Chinese medicine, a system reaching back more than 2,000 years, is practiced by about one-fifth of the world's population. Many people in the United States, Canada, Europe, and Australia regard Chinese medicine as their first line of defense in maintaining health and combating disease. Although acupuncture has captured attention in the United States, traditional herbal medicine plays a far greater role in the Chinese health-care system. Backed by centuries of empirical experience, China's huge pharmacopeia contains thousands of substances of plant, animal, or mineral origin, most of them herbs. At least half of Chinese folk remedies have some kind of scientific basis for their reputed claims, according to a National Academy of Sciences study of 796 Chinese herbal and animal remedies.1 Chinese medicine utilizes a range of therapeutic methods including herbs, diet, massage, osteopathic-type manipulation, breathing, deep relaxation, and therapeutic exercise in a holistic approach to health.
The leading cause of death in China is cancer, followed by stroke. Conventional Western cancer therapies-chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery-have been increasingly used since the 1960s in Chinese hospitals. However, the side effects of these treatments have been, there as here, often highly debilitating. This has led the Chinese government to fund research into the traditional herbal medicines. One result is the routine use of Fu Zhen therapy, an immune-enhancing herbal regimen, as an adjunct to chemotherapy and radiation. Fu Zhen therapy is reported to protect the immune system from damage and to increase survival rates, sometimes dramatically, when used in conjunction with the modern cancer therapies. The principal Fu Zhen herbs (astragalus, ligustrum, ginseng, codonopsis, atractylodes, and ganoderma) strengthen the body's nonspecific immunity and increase the functions of the T-cells.2
Herbal antitoxin therapies, also regularly used, contain many herbs that have been found to inhibit tumor growth by a variety of mechanisms. Kelp and pokeroot are among the herbs known to dissolve tumors in Chinese herbal therapy.
In the United States, it is very rare for a person with cancer to be treated solely by Chinese medicine, even though many practitioners say that traditional Chinese medicine can often handle cancer on its own, with success in cases that proved untreatable by Western medicine.3 "For patients who desire the expertise of a conventional oncologist as well as the benefits of more natural methods," says Roger Jahnke, a doctor of Oriental medicine and director of the Health Action Clinic in Santa Barbara, California, "Chinese medicine can provide an important collaborative resource to link with conventional cancer treatment. Patients should develop a healing team that could include the oncologist, a practitioner of acupuncture and herbal pharmacology, and perhaps a nutritionist, psychologist and support group of some kind. The result is a more comprehensive and synergistic therapeutic effect." When used in tandem with chemotherapy, Chinese herbal medicine can control and minimize the side effects of chemical drugs and may enhance their therapeutic effects. Herbs also bolster immune-system functions depressed by radiation.4
In China, surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation are considered viable treatments for benign and malignant tumors by physicians who are attempting to integrate Eastern and Western methods. Conventional treatments may be required to deal with a situation within the time available to the patient, notes Zhang Dai-zhao, a specialist in cancer treatment in Beijing. Although Chinese energetic therapies such as herbal medicine and acupuncture may be able to eventually dismantle pathologic matter, "they may take more time than the patient has," he states.5 Many practitioners in China say that the best results against cancer are obtained by means of a joint attack combining Oriental and Western medicine, with the patient pursuing a suitable diet, Chinese yoga, and therapeutic exercise.
In classic Chinese medicine, there is no specific concept of cancer, though there is of tumors. Many nutritive tonics and herbal medicines were developed to alleviate pain and prolong survival by strengthening the body's life forces and arresting tumor progression. Chinese doctors believe the causes of cancer are multiple, including toxins and other environmental factors, called "external causes," as well as "internal causes" such as emotional stress, bad eating habits, accumulated wastes from food, and damaged organs. Two main factors are stagnant blood and a blockage or accumulation of chi, or qi (pronounced chee), the vital energy said to circulate along the meridians, or pathways, linking all parts of the body.
Illness is an energy imbalance, an excess or deficiency of the body's elemental energies. According to the ancient Chinese, chi, the life force, controls the body's workings as it travels along the meridians, completing an energy cycle every twenty-four hours. A person is healthy when there is a balanced, sufficient flow of chi, which keeps the blood and body fluids circulating and fights disease. But if the circulation of chi is blocked for any reason or becomes excessive or deficient, pain and disease can result. The flow of chi may be disrupted by an imbalanced diet or lifestyle, overwork, stress, repressed or excessive emotions, or lack of exercise. Imbalances in yin and yang-complementary forces in dynamic flux-also disturb the normal, smooth flow of chit
Cancer, like all other diseases, is regarded as a manifestation of an underlying imbalance. The tumor is the "uppermost branch," not the "root," of the illness. Each patient may have a different imbalance causing what outwardly looks like the same type of cancer. Each person is unique, so the Oriental doctor attempts to identify the exact individual pattern of excess, deficiency, or blockage that led to the disease. The doctor treats the imbalance rather than a condition known as "stomach cancer," or "breast cancer," or so on. The prescribed treatment will vary from one patient to the next, depending on the specific imbalances.
The Chinese doctor makes a diagnosis in terms of yin and yang, chi, Blood, and organ imbalance. The term Blood refers to much more than the material substance. Blood is the process of nourishing the organism; it occurs in a mutually regulating relationship with chi and Moisture (body fluids). In forming a diagnosis, the doctor is guided by the Eight Principles, which are four sets of polar categories (yin and yang, cold and heat, deficiency and excess, and interior and exterior). The Eight Principles serve as the framework for the data gathered through physical examination, tongue and pulse diagnosis, and observation of symptoms. Once the doctor forms a cohesive picture of the pattern of disharmony, he or she can formulate a treatment plan to restore balance.
