Tag Archives: TCM

TCM #14 : Ginseng (part I)


Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng), which includes Chinese and Korean varieties, has great worldwide renown. Even its scientific name, “Panax”, alludes to its curative effects. Panax derives from the Greek roots, pan meaning “all”, and akos, “cure”, referring to the “cure all” or “panacea.”

According to Prof Shiu-Ying Hu, the earliest written account of Asian ginseng is from Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing (approx. 1st century A.D.). There it states, “It is used for repairing the five viscera, quietening the spirit, curbing the emotion, stopping agitation, removing noxious influence, brightening the eyes, enlightening the mind and increasing wisdom. Continuous use leads one to longevity with light weight.” In 1714, the first description of the plant by a Westerner was provided by Pere Jartoux, a Jesuit missionary stationed in Beijing. “Nobody can imagine that the Chinese and Tartars would set so high on this root, if it did not constantly produce a good effect. Those that are in health often make use of it, to render themselves more vigorous and strong…”

According to the tenets of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), the taste of Asian ginseng is sweet bitter and warm in nature. It is a tonic used to increase strength, increase blood volume, promote life and appetite, quiet the spirit, and give wisdom. It is used alone or in prescriptions for general weakness, deficient qi patterns, anemia, lack of appetite, shortness of breath with spontaneous perspiration, nervous agitation, forgetfulness, thirst, and impotence.

Ginseng’s ability to boost qi (vital energy) in the body is not insignificant. When a person’s qi is completely exhausted, death will occur. For this reason ginseng is often used as a second line of defense in emergency situations especially for shock and coma characterized by an inability of the body to supply enough oxygen to meet tissue requirements and hypotension (low blood pressure). With this condition, a severe depletion of qi has occurred and ginseng along with other herbs can help to resolve that deficiency in a short time.

Improper Use of Ginseng

Asian ginseng’s reputation for prolonging life has lead to its consumption in a variety of forms such as an ingredient in cooking, health supplements or in teas. It is important to remember that its medicinal effects can create undesirable health effects if not used properly. Overuse of ginseng is dubbed as “Ginseng Abuse Syndrome” (GAS). Some notable undesirable effects include hypertension, nervousness, sleeplessness, skin eruptions, edema, and morning diarrhea. People have also reported feelings of depersonalization and confusion, as well as euphoria, restlessness and agitation associated with its use.

Which Ginseng Should I Use and When?

It is important to know the area from which your ginseng originates. Although Chinese and Korean ginsengs are both known as Panax ginseng, the power of tonifying qi energy from Korean ginseng is much stronger than its Chinese counterpart. Korean ginseng is best used in cold climates for health maintenance and may not be suitable for people living in warmer regions such as southern China or Asia.

There are some guidelines for using ginseng as a health supplement. It is best used during winter for someone lacking qi energy. Some signs of qi deficiency include shallow respiration, shortness of breath and cold extremities. Ginseng should not be used if a person is suffering from a cold or flu because it not only promotes their vitality but also that of the pathogen infecting the person. For someone who has a mild qi deficiency, American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) can be a nice choice since it has a mild nature.


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TCM #13: Examine your stool

Normally, an individual is able to defecate once or twice per day without straining. The stool should neither be too hard nor too soft, and should not have a foul odor. There also should be no pus, blood, mucus or undigested food in it. A TCM physician usually notes the frequency, form and color of the stool as well as the accompanying feelings during defecation.

Nature of stool
  • An offensive odor of stool pertains to heat accumulation.
  • Dry, dark-brown stool means excessive heat is present in the large intestine.
  • Loose stools with a fishy odor pertain to excessive cold in the intestines.
  • Extremely dry and hard stool is often seen in a deficiency of blood or body fluids.
  • Loose bowels with shapeless stool usually are due to deficiency cold in the spleen and stomach.
  • Initial discharge of a hard stool and then discharge of a loose stool can be seen in dampness accumulation caused by a spleen deficiency.
  • Alternate dry and loose stool in irregular patterns are due to disharmony between the liver and spleen.
  • Stools with partly digested food and a rotten odor are caused by improper food intake, which leads to food retention. Individuals will also pass excessive gas.
  • Stools containing completely undigested food are due to kidney yang exhaustion.
  • Stools with yellow mucus accompanied with tenesmus (rectal heaviness) means damp-heat has accumulated in the large intestine.
  • Pus and bloody stools are seen in dysentery.
  • Sour stools in children are due to food retention without proper digestion.


Constipation refers to infrequency or difficulty in defecation and may be accompanied with dry or hard stool. In TCM, this is usually due to heat accumulating in the intestines or insufficient amounts of body fluids. This leads to the intestines being unable to perform peristalsis (special movements of the intestines by which the contents are moved along the cavity). TCM categorizes the condition into four types:

Heat type: This is caused by excessive heat consuming the body fluid making the content in the bowel unable to flow freely. Individuals defecate dry or hard stools. Other accompanying symptoms are a flushed face, low-grade fever, thirst, foul breath, abdominal fullness and abdominal distention with pain that does not go away with pressure placed on the abdomen.

