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A few random clinical tips from my teachers

September 11th, 2015 1:50am - Posted By: Eric Brand

In my experience, the ability to form good relationships with teachers is one of the most essential elements of studying Chinese medicine.  Relationships are incredibly important in Chinese society, and those who learn how to cultivate meaningful relationships with a wide variety of teachers invariably acquire an excellent TCM education. This art of building relationships cannot be learned in a textbook, but relationships with our teachers, colleagues, and patients tremendously affect our potential as practitioners.  I feel fortunate to have had some great teachers in my studies and travels, and I want to share a few pieces of advice from various teachers that have been helpful to me.

The Spine of the Pulse

In Taiwan, I had the honor of studying with an excellent doctor named Feng Ye.  Feng Ye is one of the most inspiring doctors that I have ever encountered in terms of his intelligence and comprehensive knowledge.  Feng Ye an ...

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On the Various Processed Forms of Shan Zha

September 9th, 2015 10:58pm - Posted By: Eric Brand

Shan Zha, also known as Crataegi Fructus or Chinese hawthorn fruit, is a commonly used herb for dispersing food stagnation.  In addition to its traditional actions and indications, Shan Zha is also well-known for its applications in cardiovascular disease.  Traditionally, different processed forms of Shan Zha were used for different applications, and a significant amount of modern research has gone into the effects of processing (pao zhi) on its chemistry and pharmacology.

According to TCM, Shan Zha is especially suitable for dispersing and transforming accumulations and stagnation from rich, fatty foods and meat.  It is often used with Shen Qu (Massa Medicata Fermentata) and Mai Ya (Hordei Fructus Germinatus) to treat food stagnation, and it is used with qi-moving medicinals such as Qing Pi (Citri Reticulatae Pericarpium Viride) and Zhi Shi (Aurantii Fructus Immaturus) for severe cases of food accumulation.  Shan Zha is also used to quic ...

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Supplementing Yang: You Gui Wan vs. Shen Qi Wan

June 10th, 2015 10:34pm - Posted By: Eric Brand

In cases of kidney yang deficiency, there are several common base formulas to choose from. While hundreds of formulas for supplementing yang exist, the three most common recipes are Jin Gui Shen Qi Wan (Kidney Qi Pill from the Golden Cabinet), You Gui Wan (Right-Restoring [Life Gate] Pill), and You Gui Yin (Right-Restoring [Life Gate] Beverage). Each of these three formulas has its strengths and weaknesses, and they are suitable for different nuances of presentation.

Shen Qi Wan, also called Jin Gui Shen Qi Wan (Golden Coffer Kidney Qi Pill), is a formula that was originally recorded in the text Jin Gui Yao Lue (“Essential Prescriptions of the Golden Coffer”). The Jin Gui was written during the latter part of the Han dynasty, and it preceded the You Gui Wan/You Gui Yin formulas by just over 1400 years. You Gui Wan and You Gui Yin were first recorded in 1624 CE, in the Ming dynasty text Jing-Yue Quan Shu  ...

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Hou Po and Ginger Processing

May 24th, 2015 11:21pm - Posted By: Eric Brand

By Eric Brand

Hou Po (officinal magnolia bark) has been used since ancient times, and a wide variety of processing methods have emerged to maximize its clinical effects.  Many different adjuvants have been historically used in the pao zhi of Hou Po, including ginger, dates, honey, vinegar, congee, and salt, and many methods such as boiling, baking, soaking, and stir-frying have been documented.  At least 14 different processed forms of Hou Po exist, but ginger-processed Hou Po has the broadest use and remains the most common form in clinical practice. 

Ginger-processing for Hou Po first emerged in the Northern and Southern Dynasties period, in Lei Gong’s Pao Zhi Lun (Grandfather Lei’s Treatise on Medicinal Processing), and also appeared in Tang dynasty texts.  Today, ginger-processing is often achieved by soaking Hou Po slices in ginger juice until the juice is absorbed, then stir-frying the Hou Po slices at low heat until ...

