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Western Pharmaceuticals from a TCM Perspective

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Post time 16-12-2013 11:49 AM | Show all posts |Read mode
Chinese herbs are described in terms of their energetic properties. An herb that enters the lung meridian that is warm and pungent will have the effect of relieving the lungs of Wind-Cold, by expelling phlegm, opening up the sinuses and relieving asthma. This sort of herb would be perfect for what we in the West call "catching a cold."

In this article, we will go in the other direction. We'll begin with common Western medications and describe their actions in terms of Chinese herbal properties to provide some perspective on how a practitioner of Chinese medicine can approach and understand their clinical use by other health professionals.

Valium (Diazepam)

Valium is an anti-anxiety, and anti-tension drug. It has sedative, and hypnotic effects, but over time, one can develop tremors, dizziness, headache, muscle cramps, nervousness, and renewed Anxiety. In other words, it can create the same symptom pattern it is designed to treat. So it has the contradictory effect of sedating, and yet causing restlessness. Valium sedates, and suppresses the liver yang and/or liver fire from a Chinese medicine point of view, but by suppressing rising liver yang or fire, Valium dries out the liver, creating a state of yin deficiency with heat which causes restlessness, tremor, irritability, and vertigo.

The dry or cotton mouth and thirst with bitter taste is a clear sign of the hot, dry effect of Valium. Valium's strong sedation/relaxation response appears contrary to its nature of aggravating liver yang and heat. This is similar to alcohol, which is also heating (and damp), but has an initial relaxation response followed by agitation as heat builds up in the liver.


Like other hormones produced by the body, insulin is another transformation of jing/essence. Insulin is yin, sweet, and cold in nature, entering lung, spleen, and kidney channels, but activated by the kidney yang function. It is very connected to the yun/hua metabolic function, and therefore has a yang component as well. Diabetics without treatment tend to develop yin vacuity, in the upper, middle or lower burners (or combination thereof), so that a xiao ke/wasting and thirsting pattern tends to dry out the lung, spleen, or kidney yin. It is no surprise, then, that Chinese herbal treatment of wasting and thirsting pattern is generally composed of yin, blood, and sometimes qi supplementing herbs. When we receive diabetics as patients, however, the yin vacuity is 'masked' by use of insulin. If the Chinese medical physician (carefully) is able to delay an insulin dose, you will see yin vacuity signs come back quickly, such as rapid thready pulse, and red, shriveled tongue. Any type of hormone replacement therapy must develop side effects over time, because simple replacement of bodily substances does not take the complexity of the endocrine system into account.

The body has a buffer reaction to any foreign substance over a period of time and even as yin builds up from insulin intake, the condition of the internal organs remains the same. Therefore, over a period of time, we see the development of blurry vision or loss of eyesight (liver yin, and blood vacuity), numbness, and tingling of the extremities (liver blood vacuity and congestion), impotence (kidney qi vacuity, weakening of jing/essence), and increased susceptibility to infections. Chinese medical treatment can help abate the development of these symptoms.


Progesterone as produced by the body increases in secretion between ovulation and menstruation (the premenstrual phase). According to Chinese medicine, yang qi is more exuberant at this time and the heat produced by increased kidney yang activity is apparent. Progesterone influences and regulates breast tissue, uterine muscle, and menstrual bleeding. Its side effects when taken as a hormone supplement are diverse and complex; an interesting one is bleeding of the gums. According to Chinese medicine, this would indicate stomach heat and possible 'vicarious menstruation,' the rising up of menstrual blood to the upper part of the body.

Either endogenous production or artificial supplementation with progesterone has been linked to premenstrual syndrome, with breast distention, irritability, depression, flu-like symptoms, and abdominal distention. From a Chinese medicine point of view, we can say that there is liver qi congestion and accumulation of damp/heat. In such cases, vaginal yeast infections, and/or candida may develop as well.

Progesterone can be classified as a warm, qi-raising medicinal that also has sweet, damp and congestive qualities. It tends to enter and accumulate in the liver and stomach channels, and disperses kidney yang and qi. Over a period of time, it will cause increasing kidney yang and qi vacuity and, as this develops, congestion of dampness, blood, and qi will increase from the inability of the qi mechanism to distribute this drug through the body efficiently.

It is highly preferable to use natural progesterone when necessary. Rather than trying to replace the endogenous hormone, natural progesterone give several natural hormone precursors from soybean, yam, and herbal extracts. The body then synthesizes hormonal material from these sources, and its intelligence and integrity remain unimpaired.

* For more western drugs evaluated from a TCM perspective, read the full article in our blog at TCM Wellness Services


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