As stated – this is a preview blog where I can consolidate & refine already posted points of contention I have, while I elaborate these into new material in an upcoming exhaustive (exhausting) thesis article. I have pulled these from scattered sections across my website, completely admitting they need elaboration (especially in their… shall we say, more direct tone), and instead will now refer all “skeptic” links here to a unified location for the time being.
The upcoming additions will add over 7 pages of discussion and citation, as well as general reformatting.
Then the meantime, as you can see, I dive right in.
I’ll call myself out right from the beginning: Yes I have a clear vested interest in Chinese medicine working. My current livelihood depends on it. But is this all one giant attempt at rationalizing myself (and others) into an impossible intellectual loop so that I can sleep soundly at night? Absolutely not. This is my attempt at learning a foreign/ancient medicine and sussing out what is superstition from effective medicine.
This is precisely to combat & compliment the gaping inferiorities in our current biomedical system – especially when a) it’s a leading global killer , b) it is almost useless in curing chronic health conditions and c) it has lead us down the path of literally – pardon my language – decades long ass-backwards nutritional advice. Sure – we are living longer (or are we? [Source]) but we are aging terribly – especially when compared to the vitality seen in the elderly populations in indigenous cultures .
So no – this is not an attempt at rationalizing. This is an attempt of a Westerner to study a medicine, then translate it effectively to a modern audience while preserving and respecting the accumulated knowledge. Rather than – you know, writing the whole thing off as inferior pseudo-scientific drivel. And after my years of studying & practicing – as each day passes, it is our own modern medical system that begins to look more and more primitive. And of course it is – get back to me once it has been refined for millenia. As was done with the traditional Chinese masters – as that was indeed what they were – the medical masters of their time, writing truly impressive scholarly – especially herbal – textbooks. How much do you, dear skeptic – know of these?
And this was outside the Capitalist pharma pseudo-science staining our modern era, that on record kills hundreds of thousands of people every year and we turn a blind eye. Meanwhile relatively safe alternative medicine such as a safe and effective alternative medicines like Chinese medicine or under scrutiny – this is a form of class warfare – these traditional medicines were created by barefoot doctors for the sake of the people itself, not the bottom line.
The biggest arrogance from the western biomedical community is simply a refusal to admit that they simply have no idea what they are talking about. This is excruciatingly frustrating for us TCM practitioners. Watching as they equate Qi with some mystical force and then proceed to dismantle a scarecrow of their own making. At that point, who are they even talking to? Instead of approaching a topic with minds made up, perhaps you could listen to the experts in the field who are also biomedically trained. I dismantle this in the next section.
Regardless of the seemingly at times superstitious pseudo scientific masks of these medicines (Greek, etc.) the key here is irrelevant to the theory, the applications of the treatment still worked. Further, it takes trained professionals today such as myself to suss out what could actually have unrecognized scientific merit not yet commonly accepted in the mainstream medical community. I will continue to refer to the “brain in your gut” for this phenomenon – likely once thought total hogwash, traditional medicines have recognized this connection for millennia whereas modern science – mere decades.
Aren’t the TCM “organs” or the concept of “Qi” just primitive/don’t exist/are unscientific?
“ON THE “SPLEEN”
In TCM the ‘Spleen’ is the central Organ of digestion, and it only takes a quick internet search to reveal that the anatomical spleen has absolutely nothing to do with this process. While many skeptic types scoff at this, and then proceed to throw the baby out with the bathwater, the explanation is quite simple: the traditional Chinese regarded the anatomical spleen as an extra lobe of the ‘Liver’, in the same way we have two kidneys and two lungs. This is in a way actually close to accuracy due to the deep associations with the Chinese ‘Liver’ function and the blood – similar to the anatomical spleen. It seems they simply combined the functions of both organs, and collectively called them “the Liver”.
When referring to the Spleen in the traditional sense, were more accurately naming the digestive organ the pancreas. This has been shown to be a pesky mistranslation that continues to pervade English TCM translations. This is most clearly illustrated in Five Phase theory, where the Element or Phase associated with the Spleen is ‘Earth’, which is positioned in the Centre – where the pancreas is physically located (among numerous other associations). Some authors correct this misnomer by referring to this system as the “Spleen/Pancreas system”. When seen in this light, a great many TCM functions of the so-called “Spleen” begin to make perfect sense, when actually examining the functions of the anatomical pancreas. This is simply a case of broken telephone.
