Plumbing the depths of our traditional medicine

Updated 2016-11-21 12:05:49 Shanghai Daily

Though most people think of modern medicine and pill-popping as salvation against ailments and disease, China has a long heritage of relying on alternatives to restore and maintain good health, including traditional herbs, acupuncture, massage and special exercises

Sun Simiao, a famed physician in the Tang Dynasty (618-907), once said that a top doctor is one works to keep disease at bay, a mid-level doctor addresses the threat of imminent disease and a bottom-level doctor treats diseases after they strike.

The practice of traditional Chinese medicine has been enjoying something of a renaissance in recent years. It complements World Health Organization policies that aim to prevent disease rather than simply treat it.

The concept of zhi wei bing, or treating diseases yet to come, has always been an important part of traditional medicine, according to Dr. Zhang Zhenxian, director of Internal Medicine Department at Yueyang Hospital.

There are generally three targets of health management under traditional medicine: eliminating pathogenic factors that might trigger disease, preventing aggravation when people take ill and offering treatment when diseases have struck to prevent related complications.

Traditional Chinese medicine diagnoses a patient based on observation, listening, interrogation and pulse-taking. It can spot unbalanced energy in the body before symptoms appear. Timely remedies at this stage may effectively restore energy balance and ward off the onset of illness.

Since 2013, the Shanghai Government has expanded public health services to include traditional medicine, especially for those 65 years and older, children six years and younger, pregnant women and patients with ailments like high blood pressure and diabetes. Health education is a key priority.

A number of traditional Chinese medicine hospitals in Shanghai have opened clinics to help residents get professional diagnoses, treatment and advice.

Hand-in-hand with this initiative is a campaign to teach people how to better manage their own health.

"Diet, emotions, sleep and daily lifestyles all influence our health," said Zhang. "Often these factors are ignored, especially by younger people who believe themselves invincible."

She said psychological stress and too little sleep are potential health risks for teenagers in Shanghai. For the working population at large, long work hours, sitting too much, frequent flights and stress are detrimental factors, Zhang added.

She said she is pleased by the increasing interest in traditional Chinese medicine when it comes to personal health maintenance.

Elderly with chronic problems and people with weak immunity are typically the most enthusiastic about health maintenance, Zhang said. In many cases, older people also become involved in health issues related to younger family members.

Officials at Longhua Hospital, another leading TCM hospital in the city said early intervention and health promotion are included in Shanghai's classified health system. City-level traditional medicine hospitals are asked to develop technology and clinical guidance, while district-level and community hospitals are responsible for carrying that knowledge out to the public. Many residents are receiving low-cost, regular therapies like acupuncture, herbal soup prescriptions and massage at community hospitals near their homes.

That's not to say that modern Western-style medicine is ignored. Rather, the best aspects of both systems form the backbone of public healthcare, with an increasing emphasis on preventative care.

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