Herbs for Inflammation

Herbs for Inflammation

Chinese Medicine for Heat

In recent years, 'inflammation' has become understood as a villain that threatens our health and well being.  We're learning that generalized or systemic inflammation is taxing us, and causing us harm. However there's nothing really new about 'inflammation' as a cause of ill health.

In fact, 4,000 years ago, Chinese doctors already understood what your doctor is just discovering. You see the Chinese medical idea of 'heat' is fundamentally the same as your doctor's concept of inflammation, except that the ancient ideas have become much more refined over time.

Inflammation is defined as a physical condition in which part of the body becomes reddened, swollen, hot, and often painful.  It is normally seen as a reaction of body tissue to harmful stimuli like injury, bacteria, virus, allergies, and other pathogens, or irritants.  Inflammation is thought by many to be part of a protective immune response designed to neutralize or heal the effect of these pathogenic stimuli.

Traditional Chinese medicine has dealt with inflammatory symptoms for millennia and has reached its own understanding.  Chinese herbalists see inflammation as heat or fire. We see that heat, like all energy, is provocative. It makes things go; it makes things warm.  It will make your heart beat fast, activate your glands, raise your temperature. Heat is an amazingly complex issue in TCM, especially with herbal medicine. The exact type of heat must be discerned before the right herbs can be chosen.  Is it excess heat or 'weak heat'? How severe is it? Is it excess YANG QI, or 'Heat' or 'Fire'?  Where is it located? Is it Lung Heat, Heart Heat, Stomach Fire, Liver Fire?, etc.

We know that heat is involved when the flesh looks red, or feels warm, or when mental or physical agitation are obvious, or when the pulse rapid, or when hyper-stimulation creates a panoply of symptoms like insomnia, anxiety, headaches, fevers, hot flashes, ad infinitum.

TCM advises that there can be many causes of heat.  The pathogens and irritants noted by medical scientists are, according to traditional Chinese medicine, usually hot in nature and therefore provocative of heat in the body.  This is known as Exterior Heat.  Febrile (fever) diseases like flu, measles, malaria, and other pestilential invaders create heat.  When first encountered by the body's outer defenses, the heat may be called Exterior heat. If these pathogens are able to penetrate past the body’s exterior defense, they will create Interior Heat.  

Both Exterior Heat and its resulting Interior Heat are considered Excess Heat.  They represent an oversupply of radiant qi to the body.  That’s why an ‘inflamed’ area feels warm. Since qi and blood always go together, the oversupply of energy will bring more blood to the area.  That’s why it looks red.

Another source of Excess Heat is stagnation. In TCM we also know that stagnation creates friction and that friction creates heat.  If you don't believe TCM theory, ask any physicist.

Interestingly, TCM understands a completely different form of inflammation that Western medicine has yet to understand.  This is called 'Deficiency Heat' or sometimes 'Weak Heat', and unlike the Excess heat of injury and pathogenic invasion, Deficiency heat is not due to a 'hot' intrusion.  It is the 'inflammation' apparent when the body's cooling system has become weak and is thus unable to neutralize the normal heat energy emitted as a by-product of our active metabolism. 

Deficiency heat is thus a consequence of depleted bodily fluids.  When the 'blood' or 'yin fluids' like sweat, saliva, interstitial lubricants, and other bodily fluids become scarce, signs of inflammation occur.  Hot flashes, night sweats, joint pain, rashes, anxiety, insomnia, and many other inflammatory symptoms emerge when fluids that normally remove heat are not circulating well.

This is the actual cause of the generalized or systemic inflammation which is lately attributed to 'immune reaction' and suspect of harming us in ways that are, as yet, poorly understood.

When confronted with heat resulting from injury or pathogenic invasion, the Chinese herbalist has access to many herbs that 'clear' Excess heat. SHI GAO (gypsum), LU GEN (phragmites), JIN YIN HUA (honeysuckle), HUANG LIAN (golden thread), ZHI ZI, (gardenia seed), are just a few of the many herbs that are used to clear and neutralize 'Excess Heat'.

Herbs like ZHI MU (anemarrhena), SHENG DI HUANG (raw rehmannia), MU DAN PI (moutan), and many others, have strengthening properties in themselves are are instead use to clear 'Deficiency Heat'.


Common TCM formulas used to address ‘heat’

YIN CHIAO CHIEH TU PIAN (Honeysuckle & Forsythia Clean Toxin Pill)- Wind Heat

BAI HU TANG (White Tiger Decoction) – Clears heat from the Qi Level

HUANG LIAN JIE DU TANG (Coptis Decoction to Relieve Toxic Heat)

 ZHI BAI DI HUANG WAN (Rehmannia 8) for Yin Deficiency with heat

Pu Ji Xiao Du Yin (Universal Benefit Decoction) Interior Heat & Fire Toxin

Information on this site is provided for educational purposes and is not meant to substitute for the advice of your own physician or another medical professional. We make no claim as to efficacy or safety of herbs or herbal medicine appearing on this site. Information and statements regarding dietary supplements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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