The tongue is considered a sensitive barometer of human health in traditional Chinese medicine. Subtle changes in its color, texture, and coating indicate specific body imbalances and reveal the progress of the illness to the experienced doctor. In neglecting tongue diagnosis, "The West may be overlooking a highly valuable clinical tool," according to David Eisenberg, M.D., a clinical research fellow at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Eisenberg, who speaks Chinese, worked inside urban Chinese hospitals in 1979 and 1980. He concluded from his firsthand observations that "acupuncture, herbal medicine, and massage may be highly effective therapeutic tools."6
The pulse, like the tongue, is also a barometer of harmony or disorder. By feeling positions on each wrist along the radial artery, the well-trained Chinese diagnostician can detect underlying imbalances in internal organs and in the body as a whole.
Herbs and foods in Chinese medical practice are viewed energetically, that is, in terms of their influence on the body's energy field. This is also true of Indian Ayurvedic medicine (Chapter 27). The diet must be aligned with the energetics of the prescribed herbs; otherwise, the foods eaten may inhibit the herbal preparations' beneficial effects. Conversely, a diet in harmony with the herbal therapy will enhance the herbs' healing powers. The Chinese healer recognizes that what we eat can either protect and rebalance our bodies or pollute our systems. Diet is a remedy of prime importance. Chinese food therapy is a sophisticated system that recognizes six different human constitutional types and evaluates foods according to their therapeutic properties. For cancer patients, Chinese doctors frequently recommend a diet based upon whole grains, beans, and fresh vegetables.
Most Chinese healers advise patients undergoing herbal treatment to avoid all raw foods, because they are too "cold," and white sugar, because it is too rich and overstimulates the pancreas and liver. Strong spices, thought to disperse energy from within to the surface of the body, should be avoided. Cancer patients are also advised to shun coffee, because it overtaxes the adrenals; cold dairy foods, because they are too congesting; and shellfish and citrus, because they are too "cold" and "moist."
Most Chinese people prefer herbal medicines to Western allopathic drugs. Herbal preparations are thought to be more natural, much less dangerous, and slower and gentler in action, yet equally or more effective compared to synthetic chemical drugs. Herbs are nearly always used as compound prescriptions, with a single formula containing between six and twelve herbs. Remedies are often complex, combining multiple ingredients to mirror and correct patterns of disorganized chi, Blood, and Moisture. Generally, each formula contains a chief herb, one or more assistant herbs, and a "courier herb" to take the medicine to the site of the "lesion."
Studies of Fu Zhen therapy in the United States and China have demonstrated its value in treating a wide range of immune-compromised conditions, including cancer, leukemia, AIDS and ARC, and chronic Epstein-Barr virus. In a study of seventy-six patients with Stage II primary liver cancer, twenty-nine of the forty-six people receiving Fu Zhen therapy in combination with radiation or chemotherapy survived for a year, and ten survived for three years. Only six of the thirty patients who received radiation or chemotherapy alone survived one year, and all died by the third year.7 In laboratory studies, Fu Zhen herbs have prevented the growth of transplanted tumors.
The most highly praised blood tonic in the East, Tang kuei (Angelica sinensis), has been used clinically in China to treat cancer of the esophagus and liver with good results. The Chinese have claimed dramatic success using this herb both alone and in combination with other medicinal agents in treating cervical cancer and, to a lesser extent, breast cancer in women.8 It can be administered in either infusion or douche form. Many other Chinese herbs could be cited for their documented antitumor effects.9
Nearly all of the Chinese herbs used today to treat cancer and other immune-deficient conditions fall into three broad categories. Tonic herbs increase the number and activity of immunologically active cells and proteins. Toxin-clearing herbs clear the blood of germs and of waste products from the destruction of tumors and germs. Blood activating herbs reduce the coagulation and inflammatory reactions associated with immune response. Herbal therapy in cancer treatment can improve appetite, reduce nausea and vomiting, and alleviate stress.
In Japan, classical Chinese herbal formulas are prepackaged and standardized. Kanpo, the Japanese version of Chinese herbalism, has reported many successes in treating cancer. In Tokyo, many kanpo doctors work in conventional hospitals prescribing drugs but moonlight to pursue their private herbal practices. Kanpo doctors dispense with much of the conceptual framework of traditional Chinese medicine such as the division of the body into yin and yang parts.
Another component of Chinese medicine used in cancer treatment is chi gong a 3,000-year-old exercise that combines the slow, symmetrical, graceful movements of tai chi with meditation, relaxation, patterned breathing, guided imagery, and other behavioral techniques. The aim is to enable a person to regulate and direct the flow of chi, or vital force, within his or her own body. The student or patient is taught to focus his or her chi at a point in the center of the body, roughly two inches below the navel, called the dan tian, or vital center. From this center, the chi is said to emanate to distant regions of the body. Students reportedly learn to sense the presence of chi at the vital center in the form of localized warmth and then to direct the life energy to specific parts of the body. Based on the experience of students who take chi gong courses for self-treatment purposes, it usually takes about three months for the exercises to show their effect. In cancer therapy, the Chinese practitioner prescribes exercises geared to the individual patient.