WHAT ARE THE FOUR ‘NATURES’ AND FIVE ‘FLAVOURS’ OF TRADITIONAL CHINESE MEDICINE?
The four ‘natures’ of traditional Chinese medicine are cold (extreme yin), cool, neutral to warm and hot (extreme yang) while the five ‘flavours’ are pungent, sweet, sour, bitter and salty. People with a ‘hot’ body type with dry and itchy throats need to take medicine that is cold and cool. Those with a ‘cold’ body type and are afraid of the cold need to take medicine that is warm and nourishing. In general, for people with ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ body types, ‘cold’ and ‘hot’ medicine should be used respectively. Different flavours of Chinese medicine serve different functions. For example, medicine with pungent and spicy tastes can induce perspiration (e.g. wild ginger and Chinese onion) and medicine with a sweet flavour is usually nourishing (e.g. red date and dangshen). However, the taste of Chinese medicine is very complicated. Some have two or more flavours to provide different treatment effects.
ACCORDING TO THE THEORY OF TRADITIONAL CHINESE MEDICINE, HOW MANY BODY CONSTITUTION TYPES ARE THERE?
According to the theory of traditional Chinese medicine, there are four major types of body constitutions, which are ‘heaty’, ‘cold’, ‘excessive’ and ‘deficient’.
People with ‘heaty’ bodies have active metabolisms and may become easily excited. Their heart rates are usually faster and are prone to frequent inflammation. They usually have dry throats and yellowish urine. They also dislike heat and love cold drinks. Constipation can be quite common for them. When prescribing Chinese medicine, a patient’s body constitution type should be taken into consideration.
People with ‘cold’ bodies have slower metabolisms. They have low body temperatures with cold hands and feet. Their immunity to diseases is lower. ‘Cold’ people may look pale and lack energy. They also love hot food and drinks. When prescribing Chinese medicine, a patient’s body constitution type should be taken into consideration.
People with ‘excessive’ bodies have strong physiques. They have high activity levels and do not often perspire, but may have constipation and abdominal distention. They also have coated tongues and bad breath from time to time. When prescribing Chinese medicine, a patient’s body constitution type should be taken into consideration.
People with ‘deficient’ bodies lack vigour and are more susceptible to infection by germs. They often look pale and do not appear to be energetic. The voice of these people is usually weak. Their tongue has little or even no coating. When prescribing Chinese medicine, a patient’s body constitution type should be taken into consideration. When prescribing Chinese medicine, a patient’s body constitution type should be taken into consideration.
WHAT TO AVOID WHEN TAKING TRADITIONAL CHINESE MEDICINE?
When taking traditional Chinese medicine, generally one must not eat beans, meat, cold food and things that are difficult to digest as our digestive systems may not be in peak condition. In addition, most medicines should be taken with lukewarm water. However, for medicines that help to detox and clear inner heat, cool water should be used. Traditional Chinese medicine should not be taken with milk and tea because the efficacy will be reduced or there may be undesirable effects. If Chinese and Western medicines are to be taken at the same time, a gap of at least two hours is advisable.
WHAT ARE ‘ELEVATING’, ‘SUBSIDING’, ‘FLOATING’ AND ‘SINKING’ IN THE THEORY OF TRADITIONAL CHINESE MEDICINE?
The terms ‘elevating’, ‘subsiding’, ‘floating’ and ‘sinking’ refer to the tendencies of different Chinese medicines. This theory has much relevance to the treatment of various illnesses. Generally speaking, the tendencies of different Chinese medicines are related to their ‘natures’ and ‘flavours’. Medicines that are pungent, sweet, warm and hot in nature usually have ‘elevating’ and ‘floating’ tendencies. Medicines that are bitter, sour, cold and cool in nature usually have ‘subsiding’ and ‘sinking’ tendencies. Chinese medicine that is ‘light’ (e.g. Mint and Magnolia flower) usually has ‘elevating’ and ‘floating’ tendencies, while ‘heavy’ Chinese medicine (e.g. rhizomatic and seed-fruit Chinese medicine as well as those with minerals and shellfish) is mostly ‘subsiding’ and ‘sinking’. Of course, there are many exceptions to this general classification. Since the tendencies of different Chinese medicines are related to their ‘natures’ and ‘flavours’, they have already been covered in the theory of ‘four natures and five flavours’. Except for medicines with more complex tendencies, the nature, flavour, efficacy and tendency are usually considered as a whole in clinical applications.