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Mixing Singles vs. Whole Formulas (Part Two)

March 11th, 2015 12:23pm - Posted By: Eric Brand

The case for mixing singles

By Eric Brand

In a recent post, I summarized some of the main advantages of whole formulas that have been cooked together to form a granule extract.  At present, the use of whole formulas in granule form is particularly widespread in Japan and Taiwan, while the use of single herb extracts to elaborate formulas from scratch is more common in China.  Not surprisingly, each region has research and rationales that support each respective approach, so today’s blog will focus on the advantages of mixing singles to provide an opposing perspective in the debate.    

By any standard, we can clearly say that the patient numbers are adequate to show that both approaches have merit.  According to data from Taiwan’s electronic medical records, granules are used for approximately 30 million patient visits per year; this significant volume implies a strong evi ...

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Mixing Singles vs. Whole Formulas (Part One)

March 11th, 2015 12:21pm - Posted By: Eric Brand

By Eric Brand

There are two major trends in formulation style when it comes to granule extracts.  In Taiwan, most practitioners create a granule prescription by using one or more pre-made base formulas that have been decocted together, often with single herb additions.  By contrast, in mainland China, most practitioners mix single herb extracts to create their desired formula and rarely start with pre-made base formulas when using granules.  In the West, we tend to use a hybrid approach- some practitioners start from whole base formulas and others elaborate the formula purely based on singles.

These two broad approaches each have their adherents and arguments, and often people have a very strong opinion as to which method is superior.  As in many situations where opinions run strong and clinical trends vary based upon region and culture, it is difficult to make any blanket proclamation that one method is inherently superior, t ...

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Preserving the Natural and Cultural Resources of Chinese Medicine

February 24th, 2015 2:10am - Posted By: Eric Brand

By Eric Brand

As the world experiences unprecedented population growth and ever-increasing ecological pressures, the topic of preserving Chinese medicine's natural resources has attracted steadily increasing attention from practitioners.

The holistic nature of Chinese medicine tends to attract people with a passion for ecological sustainability to begin with, and the constant stream of alarming media reports about pollution in China keeps the topic of TCM ecology in the spotlight for many clinicians and patients. Practitioners are frequently confronted with patient questions and media reports about pesticides, contaminants, and endangered species in the Chinese medicine industry, and all too often we fail to clarify the facts surrounding these issues effectively to the community around us.

Most Western practitioners gravitate towards Chinese medicine because we want to help patients, so our examinations and schools tend to naturally ...

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Great recipe for a homemade tonic wine (shou wu chih)

February 24th, 2015 1:57am - Posted By: Eric Brand

By Eric Brand

This is a recipe to make a homemade copy of a famous Chinese herbal tonic drink called Shou Wu Chih (Shou Wu Zhi). It is basically a medicinal liquor that is used to supplement the blood and is also thought to blacken and nourish the hair. There are several similar products on the market with slightly different recipes, but one of the key authentic brands is the Yang Cheng brand.

For many years, Shou Wu Chih was sold openly in Chinatown pharmacies and it often remains available. However, most pharmacies do not have a liquor license so they can only sell food products. To better comply with the law, the label of many of the alcohol-containing commercial products was altered to include salt, allowing the product to be sold as cooking wine. Personally, I suspect that the only thing that changed was the label, but I haven't tried it for many years so I can't say for sure.

As a student, we had a Tui ...

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A New Era of Communication: An Informal Report on the First Cross-Straits Conference on Granules and Pharmacopoeia Standards

February 23rd, 2015 1:01am - Posted By: Eric Brand

By Eric Brand

On September 5th and 6th of 2012, mainland China and Taiwan held their first-ever cross-straits conference on granules and herbal pharmacopoeia standards. Sponsored by Taiwan’s Department of Health with assistance from a Chinese medicine trade association and two local TCM universities, the conference was an important political milestone featuring phenomenal presentations. As an herb nerd with a love for both granules and herbal quality assessment, it was an unbelievable stroke of fortune to have the opportunity to attend this historic conference. 

