Taking Care of Your Health, Part 3: Traditional Chinese Medicine’s Emphasis on Prevention of Disease
Updated: Jul 3
Written by Dr. Shiaoting Jing, L.Ac., DOM
Edited by Dr. Florence Lim, L.Ac., DAOM
One of the key principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is its emphasis on prevention of disease. TCM believes that human beings are an integral part of nature and therefore must follow the universal laws that flow from the balancing and opposing forces of Yin and Yang.
To understand this, I would like to tell you a famous story which takes place in 407 BC, during and Autumn Warring States period in China:
One day, Bian Que (407 BC – 310 BC), who was a revered and well-known TCM physician, visited King Cai Huan Gong (Qi state’s king). After a facial and pulse reading, Dr. Bian Que said, “In my opinion, you are beginning to have an illness, but you are now only at the very early stage of the illness. You should consider getting treatment. If not, I’m afraid the illness will develop into the deeper layers of the body.” King Cai Huan Gong was unhappy to hear this. He responded, “I’m in good health. I have no disease.” After Bian Que left, Cai Huan Gong said to the people around him, “These doctors always like to treat people who are not ill. It’s easy to show your brilliance to heal those who are not ill!”
After ten days, Dr. Bian Que came to the see King Cai Huan Gong again and said, “Your disease has developed to the skin and flesh, and it will deepen.” The king again was not happy to hear this and continued to ignore him. The doctor retreated again.
Ten days later, Dr. Bian Que came again and respectfully implored to King Cai Huan Gong, "Your disease has developed into your stomach, and it will be more serious if you don't treat it." Cai Huan Gong became even more disgruntled and did not want to hear this. The doctor retreated in a hurry.
After another ten days, Dr. Bian Que saw King Cai Huan Gong but kept his distance. After getting a glimpse of the king, he immediately turned and ran away. King Cai Huan Gong felt that the doctor’s reaction was peculiar, so he sent someone to ask the doctor, “Dr. Bian Que, why did you run away quietly without saying a word when you saw the king this time?” Dr. Bian Que explained, “Skin conditions can be cured by applying hot water and scalding. When they develop to the flesh and meat, they can be cured by needling. Even when they develop to the stomach and intestines, they can be cured by taking several doses of herbal decoctions. But once they deepen into the bone marrow, they can only wait for death, and the doctors can no longer do anything about it. Now the king’s disease has deepened into the bone marrow, so I can no longer successfully treat him!”
Five or six days later, King Cai Huan Gong was in pain. He sent someone to ask Dr. Bian Que to treat him. Dr. Bian Que knew that King Cai Huan Gong was going to send for him, so he fled to the other state of Qin (because in those days, a physician who could not successfully cure a king’s illness would oftentimes be executed). A few days later, Cai Huan Gong died.
The lesson gleaned from this story is that a skilled TCM professional doctor – by palpating your channels, feeling your pulse, observing your body, facial appearance, and tongue, and knowing your overall medical history – can help improve people’s health and treat their ailments before more severe illness can take hold.
In TCM theory, our physical body consists of twelve organs and twelve major channels, plus eight extra meridians. We view the channels in our body like a complete transportation system. When our health is in balance, the energy circulating through the twelve channels should be flowing smoothly, and the transporting, transformative functions of our body’s nutrients should also be optimal. This rhythmic flow of energy through the channels, or meridians, must be unimpeded to maintain this state of balance. Thus, when various traumas such as physical trauma, mental stress, pathogenic wind or cold or heat attack etc. occurs, then imbalances can occur, and sickness has an opportunity to take hold.
As TCM practitioners, we not only try to heal people’s sicknesses, but we also try to educate our patients so that they can understand their physical bodies and know that when they feel something is off balance or abnormal, they should find a TCM practitioner/acupuncturist who can help them restore their health and rebalance their channels. They should not wait until their condition gets worse and deepens, as in the case of King Cai Huan Gong. This is the core principle of TCM treatment – to treat sickness before it appears.
For example, everyone has experienced catching a cold at some point in their lives. In the beginning stage, you may have just gone through a very stressful time period, lacked adequate sleep, or had a “wind attack” (i.e., being exposed to a cold draft while outside and not wearing enough clothes to keep you warm), and you start to feel unusually tired; then the next day, you catch a cold. If you do not take care of yourself during this time or get enough rest, then you may start sneezing, have a headache, sore throat, ear pain, or slight coughing. If you still do not rest and take care of yourself, then the viral infection can develop into a bacterial infection. If, on the other hand, you get treated in the beginning stages with acupuncture and herbal teas, then a majority of the time, you will be able to get over your cold much more quickly.
Another example is when someone feels extremely anxious and over-stressed or suffers from any type of emotional imbalance. Getting acupuncture right away – and in some cases, taking some herbal teas –can quickly allow the energy in the channels to return to a normal flow and prevent more severe emotional, psychological, and health issues down the line.
Acupuncture treatments work on our channels to promote increased microcirculation; it works at both a cellular and energetic level. Herbal remedies work on our body’s chemistry to create energetic balance. Acupuncture is the Yang, and herbal medicine is the Yin. Both work together to achieve the goal of Yin and Yang harmony.
At TCM Healing Center, we offer longevity care program packages to help people who want to invest in their health and treat sickness before it happens. Besides acupuncture and herbal teas, our package includes physical, emotional, and dietary guidance, as well as Qi Gong exercises that can be practiced on a regular basis. Ask our front desk for more information!
In Part 4, we will discuss how and why we get sick from a TCM point of view.