Many people think traditional medicine, including herbal medicine is slow to take effect, so the disease must be slowly treated. However, according to my own experience of practicing traditional Chinese medicine, there are some fundamental reasons for herbal medicine to take effect slowly for some chronic diseases. Two major reasons are as follows:
1. There is an error or mistake in the doctor's herbal prescription. Herbal medication is not correctly prescribed due to inaccurate diagnosis. Accurate diagnosis requires the doctors to continuously improve their skills. Whether it is an exogenous diseases or flu, the herbal prescription usually takes effect within a short period of time upon consumption. Some prescriptions can take an immediate effect. For example, for nasal congestion when catching a cold, the symptoms of nasal congestion and aversion to cold can be alleviated immediately upon taking prescriptions containing ephedra (mahuang 麻黃). In the US, ephedra is under strict control, yet herbs that function to help dispersion and purgation of muscular striae to expel pathogens out of the body surface, such as fresh ginger, white of the scallion, cassia twigs (guizhi 桂枝), can be used as substitutes. On the other hand, although pharmaceutical drugs are generally considered quick, most drugs take more than half an hour to show effect.
2. For some diseases, not only are pharmaceutical drugs “not quick”, but they simply cannot treat those conditions. For those problems, the application of herbal medicine will take a certain amount of time. As we know, pharmaceutical drugs for the treatment of depression are used to merely maintain the condition, and have strong side effects worse than depression, often suicides; and conventional Western medicine already declared autoimmune issues such as rheumatoid arthritis and Sjögren's syndrome incurable. However, Chinese medicine has a considerable therapeutic effect on these conditions. In many cases, treating depression with Chinese medicine can quickly achieve a significant therapeutic effect.
There are also some emotion-induced diseases. Some people have a sentimental personality that is difficult to change, and thus develop a body constitution that is prone to certain diseases. For example, people who habitually overthink tend to experience discomfort in their spleen and stomach*, so they tend to have illness in the spleen and stomach*. If they do not treat the conditions using Chinese medicine, it will be difficult to return to normal with pharmaceutical drugs. At such a stage, there will be relapses even after treatment with Chinese medicine, and the course of treatment will be relatively long.
The "Miracle Drug" in Western Medicine
It is undeniable that Western medicine has done a very good job in terms of precise targeting. A clinical trial typically requires pre-clinical testing sometimes involving experiments on animals, phase I-III trials, and based on my own experience interim analyses such as toxicology reports, etc. by the time of marketing approval. These preliminary experiments are not bad, because they can eliminate many factors that are harmful to the human bodies.
However, for acute infectious diseases, especially acute viral infections, there are a huge number of viruses all over the world. Some viruses can cause diseases, while others do not. But we do not know the characteristics of all viruses, and there is no way to study the genome of all viruses in a short period of time. Therefore, treating viruses is a difficult task.
That’s why it is improbable for us to develop special pharmaceutical drugs to precisely target viruses in time. Every time when an epidemic emerges, it can take as short as a few months to as long as over decades, to develop a specific vaccine, or a virus-targeting drug – assuming viruses don’t mutate.
Consequently, modern science can do a very good job in the prevention of outbreak of infectious diseases, but not in timely treatment.
The "Special Cure" in Chinese Medicine
According to the history of human evolution, higher organisms contain more microorganisms and microbial genes. We do not know how many viral genes are absorbed in humans. It can be said that viruses actually are helpful for human evolution. Humans also have a perfect set of countermeasures that can produce antibodies and phagocytic cells that kill viruses.
In other words, the best “special cure” is the immune substance produced by human beings, so the best method is to stimulate the production of antibodies in the human body. As a result, this serves as a “special cure” for treating viruses.
In its most fundamental theory of Chinese medicine, as Qibo in Yellow Emperor’s Medical Classics answered to Yellow Emperor’s question:
Q: “…I have heard that five kinds of pestilence** all can spread from people to people. No matter in children or in adults, the symptoms are the same. How to prevent infection [if] the methods [mentioned before this quote] are not used?”
A: "[if] there is no infection [when the five kinds of pestilence have occurred], [it is due to the fact that there is sufficient] Righteous & Healthy Qi inside the body. [That is why Evil cannot invade [the body]..."
“Righteous & Healthy Qi” can be translated into modern Western medicine as strong immune system. Therefore, when we use Chinese medicine to treat viruses, we keep stimulating the body's function and restoring healthy Qi.
There are two directions for treating diseases in Chinese medicine. One is strengthening healthy Qi and the other is expulsing pathogenic Evil. When pathogenic Evil is strong, it is important to expel pathogens. In this kind of scenarios, as long as healthy Qi is sufficient, and deaths will not occur though the symptoms could appear serious. If a person’s healthy Qi is insufficient, then there is no need to blindly attack pathogen Evil, instead, it’s more crucial to strengthen healthy Qi.
In the view of Chinese medicine doctors, strong pathogenic Qi will not lead to death, but deficient healthy Qi will. Therefore, to cope with viruses (“pathogenic Evil”), there are two aspects in applying Chinese medicine: attacking pathogenic Evil and tonifying healthy Qi. The “special cure” in Chinese medicine can attack pathogens, but more importantly, the key component lies in the herbs or methods to consolidate body resistance. They can strengthen the body's healthy Qi, which can delay time of Evil invasion and win the body's reaction time.
When dealing with disease outbreaks, we must grasp two points. Whether it is Chinese medicine or Western medicine, we must keep supporting basic abilities of the human body as key. Only in this way can we completely overcome the disease.
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* “Spleen” and “stomach” in Chinese medicine (TCM) mean the digestive system governing transportation and transformation of nutrient essence and body fluid, controlling blood flow and supporting the muscles and four limbs, not just the physical spleen and stomach as defined in Western medicine. Some important signs in spleen and stomach diseases in TCM terms are poor appetite, gastric pain, vomiting, belching, hiccups, abdominal distention and pain, diarrhea, loose stools, general swelling and bleeding disorders.