Herbs have been used in China for over 5,000 years. In this huge expanse of time, practitioners gained skill in creating formulas to treat disease states and maintain health. Since modern illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease were not yet understood, Chinese physicians were, and still are, trained to identify patterns of illness. Patient complaints, along with information gained from examining the tongue and pulse, are used to make a TCM (traditional Chinese medicine) “diagnosis”. TCM is based on 3 modalities; herbs, acupuncture and food.
In TCM, yin (an energetic with fluid, heaviness, coolness, calm) and yang (energetics are dry, light, hot and active) mix in the body to create qi (“chi”). Patterns of illness (symptoms) occur when there are imbalances between the two energies. (for example, too much or too little of one, not mixing properly, excess of an energetic in one area of the body). Yin and yang affect how and where blood flows, biochemical reactions, the creation and distribution of fluids, mental states, sleep patterns, etc. So we can use these energy patterns as sort of metaphors for illness (since yin and yang can’t be directly measured), and make a roadmap to better health.
One example of this idea might be a Golden retriever who overheats easily, tends to gain weight and have itchy, smelly skin in the summer with a “full” pulse and red, wet tongue. He is said to have “damp heat”. Summer is considered “damp heat “ season, as the heat and humidity are both increased, and will exacerbate that imbalance in our bodies. In Western terms, we understand this dog may have allergies to pollens and perhaps low thyroid function. So TCM is just another way of explaining imbalances in the body. Herbs to drain both “dampness” and “heat” will help to improve, and sometimes cure, this pet’s illness.
Many other TCM patterns, and combinations of patterns, are used to describe illness. So we might see an older cat diagnosed with kidney failure. He is thin, thirsty, wanders and cries at night. He is said to have “yin deficiency”. Remember that yin is about fluids, heaviness, calmness. So if this kitty is lacking yin, he will have more yang by comparison, which can cause dryness, weight loss, restlessness.
Every individual comes into the world with certain imbalances. With age, poor diet, stress, these imbalances become more obvious and symptoms occur. TCM can help to provide energetics to put the body back into a more balanced state of health.