ON “THE TRIPLE BURNER/WARMER”
In regards to another favourite scapegoat for skeptics to (arrogantly) skewer is the concept of the “Triple Burner” organ. This is again easily explained if one makes an effort to look beyond a passing glance. The Triple Burner (lit. San Jiao) commonly refers to two functional aspects: a division of the body into 3 cavities (or ‘Burners’), which are essentially direct equivalents to the thoracic, abdominal, and pelvic anatomical cavities. The second function relates to the movement of Qi and fluids – which in modern TCM texts is now theorized to directly correspond to the interstital fluids which transport biological chemicals and water throughout an organism. So together, what can be seen here is that the ancient Chinese were essentially describing the functions of all non-visceral/extracellular spaces of the body. I have only skimmed over this topic, it should be known that the amount of detail regarding these functions is advanced and fills entire textbooks – certainly not something to brush aside.
ON “Qi” AND THE “CHANNELS”
Finally, the most commonly eviscerated term in TCM is likely “Qi” as “it doesn’t exist”! To begin – I challenge anyone to think outside the box as even within the last decades or last century, entirely new understandings of our phenomenal universe have been discovered that were not only theoretical – but further, hadn’t even been conceived of to begin with. (I will provide citation here).
That said, the traditional Chinese were a pragmatic people. Qi was never some mystical otherworldly concept, but right in front of you, seen in biological function (the breeze the blows the trees) and experienced directly in meditation and meditative mind states.
Qi is a simple convention in language as we simply do not have an equivalent term in English. For this, I have coined the term “Vital Inertia” meaning the optimal continual functioning of any physiological system. I have also termed it “Functional Vitality“: Are all immuno-modulator markers (T-cells, NK cells etc) in their ideal range? Then “Wei Qi” is vital. Is the digestion operating smoothly without complaint, all enzymes and gland secreting correctly? Then “Spleen Qi” is sufficient. Are periods flowing smoothly without pain, clotting, or mood swings? Then ipso facto, “Liver Qi” is coursing correctly.
Thus, in itself Qi is a valid concept, an umbrella term that transcends and includes the science based terms skeptics are talking of. Some acupuncture points have a more vascular flavour in their action. Others more purely muscular. Others such as PC6 are more notably working on the nervous system. All of these combined are enhancing their respective systems, which as a convention in terms we simply call Qi.
Further – this applies to the “Channels”. These transcend and include vascular pathways, trigger point pathways, fascia trains, trajectories of the nerves, and according to Jason D. Robertson, flows of interstitial fluids just beginning to be recognized by science. The channels are early illustrations of all of these systems both in their individual components but also combined pathways of function – which can be actively utilized and directly explored in martial arts. And it is these pathways with which the ancient masters worked – and thus should not be taken out of this context.
Further still, this Qi is also an experience, something that cannot be pinned down by science in the sense that in Qi Gong and martial arts, sublime states of mental focus, presence and even almost predictive intuition can be both experienced and developed by dedicated practitioners. Something that if even the most skeptic of scientists decided they would study Kung Fu for 20 years to understand what is meant by Qi, would eventually “find it”. The key point here, and likely most interesting to future research, is that when “unblocking” Qi “stagnation” in an acupuncture channel or organ system, the patient’s experience of life begins to flow with more ease. Less irritability, more adaptability. More acceptance, less rigidity – both in body and mind. This is the key premise of the herbal formula “Xiao Yao Wan” – smoothing the functions of menstrual, digestive, and mental-emotional producing resilience & ease.
So not only is it the scientifically recognized “flow state” it also has the aforementioned physiological aspects. So yes each these can be divided, each of these is science based in and of themselves – neurological, endocrine, etc. We are working with all of these together and at times in variating ratios. So we are not just talking about the digestive aspect, nor just the muscular trigger points, nor just the flow state. All of which we quite simply call Qi. And this is with which we work – not your watered down fragments that suit your limited understanding & restricted experience.
There is simply no English equivalent word that encapsulates these concepts, which is why I use the two I have coined above (Functional Vitality/Vital Inertia) when talking down to skeptics. So if you prefer to do the usual western thing of fragmenting and dividing wholistic concepts and systems and taking them our of their original context, isolating aspects, fitting things into your terms rather than seeking to understand the term in its own valid context them go for it. That is your personal state of Qi and I’m not here to block it, just guide it.
Quite simply – Stop isolating terms without taking the tradition, translations, and conventions in language into consideration!
Just as it is hard to translate from one language to another without losing subtle connotations, the same is true for these concepts. We work with the ‘Kidney’ which is defined in our TCM terms, and then use herbs which treat the ‘Kidneys’ – which from a Western point of view these herbs may be cerebral tonics, hormone regulators, or tonics which strengthen the bones. The key here is that the tradition defines and dictates the functions of these systems, and should at no point be taken out of this context – unless to draw overlapping similarities between the two medical systems. The herbs work. The needles work.