Cold type: Individuals have difficulty in defecation with dry or normal stool texture. Other symptoms include abdominal distention with pain that does not go away with pressure placed on the abdomen, a pale complexion, cold limbs, an aversion to cold temperatures and a preference to drink hot beverages.

Qi type: The individual presents with constipation or difficulty in defecation even though he or she has an urge. The usual associated symptoms are fullness in the chest and rib sides, frequent belching and a poor appetite.
Deficiency type: Individuals have an urge to defecate but it is difficult, and, many persons will try forceful straining to release the stool. In some cases, extremely dry hard stools like sheep feces are discharged. Other usual symptoms are a pale complexion, dizziness and fatigue.


Diarrhea means frequent defecation with loose or watery stools. TCM believes this symptom is mainly caused by an attack of exogenous evils, improper diet or yang deficiency in both the spleen and kidneys, which make water descend and cause dysfunction in the intestines. TCM divides the condition into the following six types:

Damp cold type: Individuals present with diarrhea characterized by loose and watery stools. The stools are pale yellow and have a foul odor. Other accompanying symptoms are a bland taste in the mouth, fullness in the epigastric (the upper middle region of the abdomen), abdominal pain, intestinal rumblings and a poor appetite. There may be alternating chills and fever accompanied by headache, nasal congestion and general soreness.

Damp heat type: Individuals usually start with abdominal pain followed by diarrhea, and pass formless and foul odor stools with great frequency. Other symptoms include intestinal rumblings, restlessness, thirst and a burning sensation in the anus.

Food retention type: Individuals have foul smelling diarrhea with sour and rotten vomit, fullness of the epigastric region, intestinal rumblings, abdominal pain that is diminished after fecal discharge, a poor appetite and fever.

Spleen yang deficiency type: Individuals have diarrhea or may just pass loose and soft stool. There is undigested food in the stool. Other symptoms include poor appetite, increased stooling frequency after eating greasy foods, abdominal distention, a dull pain above the navel, a sallow complexion, fatigue and general weakness.

Hyperactive liver qi attacking the spleen type : Individuals have abdominal pain and diarrhea following emotional disturbances. The abdominal discomfort will slightly diminish after defecation. Accompanying symptoms include fullness in the chest and rib sides, belching, loss of appetite, a bitter taste in the mouth, acid regurgitation, a sallow complexion and fatigue.

Kidney yang deficiency type: This is due to the kidney yang failing to warm the spleen. Individuals present with abdominal pain at dawn and then pass a loose stool. The abdominal pain is relieved after defecation. There is also coldness and soreness present in the lumbar area and knees. Distension in the abdominal region and aversion of coldness are typically present.

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TCM #12: Examine Your Urine

Under normal circumstances, an individual usually urinates four to six times during the day; it is considered normal to get up once during the night. The amount of urine is about 1.5 ~ 2 L /day. The frequency and amount of urination can vary according to our drinking habits, temperature, amount of sweat produced and age. By checking our urination daily, we can learn about not only the state of our body fluids, but also the state of the organs involved in this process. Let’s see how TCM interprets certain urine qualities listed below:

Nature of Urine

  • Deep yellow urine can indicate heat accumulation.
  • A strong smell of urea may be due to hyperactive heat in the heart and bladder.
  • Cloudy yellow urine with a foul odor is mainly due to damp heat pouring down in the bladder.
  • Clear, odorless and profuse urination pertains to a deficiency cold syndrome.
  • Clear and profuse urine in an exogenous febrile illness means the evil has not yet entered the interior part of the body.
  • When the urine turns clear in febrile illnesses, it indicates an individual will recover soon.
  • Red urine means the blood stream and the meridians are impaired by heat evils.

Volume of Urine

  • Profuse, clear urine and polyuria (excessive passage of urine) at night are due to insufficiency of kidney yang.
  • Diabetes is a disease characterized by excessive thirst and polyuria.
  • Scanty, yellow urine can be caused by excessive heat, over sweating, vomiting and diarrhea due to the over consumption of body fluids.
  • Scanty urine accompanied with edema (general swelling) can be seen inyang deficiency of the lungs, spleen or kidneys; because, the organs are unable to vaporize body fluids and cause water-dampness retention.

Urinary Frequency

  • Frequent urination with a large amount of clear urine is due to kidney qi failing to consolidate urine in the bladder.
  • Frequent urination, urgency with a small amount of deep-yellow urine or even with bloody or painful urination is due to damp-heat in the bladder.
  • An increase in nocturnal (night) urination with clear urine is seen in late stage kidney disease or aged people where the kidney-yang fails to control the urine excretion.

Urine Retention

  • In the elderly, if the bladder is distended but unable to void or only excrete a few drops, this is due to kidney-qi deficiency.
  • In pregnant women, inhibited urination is usually due to qi deficiency in the middle burner, which causes the fetus to press down on the lower part of the bladder (located in the lower burner region) and resulting in difficult release of urine.
  • Inhibited urination after delivery is usually a result of blood stasis or swelling of the uterus, which causes pressure on the bladder and urethra.


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