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Traditional Chinese Medical Treatments

Chinese Dietary Therapy

Chinese dietary therapy is an integral part of any complete treatment plan. The earliest written record is Sun Simiao's Prescriptions Worth a Thousand Gold, published in 652 A.D., in which he discusses the treatment of a variety of diseases through diet. For example, his treatment for goiter included the use of seaweed and the thyroid glands from farm animals. This early iodine and hormone replacement therapy predates Western discoveries by hundreds of years.

Rice as Part of Chinese Dietary Therapy
Traditional Chinese
medicine has included
dietary therapy since as
early as A.D. 652.

Similarly, in 752 A.D., Wang Shou published A Collection of Diseases, in which he describes his treatment for diabetes. He recommended the use of pork pancreas as a treatment, predating the discovery of insulin by 1,000 years. In the absence of laboratory tests, his method of checking for sugar in the urine was ingenious: The patient was instructed to urinate on a flat brick to see if ants would show up to collect the sugar!

In the traditional system of dietary cures, foods have been organized into categories based on their innate temperature, energetics (the direction in which they move qi and how they affect qi and blood flow), and the organs they affect.

For example, a person who has a wind cold condition with excessive clear mucus might be told to consume hot soup made from onions and mustard greens. The onions are warming, expel cold, and sedate excess yin. The mustard greens have similar properties, and they also help expel mucus and relieve chest congestion. Flavoring the soup with ginger and black pepper enhances the warming, expectorant action. With such a lunch, one can imagine that the person's herb formula would be much more effective.

On the other hand, if the same patient decided to have salad for lunch with a cold glass of milk, the cold and damp nature of this meal would make the wind cold condition much worse. Any herbal therapy administered at this point would be much less effective, since the therapy first needs to overcome the negative effect of the food before dealing with the acute ailment. For this reason, a patient is always advised about which foods could exacerbate the imbalance and which will help restore balance.

In general, grains and beans are considered to bring stability to the body. They build blood and qi, and they establish rhythm and stability. Vegetables, which are best if eaten in season, bring vitality. Leafy greens have an affinity for the upper body, while root vegetables give strength to the middle and lower body. Fruits build fluids and purge toxins, and they tend to be cooling by nature. They should be eaten alone, or they can cause indigestion.

Meats possess the full range of temperatures, and they are a simple source of blood. But they are meant to be consumed in small quantities; their overconsumption in Western countries has caused an epidemic of heart disease. Finally, dairy products are a good source of fats, but they should also be eaten in moderation. Overconsumption can result in excess dampness or mucus.

A healthy diet should consist mainly of a wide variety of organically grown whole grains, beans, and vegetables; fruits and animal protein should be eaten in smaller amounts. While it is possible to have a healthy, well-balanced vegetarian diet, people who eat no animal products at all (vegans) should supplement their diet with vitamin B12.

How to make Rice Congee

The food most commonly used for therapeutic effects is congee, a rice gruel that is soothing to the stomach and exceptionally easy to digest. It is made by slowly cooking 1 part white rice in 6 parts water until the rice is the consistency of a thick soup. A crock pot works especially well for this purpose.

In China, the previous day's leftovers are typically cooked into the congee in large pots. In the morning, people gather to have the congee for breakfast.

As a therapy, specific ingredients can be added for their medicinal effect. For example:

  • An elderly person who is experiencing constipation due to yang deficiency might add walnuts for their tonifying and lubricating actions.
  • A person who is experiencing weak vision due to blood deficiency could add Lycium fruit for its ability to nourish the eyes.

Dietary therapy will typically be just part of a treatment program. Learn how practitioners put treatment plans together in the next section of this article.

For more about traditional Chinese medicine, treatments, cures, beliefs, and other interesting topics, see:

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.