The takeaway here, is to not get lost in translation. Just because something speaks a different language, even an ancient one – does not mean they are not describing the same physiological functions. Physiology is physiology, TCM may map and describe functions from a more metaphorical perspective, and combine them in different ways, but the terrain itself remains the same – the human body, mind, and experience. The treatments are what matters, and the results speak for themselves: 1, 2 (I will provide more citation here as again this is a public draft).
We do not have to speak your language.
(I dive into the colonialist aspect of this in the next part.)
Herbal Medicine and COVID-19
For anyone skeptical of Herbal Medicine in general in this COVID-19 era, I invite you to consider:
- One of the leading antivirals currently being tested was originally extracted/synthesized from herbal medicine:
- While not being used specifically in this outbreak, note that one of the most common anti-malarials today was also used extensively for centuries by Chinese herbalists, before its modern-day Nobel prize winning status.
Further, as I mentioned in my video, epidemic disease was a major killer of ancient/traditional cultures who became well equipped with methods of prevention & care for the sick. To scoff at these is simply colonialist/racist – I’ll explain.
Ask yourself, how much do you actually know about the in-depth history of advanced TCM and how science has barely scratched the surface on its millennia of refined experience? Do you deem it “primitive”? Do you ignore he fact that while science may not currently prove the effectiveness of some of these specific formulas (technical combinations of herbs, thousands of formulas to choose from), who is to say that in a mere decade from now incredible new research comes out proving the efficacy of these formulas as more research becomes available? Yet these formulas have been used safely by medical professionals for centuries (yes, professionals – check your colonialism). Do we wait?
These bold statements are a direct response to what I see far too commonly on the internet. Chinese Medicine is a beast of “alternative medicine” that stands alone when compared to homeopathy, naturopathy etc – relative newcomers on the scene. Instead of respect, I see blanket dismissal without taking the time and effort to learn the nuances of what is required for effective individual-based research & translation of terms. Hence my Misinformation article (I will more specifically iron out the TCM side of things in Part 2). For example, all too often I see skeptics immediately see the word “Qi” and then without looking any further, throw the baby out with the bathwater.
I define Qi as functional vitality. Do you have a strong stomach? Well, then you have good stomach Qi. We all know what a “strong stomach” means – the Chinese literally built a language and medicine around agreed upon pictographic imagery such as this – the total opposite of phonetic language. Preciseness is the antithesis, context is everything.
In Western terms we might say sufficient stomach acid, enzymes etc, but either way prescribed herbs will be treating the same thing, albeit using a different language, to achieve the same results. Hence when I see people writing it off without taking a moment to take a deeper glance, I see this as no different as writing off indigenous peoples when they were first discovered as “savages” needing to be “civilized”. To understand something, we must acknowledge the validity of its language, on its own terms, before we can begin translation. I will link an incredible essay on the topic (from a textbook) if I can either find it online, or get permission from the author. I will link it in Part 3 of my misinformation article. (This is a public note to self). The point here is – do not dismiss or attempt to convert something because you do not understand it – this breaches “missionary” territory.
The height of Western/”Science-Based” arrogance, right here:
“”TCM mixtures can be toxic, contaminated or adulterated with prescription drugs; they can also interact with prescription drugs,” Ernst said. It can also give patients a false sense of security, leading them to neglect proven medications or therapies.”
You mean, like nearly any pharmaceutical drug? Any herbal formula in the developed world undergoes testing, in Canada, we have NPN’s to protect from this. And remind me again – which “proven therapies” are we speaking of, here? Ventilators? A little too late, don’t you think?
Would you go to the pharmacist and take a random drug off the shelf and take it? Instead of fear mongering, shouldn’t you be educating people on the importance of working with a trained professional?
“We need to know which specific product is claimed to work and what is the evidence”
Okay so keep twiddling your thumbs waiting for research in formulas perfected over centuries – research which so often is the exact antithesis of how *individual-based* TCM formulas are prescribed – while people are dying.
I will clarify this admittedly off-the-cuff statement. No one is claiming cures. We only aim to ensure most cases remain “mild” or asymptomatic, and should cases become full blown – to reduce the severity of the symptoms.
But essentially – if a treatment is not understood in their terms – it does not exist. Whitewashing at its best.
TCM is a more complex issue to study than say, homeopathy (which in general do not believe in and loathe that people often lump these approaches together). I’m not claiming the process of empirical research itself as excessive, I’m saying it is far more nuanced than people imagine when studying TCM, precisely because of the sheer number of variables when producing customized individual based formulas as is the tradition. This is the polar opposite of the “take a pill for the headache” approach in the west – which don’t get me wrong – is amazing! I am just highlighting the difference & why quality research is still in its infancy: Whether with herbal formulas or acupuncture combinations, you simply cannot prescribe one protocol for large groups of people with the same condition (ex acid reflux) – you must take the presentation of the entire individual into account. TCM never seperates the symptom from the person, thus every prescription is individualized.
