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One of the unique features of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is its long held view on the importance of disease prevention. The “Huangdi Neijing” (Yellow Emperor’s Classic) which was written some 2500 years ago states:
“When a disease has already broken out and is only then treated, would that not be just as late as waiting for thirst before digging a well?”
So important was the concept of preventative medicine in imperial China that the Emperor’s personal physician risked death were the Emperor to fall ill!
TCM is rooted in the concept of yin and yang, the complementary opposing energies exhibited by all things. There is no hot (yang) without cold (yin), up without down, or health without disease. In Chinese medicine, health is reliant on the balance of yin and yang and if this balance is disrupted for too long, disease will occur. “Balance” as it relates to yin and yang does not imply a fixed 50/50 split. Rather, it is a dynamic, fluid, moving equilibrium with yin giving way to yang and yang in turn yielding to yin. An example in the body would be when we feel cold (yin) we shiver which produces warmth (yang).
Preventative medicine therefore is about promoting and maintaining the healthy balance of yin and yang in the body, and there are many ways this can be achieved. Lifestyle choices need to be examined. Do you get enough sleep? Do you balance your work with play? How is your diet? All of these will influence the delicate balance of yin and yang and in turn have an effect on our health. Ancient Chinese doctors recognized the influence that lifestyle choices had on health, and they also recognized that certain foods, habits, exercises, and herbal medicines could promote health and prevent disease.
In terms of herbal medicine, none were better at disease prevention than the oft called “precious substances”. These medicines were considered imperative to preventative medicine – their effects being deemed almost godly or as if gifts from the heavens. Many of these precious medicines are still in use today, and examples include ginseng, cordyceps, and reishi (lingzhi in Chinese medicine).
Ginseng is perhaps the best known Chinese herb. It strongly tonifies the life energy (Qi), and in particular yang-Qi. It is a potent adaptogen and has many well documented anti-stress properties. It helps to recharge the adrenal gland, and has also shown an ability to increase stamina.
Cordyceps has been used in Chinese medicine for hundreds of years. It tonifies both yin and yang and is very balanced, safe, and suitable for long term use. It is considered an aphrodisiac, and is commonly used for chronic fatigue and cancer.
Reishi is the Japanese name for lingzhi (ganoderma), the medicinal mushroom that has literally exploded onto the scene over the last several years, with some very high quality commercial products now on the market. It was described in TCM classics as a “plant of immortality”, having a positive effect on the Qi. Modern studies are indicating it may have anti-tumor properties, as well as Liver protective effects against certain viruses.
Preventative medicine ultimately means that we become willing participants in our health in a proactive way. Diet and lifestyle choices are important considerations, and high quality herbal medicines such as ginseng, reishi, and cordyceps can be the difference between feeling good and feeling great.