Chinese Medicine & Obesity
Obesity – Chinese Views
Chinese Medical Treatment of Obesity
Until now, obesity has not been a common disease category in Chinese nei ke (internal medical) texts. In fact, I could not find it as a separate topic in any of a half-dozen contemporary Chinese nei ke books. However, due to changes in diet and lifestyle, more and more Westerners are becoming obese. As The Merck Manual says, “The prevalence of obesity in the USA is high and rising higher. In the past decade, the overall prevalence of obesity in America rose from 25% to 33%, an increase of one-third. Therefore, the treatment of obesity is a concern to many professional practitioners of Chinese medicine in the West.”
Attacking & Damaging Method of Losing Weight in Chinese Medicine
In Chinese medicine, there are both healthy and unhealthy, wise and unwise ways of treating obesity. When I was a student in Shanghai in the early 1980s, most Chinese medical pharmacies, especially those catering to Western tourists, had packages of various over-the-counter weight loss remedies on display. However, as one of my teachers pointed out to me, all of them damaged the righteous qi if taken for any length of time. This is because although they were made from “natural” Chinese herbs, the were comprised of either A) attacking and downward precipitating medicinals that purge essential nutrients from the body; B) dampness-seeping diuretics that may cause electrolyte imbalance and renal dysfunction; or C) exterior-resolving, yang-upbearing, yin-plundering diaphoretics, e.g. herba ephedra (ma huang). When ma huang is used for weight reduction, it is a form of “speed.” It should be obvious to all professional readers that none of these are healthy long-term solutions to the problem of obesity.
Treating Obesity Based on Pattern Discrimination
In terms of more healthy and holistic methods of weight loss in Chinese medicine, the fundamental prescriptive methodology is to bian zheng lun zhi, base treatment on the patient’s personal pattern discrimination. Treatment based on a patient’s personal pattern discrimination is both safe and effective because it addresses that person’s own metabolic reasons for being overweight. Using this method, each patient receives their own individually tailored treatment plan, using Chinese medicinals, acupuncture and moxibustion, or diet and lifestyle modifications.
Obesity & Spleen
The emphasis within most Chinese medical discussions of obesity is placed on the spleen. This is because the spleen controls the muscles and flesh; controls the movement of transformation of water fluids; and is the root of phlegm engenderment. If the spleen becomes damaged, such as by eating too many fatty, sweet foods and getting too little exercise, it will fail in its duty to move and transform water fluids. Instead, these will gather, collect and transform into evil dampness. If damp evils endure, over time they will congeal into phlegm (or fat).
Obesity Treatment – Eat Less, Exercise More
In closing, it is also important to note that it is impossible for most people to lose weight and keep it off without eating less and exercising more. Therefore, patients and practitioners should not be seduced into thinking that taking Chinese medicinals or receiving acupuncture without diet and lifestyle modifications are sufficient unto themselves to lose weight and keep it off. As Sun si-miao is reputed to have said, “First, modify the patient’s diet and lifestyle and only then, if these do not effect a cure, treat with medicinals and acupuncture.”