuncture points, usually no more than ten to twelve needles per treatment.  However, if the patient's condition requires it, more needles will be used.  A competent acupuncturist will cause no pain (skin pain) when he inserts the needles into the patient's body.  After the needles are in, the patient must have certain sensation described as soreness, drawing, pulling, numbness, cold feeling, or warm feeling.  Sometimes, the feeling can be radiated to another place.  Chinese call this phenomenon 'Gain Qi'.  It is very important to tell the acupuncturist if any point is terribly painful.  The reason may be that the needle touched a vessel (there is a lot of nerves on the vessel wall).  A slight change of needle position can eliminate the discomfort.


Some treatments last only a few seconds, while others take thirty to thirty-five minutes or longer.  Generally, however, needles are left in from 30 to 45 minutes.  The acupuncturist will manipulate the needles a few times during the treatment.  The amount of the stimulation will be made according to the patient's condition and the illness.  Instead of manual manipulation, some doctors choose Electronic Acupunctoscope to manipulate the needles which means the acupuncture needles are connected with an equipment..  To protect both acupuncturist and patients from hepatitis or AIDS, All of acupuncturists use sterilized disposable needles now.


In addition to the use of needles, the acupuncturist may apply Moxibustion therapy to treat diseases.  Moxibustion therapy is done by burning an herb called moxa (mugwort, or Artemisia vulgaris) to heat the needle or acupoint or certain places to treat diseases.  The functions of Moxibustion therapy are:


  1. To warm, open, and clear the channels and collateral.
  2. To dispel the cold and eliminate the dampness.
  3. To regulate the circulation of the Qi and promote blood circulation.
  4. To activate blood flows and subdue swelling, to remove obstruction or mass and relieve pain.
  5. To recuperate depleted Yang and rescue the patient from collapse and shock.
  6. To hasten the body's self-healing and prevent diseases.


Another traditional treatment, especially for large muscle pain, is the cupping therapy that uses a glass cup to create suction on the skin above the painful muscle or acupoint.


Acupuncturists may also recommend for you to take herbal medicine to resolve your problem.  Herbal medicine is the most popular therapy in China.  Like acupuncture, herbal medicine has been practiced for more than five thousand years.  Herbal medicine and acupuncture have a coordinated action in the healing process.  Because of the limitations of acupuncture treatment, ie. 1.Acupuncture is very efficient but the effect only last a short time, may be only one or two days at the beginning treatment period. Most patients can not afford to have acupuncture every other day. But herbal medicine can be used every day for the continuing treatment.

      2.Acupuncture is very efficient for open the energy's pathway, stimulate the internal organs or tissues to promote healing, but acupuncture can not supply the substance which Chinese herbs can to our body for detoxification, remove toxicity and supply the nutrient for our body directly.


Herbal medicine plays a very important role in the clinic. We can use herb daily base for treatment, herb can go into our body for detoxification, for tonic, for remove toxicity. and for boost immunity .Once acupuncture and herb used together, the healing process will be quicker.


There are 12,807 kinds of herbs on the mainland of China according to a recent report from the Chinese government.  11,146 varieties are plants, 1,581 varieties are animals, and 80 are minerals.  About 1,000 varieties are used in most medicines.


Every herb has its own nature and taste.  There are four natures for herbs: cold-nature herbs, hot-nature herbs, warm-nature herbs and cool-nature herbs.  There are five tastes for the herbs: sour, bitter, sweet, spicy, and salty.  Each herb will go to a certain organ's meridian directly to treat the illness.  Some of them go to treat the upper body's problem, while others go to treat the lower body's problem.


Most of the herbs are non-toxic naturally.  Few herbs are toxic without proper preparation.  By a thousand years of practice, Chinese doctors have found many ways to deduct the toxicity.  For example, precooking Fu Zi (Radix Aconiti praeparata ?C This raw herb has been already specially prepared to reduce its toxicity so that it is suitable for internal administration before it is distributed to Chinese doctor's pharmacy) for 60 minutes can completely eliminate the toxic effect.  Toxicity and dosage are correlated.  Anything overdosed is toxic to humans.  On the other hand, an herb may be toxic individually, but not toxic if treated with other herbs.  That's why most Chinese doctors prefer giving compound formulas than giving a single herb.  There are many skills and secrets in a good formula (herb's choice, herb's dosage, and herb's prescription).  A good formula will treat illness or disease, and have no side effect.  In this way, people can take it for a long time to treat the chronic disease.

 There is a phenomenon called 'Xuan Mi' (pronounced: shann mee) in Chinese.  We can understand it likes a cleansing reaction; that is, the patient's condition may seem to get worse before it gets better or patient will experience some other symptoms which not happen before.  This phenomenon not only happens in herbal treatment, but also happens in acupuncture treatment.  The reason for cleansing reaction is due to our body's sensitivity is higher when we get Chinese medicine's treatment. Many symptoms we do not sense before may be come out at this time. The patient should not panic if it happens.  The patient should report it to the doctor, and follow the doctor's instruction. Usually, the cleansing reaction will last no more than 7 days. Some patients may overreact to the herbal remedy after the first few doses, e.g., stomach discomfort, gas, loose bowel movement.  Usually, these complaints will disappear automatically after your body adjusts to the herbs.  However, it is important to inform the doctor and follow his or her instructions.


It has been my experience in practicing acupuncture and herbal medicine for more than 25 years that most of my patients come to me because their physicians can't help them.  I usually can, and it's exciting when I resolve the problem for the patient.  I would like to help more people benefit from traditional Chinese medicine.  Chinese medicine is a science and a great treasure for all humans.  If you would like to explore Chinese medicine, I would be very happy to help you.

Copy right 1995     Feng Liang  Lic. Ac