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Time to call for your winter reinforcements

WITH the cold season fast approaching, it's time to reach for the trusty spoonfuls of gaofang and prepare your body against the ills winter brings. Zhang Qian reports.

AS the temperature is dropping and leaves falling, traditional Chinese medicine suggests that it is time for you to prepare your winter reinforcements. Gaofang, the most popular reinforcing therapy, is back on the market.

Millions of people take two spoonfuls a day, morning and night, mixed with warm water, since the saying goes, "Take good reinforcement in winter and kill a tiger in the spring."

For thousands of years, winter has been the season when Chinese take gaofang herbal paste tonic to build up and store their energy so it can "sprout" in the spring.

The best time for gaofang is usually the beginning of the "Winter Solstice" (December 21-23) and runs until the "Spring Begins" (beginning of spring on the lunar calendar, February 3-5).

According to TCM theory about the correspondence between human beings and the universe, at this time of year the body shifts into a relatively stable condition and is ready to store energy for the entire winter.

"Therefore, tonics can be best absorbed, stored and take effect gradually within the human body in this season," says Dr Zhou Duan, director of the TCM Internal Medicine Department of Longhua Hospital attached to Shanghai University of TCM.

Gaofang has been accepted by most local Chinese as the best way for reinforcement in winter.

Gao means paste and fang is short for chufang or prescription.

Gaofang is a condensed tonic of herbs and animal ingredients in a paste that reinforces energy, both yang and yin, as needed.

Traditional Chinese medicine pharmacies are filled with gaofang jars of many kinds of herbal pastes, compounded with 40 different herbs and animal parts. Ginseng, velvet deer antlers, tortoise belly, donkey hide, ganoderma and lingzhi fungus are among the ingredients. Dates, lotus seeds, sugar and other ingredients are added to improve the taste.

And TCM hospitals and big TCM pharmacies that provide TCM doctor outpatient services are filled with people seeking consultations so they can get the perfect gaofang for their constitution.

The gaofang outpatient services in many TCM hospitals and TCM pharmacies are already open this month, though it is not yet winter. Considering an increasing number of applicants each year, the hospitals and pharmacies choose to start diagnosis and prescription early so as to provide access for more patients. The patients can get their gaofang early, yet still do not start consuming it until the Winter Solstice on December 22.

Dr Zhou doesn't recommend reinforcing therapy for everyone in the winter, but it can build up the strength of chronic disease sufferers, those who suffer from extreme fatigue and "subhealthy" (a TCM category) people - these are often extremely busy, run-down professional people, aged 30 to around 50.

It is also recommended for patients with chronic ailments who are not in the attack phase, as doctors can help prescribe a gaofang targeting on rebuilding the energy balance and preventing relapse.

Though there are ready-made gaofang in TCM pharmacies, Dr Zhou still suggests seeing a professional TCM doctor for advice.

"One man's meat is another man's poison. It is also true in TCM," he says.

Since every body has its own constitution (hot/cold/neutral) and energy imbalance problem, identifying what the patient really needs is crucially important to provide a benefiting reinforce therapy rather than an aggravator.

Taking gaofang properly is as important as a correct prescription to get the benefits.

Most healthy people should take 30 grams (a spoonful) of gaofang twice a day on an empty stomach, morning and night. It can be dissolved in warm water and swallowed, or it can be eaten straight, followed by warm water.

People with digestive problems should eat gaofang five to 10 minutes after meals.Children from five to 10 years of age usually take one-third of an adult portion. Children aged 10 and older can take half, 15 grams. In general, it is only prescribed if children are weak.

While taking gaofang, avoid irritating and hard-to-digest foods, including seafood, greasy and spicy food. Also avoid alcohol, strong tea and coffee - these foods and beverages will interfere with the absorption of gaofang.

For those with serious digestive problems and chronic diarrhea, TCM doctors will prescribe herbal medicine to adjust the digestive system before taking gaofang.

If you catch a bad cold, flu, cough or suffer diarrhea while taking gaofang, stop until you recover. Women should generally stop taking gaofang during menstrual periods because some ingredients will increase blood flow.


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