The conference opened up with a full-day of amazing presentations on herbal standards and quality control.  Topics included updates on current developments in the official pharmacopoeia standards of each region, which provided a thorough overview of the number of medicinals recorded in each pharmacopoeia, as well as the testing methods used to ensure their s ...

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Changes in Herbal Medicines from Ancient Times to the Present

February 23rd, 2015 12:06am - Posted By: Eric Brand

by Eric Brand

The classical literature of Chinese medicine remains highly relevant in the modern era, as many of the basic theories and herbal combinations emphasized in clinical practice were first established in texts that are nearly 2000 years old.

In particular, many formulas that were originally recorded by Zhang Zhong-jing in the Han Dynasty have remained popular across China, Korea, and Japan for centuries. Zhang Zhong-jing created nearly 25 percent of the formulas currently taught in basic formula classes at TCM schools, and many of the most famous herbal combinations that guide everyday clinical practice were first established in his work.

However, despite the timeless nature of these essential formulas, the world of herbal medicine continued to evolve over the centuries, and many of the substances in use today differ from the items used in ancient times. In recent years, the West has witnessed an increase in the popularity of ...

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Was the item used as Ren Shen in ancient times actually Dang Shen?

June 17th, 2012 6:16am - Posted By: Eric Brand

 By Eric Brand

A year or so ago, I was translating a class for a Shang Han Lun doctor named Huang Huang, and we received an interesting question from one of the practitioners in the audience.  This particular practitioner had learned at their Shang Han Lun class in school that the medicinal used as Ren Shen was actually Dang Shen in ancient times.  This raises an interesting question and a debate that is worth investigating.

The crux of the argument for Dang Shen as the ancient source of Ren Shen is based on a geographical statement of quality from Tao Hong-Jing’s 5th century annotated edition of the Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing (Divine Farmer’s Classic of Materia Medica).  Tao stated that the Ren Shen from the “shang dang” region in modern-day Shanxi province was of high-quality.  At present, there is no ginseng growing in the shang dang region, but the ...

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When Did Chinese Medicine First Discover Sexual Transmission as a Vector of Disease?

March 23rd, 2012 9:30pm

by Eric Brand

It is hard to accurately assess how long ago sexual transmission was recognized as a vector of disease in Chinese medicine. Many diseases that are now known to be caused by particular organisms or other vectors of disease were traditionally believed to be caused by the invasion of evil qì contracted from environmental factors. For example, malaria was not known to be caused by mosquitoes; it was classically attributed to contraction of summerheat during the hot season, contact with mountain forest miasma, or contraction of cold-damp. Similarly, many sexually transmitted diseases were long thought to be due to contraction of external environmental evils, possibly related to constitutional weakness or unclean hygiene habits.

 In ancient times, many sexually transmitted diseases would be difficult to conclusively link to sexual transmission. For example, gonorrhea and similar diseases that manifest with urina ...

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The Influence of Herbal Medicine on the Food in Taiwan

March 23rd, 2012 9:27pm

by Eric Brand

The impact of Chinese medicine is easily seen in the food and drink of Taiwan. By nature, the prevailing local viewpoint regarding healthy diet emphasizes variety and suitability of food to the current climate. As far as the impact of Chinese medicine into the food in Taiwan, it is sometimes difficult to draw the line between foods and medicine. For example, a soy-milk style beverage is made out of yi yi ren, and shan yao is often seen as a vegetable on the dinner table. Can we say these are examples of the influence of herbal medicine? How about watermelon juice with aloe in the summertime, or a dish made of stir-fried si gua and ginger? Or a pesto-like sauce made from the aerial portions of the plant that yields chun pi?

Throughout Chinese society, the importance of diversity in one’s diet is a central theme. In contrast to America, “healthy eating” involves much less elimination of foods than we o ...

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