Traditional Chinese Medicine and Aging
by Paul Lin
If you have ever been invited to a Chinese home for a feast, chances are you have heard something like, “This particular dish is good for your health, or for a specific part of your body.” Eating has been at the center of Chinese culture for centuries and therefore gets a lot of attention. Besides fulfilling a basic survival need, eating is regarded as a way to get healthier and has been deeply influenced by the constantly evolving Chinese traditional medicine. Often people use medicinal herbs in their cooking in addition to common food items. Since food therapy is part of the practice in Chinese traditional medicine, almost every Chinese can tell you one or two things about his or her understanding of traditional medicine.
The difficulty arises when one is facing hundreds of choices of herbs that can potentially improve longevity. When one looks into thousands of biological research papers, one finds at least several dozen herbs, from many different categories, that could improve one’s immune system. So, what to do? The answer lies in the “weakest link,” which varies among individuals according to their constitution. This is where one is likely to get in trouble. Like driving an old car, when one part breaks down, the others won’t help no matter how good/new they are. Therefore, this weakest part(s) should be the focus of attention when choosing food or herbs.
Lifestyle plays an important role in our health and longevity. The Chinese medical classics advise us to live simply: rise and rest with the sun, and plan activities in tune with the four seasons. Since the invention of the light bulb, TV, and computer, it is nearly impossible to get in sync with the rhythm of nature. But one should at least not burn the midnight oil too often. According to meridian theory, 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. belongs to the Gall Bladder meridian, and 1 a.m. to 3 a.m. belongs to the Liver meridian. If we rest during this time, the body will optimize our metabolic and immune systems, and remove the toxins – one should, therefore, take advantage of this time and rest.
Furthermore, Chinese traditional medicine believes all emotions have close ties to our organs. Prolonged unbalanced emotions will certainly affect the functions of our internal organs in a negative way. Take stress for example. If one is in a stressful situation for too long, the liver will eventually be affected. To prevent such imbalances, one should look inward and reflect from time to time, even in the absence of any organic condition. After finding an imbalance, one should correct it as soon as possible.
Last but not least is motion. There are probably hundreds of Qi-Gong and simple exercises in Chinese literature that aim to help one’s health and longevity. The key here is consistency and persistence. One ought to choose one exercise that can be enjoyed regularly. This will keep the Qi going and maintain the fluidity of the body. As a result, we increase the accessibility to the abundant healing power that exists within us. Any form of obstruction in any part of our body will result in some pain or discomfort. Too often, people ignore the crying of their bodies even at this point. At this stage “longevity” would no longer apply – health and longevity are more about prevention! If we keep our Qi going, our body can fix most of our conditions in the very early stages.
Even if we do everything right, there are still things we cannot control. If you ask me: strengthen your weakest part, do as many things right as possible, and just smile and let life take its course…
Paul (Chyi-Shyang) Lin has practiced Traditional Chinese Medicine in Eau Claire since 2001. His scope of practice includes acupuncture, Chinese herbs, and a family heritage of topical herbs. He is currently located in Optima Health and Vitality Center, 715-832-1953.