A response on a discussion of the ‘immune system and Chinese medicine”

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A response on a discussion of the ‘immune system and Chinese medicine”

This was posted on the TCM user group e-mail site:

The problem really comes down to terminology. If practitioners of alternative medical systems or techniques want to use the language of the immune system to explain their results, they need to be able to engage in the immense complexities of immunology. Few of us can do that, and it makes us look foolish to speak in these terms. Ask any Ph. D. researcher who has spent eight years studying the complexities of the subject. Researching “immunomodulating” and “anti-viral” herbs, etc., may be interesting, but this has little impact on how Chinese herbal formulas are developed and used clinically.

Chinese medicine is equally complex, but its complexity stretches back in time 2000 years through a medical literature that reveals great depth and understand on how the human being responds through health and disease, based on the human being as part of the great cosmos and forces that reveal life on earth. It has tracked what we call today immunological responses not through IgE and white blood cells, but through patterns of symptoms that appeared in regular sequences in development of wai gan/’externally contracted’ disorders. It developed, in response to epidemics, pattern diagnostics based on six channels, four aspects, three burners, shang han/cold damage, zhong feng/wind strike, and wen bing/warm disease, and a sophisticated therapeutics to treat these disorders. This subject is worth more than a lifetime of study, and has been proven in its efficacy over an 1800 year period.

The subject matter of Chinese medicine is there for study and practice. We can choose to ignore it, and try to practice an apologetic response to modern biomedical advances by adapting a ‘me too’ attitude, but it will end up being second-rate. We do not have the resources or training to engage in such in-depth analysis of immunology that would do justice to the subject of Chinese medicine.

2015-03-08T14:25:42+00:00 March 1st, 2013|3 Comments


  1. ken rose March 2, 2013 at 10:09 am

    You describe the two-way street nicely. The problem really does come down to terminology, as you said. “The mere use of words is futile if you do not know what they stand for.” Jung

  2. Carl Balingit March 15, 2013 at 1:54 am

    In addition to that ‘me too’ attitude, some may also be misguided by a reasonable premise. Namely, that herbs–as natural drugs–follow the same pharmacokinetic pathway as drugs that have been scientifically engineered. For all of these substances undergo digestion, absorption, distribution, metabolism, and finally elimination.

    Because of this shared pathway, it is easy to look for the target cells–and tissues–of herbs, as in the study of pharmaceuticals. However, the natural science (i.e. combined subjective and objective observation) of our response to herbs is based on systems rather than individual cells or discrete tissues. These systems are as you stated already (six channels, three burners, etc.).

    I feel that once one adopts the target-cell mindset, it is easy to fall into the vat of Western medical-speak whereby precision submerges holistic insight.

    I see similar pitfalls in studies on the mechanism of acupuncture.

  3. Zev Rosenberg March 15, 2013 at 9:25 am

    Very good points, Carl. ..changing the conventional biomedical mindset when approaching our modalities is perhaps the most difficult task we have in promoting true Chinese medicine. But the work must be done. . Chinese medicine must be studied by its own criteria, its own standards, or at least a more universal one than present research is based on.

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