Even though I’m an acupuncturist and herbalist my primary tool for helping people get well is through the cornerstone of food. I have made an in-depth study of integrative nutrition encompassing a wide range of diets from macrobiotic to Paleolithic to raw foods. However, I fell in love with Chinese nutrition because of it’s traditional focus on longevity and the prevention of illness through proper diet and lifestyle.
In Chinese nutrition the emphasis is on correct diagnosis, where the imprint of the disease is read in the pulse and tongue, before it appears physically. Each patient is seen as an individual, rather than a one size fits all approach. For example, a simple headache may have ten different causes from the Chinese perspective whereas in Western medicine the patient is given a magic bullet, the medicine that treats headache. Through taking the pulse and looking at the patient’s tongue and asking a series of question the superior Chinese doctor aims to prevent disease, whereas the inferior doctor treats disease after it had already happened.
The foundation for a person’s radiant health all begins with the concept of Yin and Yang. Chinese medicine seeks balance, an equilibrium between the two opposing forces of Yang and Yin. Yang is male energy, light, sun and heat while yin energy is female energy such as darkness, the moon, and cold. All healthy activities of the human body arise from the maintenance of dynamic equilibrium between Yin and Yang. When Yin and Yang are in balance the root cause of disease is treated.
What does this mean for you, the passionate health enthusiast? When it is hot, eat cooling foods. When it is cold, eat warming foods. If you eat too many raw foods you may end up with a cold, damp condition from putting out your digestive fire. If you having a superfood smoothie, don’t put ice in it. If you have a tendency towards candida or runny sinuses, add warming spices such as dried ginger or cayenne to your smoothies.
There are many factors that can cause an imbalance of Yin and Yang. Invading pathogens such as microbes or viruses, cold wind entering the body when driving in a convertible, damp entering the body through sitting on damp grass or cold concrete, excess rich foods, not enough sleep or too much alcohol. Chinese medicine will restore balance by expelling the invading pathogens and recommending lifestyle and nutrition changes that reduces excesses and bolster up deficiencies.
Yang diseases such as too much heat, will be treating with yin or cooling foods. Yin diseases will be treated with yang and tonifying foods. Each food has a yin or yang nature and understanding which food to use for what condition is part of the delicate art of Chinese nutrition. One man’s food maybe another man’s poison. For example, too much detoxification and cleansing foods can end up draining a person’s qi (energy) especially if the person is already in a weakened condition. For such a person a combination of cleansing foods and tonifying foods would be prescribed to shore up their inherent weakness.
The Chinese doctor’s understanding of longevity included an understanding of all the factors that contribute to the aging process such as nutrition, lifestyle, and emotions. Chinese medicine is the original ancient holistic medicine. Body and emotions are integrated into one holistic whole. Thus you could use herbs and food to treat emotional disturbances, by cleansing or tonifying the organs. Each organ is associated with a particular emotion. The Lungs are associated with grief, the Liver with anger, the digestive system with worry, the Heart with excessive joy and the Kidneys with fear. Suppose a person was suffering from excessive fear, the doctor might give them black sesame seed or walnuts to tonify the kidneys and help dispel the excessive fear. Or if a person was irritated and angry a lot they might be advised to drink green juices or drink apple cider vinegar to reduce the anger.
Chinese nutrition also excells at using foods and herbs that boost the immune system. Known as tonics, they have the ability to build qi, blood, yin, yang and promote the well-being and optimal functioning of the organs. A well-known example is the use of the gojiberry, famous for it’s anti-aging properties, through building the jing energy of the adrenals and kidneys.
Other well known tonics are cordyceps, reishi, and ginseng. These tonic herbs were used by Taoist hermits focused on longevity and immortality and Chinese Emperor’s alike. Historically they were too expensive for regular people to use but now in the West we have easy access to the best tonic herbs. When we combine a whole food diet based on the timeless principles of Yin and Yang with the tonic herbs we have the basis for unparalleled energy, anti-aging and superlative brain performance.
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