People can be so surprised there was advanced Chinese Medicine in 200 B.C.E.; but why, when Eratosthenes in Greece was computing the circumference of the earth and devising a method for finding prime numbers in 240 B.C. People did not just become smart and civilized in Europe after the microscope and telescope were invented….The development of medicine is a long process that has occured everywhere humans have grown. And the wisdom of ancient peoples, whether neolithic hunter-gatherers practicing trephination, modern hunter-gatherers and rural dwellers getting medicines from plants, to ancient civilizations like China, India, and Persia with advanced written theoretical systems has always including medicine.
When a dog or cat eats grass in order to vomit; that is medicine. Chips and apes eat certain leaves when ill. Neolithic stone age humanoids did surgery on the skull, removing part of the bone in a systematic way that people survived, called trephination, and they did this in various parts of the globe–South America, Europe, and Africa….Why they did this, we don’t know. Was it to relieve swelling in the brain from injury, or was it to release evil spirits?
Chinese Medicine, Ayurveda, and Greek Medicine are the first written medical systems that attribute disease, not to the curses of malevolent ancestral or forest spirits, but to natural causes. The earliest systematic herbal medicine text in Chinese Medicine, the Shang Han Lun, was written either 200 B.C.E. or C.E., and is still studied in Chinese Medicine, and its formulas are still widely used. Chinese Medicine is logical, rational, and empirical. It is based on the close observation of how our bodies and minds respond to the challenges of living in a world of external and internal stressors, full stop. It has its own way of thinking about the development of disease in terms of basic elements that make up how our body works, whereas Modern Medicine excels at telling you exactly which tissues, as named by Modern Medicine, are effected by a disease.
But sometimes Modern Medicine misses the forest for the trees. In the modern world so much disease is internally generated, the complex interaction between our emotive states and our nervous and immune systems. Where modern medicine so often fails is in treating the causes of disease, rather than the symptoms. A perfect example is with gut disorders. Patient A has chronic functional dyspepsia, or gastritis, and is given a drug to reduce acid. But why do they have this problem. How is their Gut-Brain connection mis-functioning? Why? Are they anxious, angry, fearful, nervous? And if so, what can they do to deal with that. This is where Chinese medicine and Ayurveda excels, because we have non-judgmental ways to describe the effects of excessive or repressed anger on the body, for example, and can treat that with acupuncture, which unblocks the “stuck Qi” and with herbs, that “relax the Liver Qi and clear Damp Heat and improve gut function. But in the end, the cure for diseases that begin with mind, and most, if not all, functional disorders like IBS, IC, Tension Headache to name a few, are the perfect storm of Body Mind type, another words how your nervous system works, with lifestyle, diet, and life experience. To learn what to do about your Body-Mind type, called Dosha in Ayurveda, means how to deal with how mother nature made you so you don’t develop the kinds of diseases that are predictable for your dosha or body mind type. And this means looking at how your mind works, which is an integral part of both Ayurvedic and Chinese Medicine, when practiced at the deep level. Modern medicine can scope you, rule out cancer, and tell you you have inflammation in your gut. What it fails to do is describe to the patient why, what is the mechanism by which “stress” leads to gut disorders or tension headaches. Chinese medical theory does describe both the cause and the treatment, this is the original Integrative Medicine.
What humans developed as medicine is an extension of our natural instinct to respond to not being well, and to keep from dying, which our nervous system is hard wired to want to avoid…that is why we have an innate fear of death, why illness can make some folk anxious, and why every society has developed methods to treat illness and prevent death. Chinese society, being highly literate, happened to develop the most advanced written system of medicine until modern times, with thousands of case studies over a two thousand year history, detailing the successes and failures of the same herbal medicine formulas prescribed to patients with similar and varied symptoms.