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November 14, 2011

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Home » Feature » Health and Environment

Storing energy to 'kill a tiger in spring'

It's the season to eat gaofang herbal paste every day to store yang energy. Take proper gaofang treatment in winter and you can kill a tiger in the spring, or so they say. Zhang Qian reports.

In traditional Chinese medicine, there's always something you should be doing, some herbal medicine or food therapy you need to be taking to keep your system in tune with the seasonal changes in the universe. There's usually something a bit "off" energy-wise with most people.

Since winter is coming, this is the season for "reinforcing" therapy (jinbu), which stores yang (hot) energy in winter to make one strong in the spring. This is typically done by eating herbal paste (gaofang) or dissolving it in water and drinking daily.

"Jinbu in winter and kill a tiger in spring," the saying goes.

Jars of patent medicine paste appear in pharmacies everywhere.

TCM consulting rooms are crowded with people who want special gaofang prescriptions.

TCM pharmacists are busy filling prescriptions and concocting special paste.

A few foreigners are giving it a try - but it's too soon to say if they notice any results.

Suffering chronic heart problems and difficult night breathing, 48-year-old French woman says she's worried about the side effects of the Western medicine she took for years. Now she's trying TCM reinforcing therapy, on the recommendation of a friends.

This is the first time she has tried gaofang, but she is familiar with TCM.

When she gave birth years ago in France, acupuncture helped kill the pain. Acupuncture is a popular TCM therapy there, she says.

"TCM is amazing and everybody knows that, but it's hard for expats like us to find a trusted doctor," she says. She found one through a friend.

Gaofang can help strengthen the immune system and help ease chronic conditions, such as cardiovascular problems and diabetes.

It can also improve the effectiveness of prescribed medicine. But it is not a substitute for medicine.

Herbal paste is a jelly-like substance made from condensed herbal liquid medicine and other medicinal ingredients, such as honey and brown sugar.

Paste has been used in TCM for more than 2,000 years.

It was first applied externally to heal wounds, and later was also taken orally, since it's easy to store and eat.

Traditionally, it's kept in an earthen jar in a cool place (a refrigerator today).

A spoonful is dissolved in hot water and drunk.

Usually, the reinforcing period starts from dongzhi (Winter Solstice) on December 22 to chunfeng (Spring Solstice) on March 23.

It is more often recommended for people over 30 years, suffering either chronic illness or sub-health (between a state of health and a state of illness), according to Dr Chen Baixian, a TCM doctor with a clinic at Shanghai Hongkang Hospital.

But it can also work for people of different ages and adjust their energy imbalance.

Before prescribing, a practitioner needs to know the patient's condition in detail and apply TCM diagnostics, such as taking the pulse and looking at the tongue.

After taking expat Iatridess pulse for a few minutes, checking her tongue and asking about her health, Dr Chen wrote out a detailed prescription for herbal paste.

Iatrides was diagnosed with stagnation in blood and energy circulation, and deficient energy in the heart - common problems for those with chronic heart problems, says Dr Chen.

"Western medicine usually focuses on the dilation of blood vessels while TCM consider that reinforcing healthy energy, activating blood circulation and improving heart function are equally important," says Dr Chen.

Dr Chen prescribed for Iatrides an herbal paste based on an ancient prescription known as sheng mai yin (literally "drink of ginseng and mai dong), including ginseng, mai dong (lily turf root) and wu wei zi (the fruit of Chinese magnolia vine) to adjust energy deficiency. He added other herbs for Iatrides' particular case.

"There is no big difference in the general energy condition and imbalance problems between expats and local residents, since most have very similar lifestyles nowadays," says Dr Chen, "But a precise diagnose of each individual is still needed since one man's meat can be another man's poison."

Because he was growing more slowly than other children his age, an 11-year-old French boy, Louis, was taken by his mother to see Dr Chen. He also suffered frequent diarrhea and headaches for years.

The doctor said the boy was born with a weak spleen (spleen refers to digestive system in TCM), and diagnosed that as the reason for the slow growth and weakness. Unable to properly absorb nutrition, a weak spleen also damages the kidneys - said to be the root of "innate endowment" in TCM (the energy you're born with).

This eventually results in slow physical growth.

In his case, common paste ingredients such as honey and sesame could not be prescribed because they could irritate the digestive system and cause diarrhea. The doctor prescribed other herbs enhancing yang energy in the spleen and kidneys, saying the therapy was more of an adjusting therapy than a reinforcing one.

"Reinforcing therapy is only effective when there is good blood and energy circulation," says Dr Chen.

In some cases, before taking herbal paste a patient may need a kai lu fang decoction (literally "exploring the road prescription"), which helps adjust the energy and blood circulation.

Dissolve a spoonful (30g) in hot water.
Eat daily after breakfast.
Avoid irritating and spicy foods that may weaken the stomach. People with digestive problems should eat gaofang 5 to 10 minutes after meals. Consult doctor before giving to children 5 to 10 years of age. It's usually only prescribed if children are weak.

Who benefits from reinforcement therapy?
? People with chronic illnesses, such as cardiovascular problems and diabetes ? Subhealthy people

Gaofeng should not be taken in case of an acute condition, including cold or cough. It should not be taken during acute periods of chronic illness, such as high blood pressure or high blood sugar.


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