It is exeedingly complex, as trying to “standardize it” is akin to not researching it at all. My recommendation: Fund studies on the overall success rates of customized formulas, compared to a control group. Do not apply the same formula to an entire group of people to isolate variables – as this was never how the medicine was practiced. What are we studying then, at that point? The same is true for acupuncture.
No one is trying to “make” TCM sound scientific, we are simply calling for it to be researched in its own terms as I have just outlined. At the very least – use that as the starting point:
Yes or no: Do customized TCM formulations/acupuncture work, when prescribed by renowned TCM doctors trained in pre-Mao “Classical” Chinese Medicine (CCM) methods* who check & confirm each others approaches to reach consensus on the individual formula prescribed, compared to a placebo, in a group with a large sample size.*Mao standardized “TCM” taking it out of clinical context from the classical channel theory model, and countless other Westernizations that most “TCM” studies are now based on. I will elaborate this in a further essay.
The issue comes down to a) taking the medicine seriously to begin with and b) funding. That said, few skeptics take even a passing glance at the amount of research being done in China. Even a quick PubMed search reveals just how much is available in the west. Yes the issue is quality – that we can all agree on, as I have made clear now.
While I complete my draft, I will provide the following links and will add more in my followup essay. These are obviously geared towards acupuncture – the volume of herbal research is far beyond this, I will find examples. Keep in mind these are samples of what is available in English.
- Wikipedia, We have a problem
- Acupuncture: An Overview of Scientific Evidence
- Dear Science Based Medicine, Just a Few Questions About Acupuncture
- The follow up on SBM: Mel asks and I do my best to answer. On acupuncture.
- Mel’s final followup (and what seems to be the last word, as Crislip admittedly [pathetically] taps out with “I have other things to do” at the end of his above piece): Acupuncture, Science based medicine, and UFOs
- An impressive database of the most recent studies consolidated rather than scattered through PubMed
This needs to be taken seriously, and that is my over-arching thesis here, so I acknowledge that more research needs to be conducted. However, in the meantime, people are dying, while a safe medicine (when properly prescribed) centuries equipped with handling contagious diseases is being dismissed. The issue remains a) translation of what is already available in China, and b) taking it seriously to fund and confirm this research here. In either case this takes time, which is why I call it out as “twiddling our thumbs”. There is a stark difference between some internet quack recommending of “eating dirt will cure COVID” – this is millennia of advanced practitioners refining skills and passing on technical formulations for generations – especially ones that treat contagious diseases.
We TCM doctors in North America can already be in there helping to prevent or mitigate symptoms, with little to no side effects beyond possible looser bowel movements, but even then a quick adjustment of a formula will correct that. That’s how TCM works. This is why in most countries of the world, it is a legitimate governmentally regulated medical practice, simply because it works but above all is safe. Can that be said to be true of pharmaceutical medicine, which most commonly either a) masks symptoms (which TCM formulas do not, they resolve the condition, so that once you stop taking the medicine, the condition remains healed) and b) is one of the leading causes of death worldwide – when properly prescribed?
But our ability to help on the front lines in the western world is rendered useless because the science available in the west is in its infancy and research from Chine not taken seriously. I provide preliminary data in my “advanced” section above to demonstrate the complexity of what I am talking about. Confirmed studies take time and are exceedingly complex when TCM is prescribed in its individual-based approach diagnostic pattern-based approach. Meanwhile it is being used liberally in China while scoffed at here. Now is a time to be taking it seriously and governments should be funding it and even advocating it as an adjunct therapy to ease burden on hospitals.
That is my appeal here, please provide us more funding and begin taking this seriously! While the science continues to emerge, instead of waiting, I implore the use of these traditional harmless methods (when administered by professionals), as essentially… what other choice do we have?
Honestly – Skeptics can ahead and do essentially nothing because science hasn’t “confirmed” it yet, meanwhile I will take my advanced technical herbal formulations, adapted through centuries of clinical epidemic experience, as well as immunity “boosting” (yup I said it) mushroom combinations, and numerous other traditional supportives, against the background of my already pristine health based on TCM subtle symptomatology – and we’ll see who fares better. Both in this pandemic – and when experiencing chronic entirely preventable health concerns in general.
This is all I will say on this topic in this webpage – instead I will cut and edit all future revisions to Part 2 of my Misinformation article.