Chinese Herbal Medicine

Identifying the cause

Identifying the cause of the patient’s disharmony is an important part of Chinese medical practice. It is important not to consider the presenting disharmony as the cause of disease. The cause of the disharmony itself is to be found in the person’s dietary habits, life-style, exercise habits, etc.

Identifying the cause of the disharmony is important because, only by doing that , can we advise the patient on how to avoid it, minimize it or prevent its re-occurrence. Chinese Medicine stresses balance as a key to health: balance between rest and exercise, balance in diet, balance in sexual activity, balance in climate. Any long-term imbalance can become a cause of disease. This balance is relative to each person. What is too much exercise for someone, may not be enough for another. We should not therefore, have in mine an ideal and rigid state of balance to which each patient should conform. It is important (and sometimes difficult) to make an assessment of the person’s constitution and body-mind condition and relate these to their diet, life-style and climatic conditions.

The causes of disease are usually divided into internal, external and others:

Internal: emotions
External: weather
constitution, fatigue / over-exertion, excessive sexual activity, diet, trauma, epidemics, parasites and poisons, wrong treatment.

Weak constitution

Every person is born with a certain constitution which is dependent on the parents’ health in general and their health at the time of conception specifically. It is also dependent on the mother’s health during pregnancy.

Herbal and acupuncture treatment as well as breathing exercises aimed at strengthening a weak constitution.


Diet is an important cause of disease, especially nowadays. Our food contains an incredible variety of chemicals, in the form of preservatives, flavourings, colourings, emulsifiers, etc. Even worse, some drugs, such as hormones and antibiotics, are present in certain foods. All these modern changes in the production of food and modern research on food are important and need to be taken into account when considering diet as a cause of disease. Malnutrition causes deficiency of Qi and Blood and weakens the Spleen function. Weak Spleen fails to absorb the nutrients from what food is taken. Over- eating is an even more common cause of disease in our society. Over-eating also weakens the Spleen and Stomach leading to accumulation of mucus, a feeling of fullness, belching, sour regurgitation, nausea and abdominal distension. What Chinese Medicine considers to be cold-energy foods and raw foods (such as salads, ice-creams, iced drinks or fruit) may weaken the Spleen, in particular Spleen-Yang.

The idea that an excessive consumption of salads and fruit can be detrimental to health runs counter to all modern ideas about diet, according to which, by eating raw vegetables and fruit, we can absorb all the vitamins and minerals contained in them. This is true to a certain extent. However, from the Chinese point of view, the Spleen likes dryness and warmth in food and dislikes excess of fluids and cold: an excessive consumption of the above foods will be very difficult to digest and may weaken Spleen-Yang causing diarrhoea, chilliness, cold mucus, abdominal pain and distension. Excessive consumption of sweet foods and sugar, also extremely common in our society, gives rise to Dampness, with such symptoms as upper respiratory catarrh, abdominal distension and fullness, mucus in the stools and vaginal discharges. Excessive consumption of hot energy and spicy foods (such as curry, alcohol, lamb, beef or spices) gives rise to Heat symptoms, especially of the Stomach or Liver, such as a bitter taste, a burning sensation in the epigastrium and thirst.

Excessive consumption of greasy and fried foods (such as any deep-fried foods, milk, cheese, butter, cream, ice-cream, banana, peanuts or fatty meats) gives rise to the formation of Phlegm or Dampness which in turn obstructs the Spleen function such as sinusitis, a nasal discharge,


Chinese diagnosis is based on the fundamental principle that signs and symptoms reflect the condition of the internal organs. Over the centuries, Chinese diagnosis has developed an extremely sophisticated system of correspondences between outward signs and the internal organs. The correlation between outward signs and internal organs is summarized in the expression: “Inspect the exterior to examine the interior”

Chinese pulse diagnosis is, of course, a striking example of this, as so much information about the whole organism can be gleaned from palpation of a small section of the radial artery.

The most commonly used areas of questioning today are:

  • Chills and fever
  • Sweating
  • Head and body
  • Thorax and abdomen
  • Food and taste
  • Stools and urine
  • Sleep
  • Thirst and drink
  • Pain


Special questions need to be asked of women regarding menstruation, discharges, etc…