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Ancient Medicines

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)

The ancient Chinese had a system of treating different sicknesses dating back around 2300 years ago, and they have revised their system over and over on the basis of the core idea that a person gets sick because there is an imbalance in the Yin and Yang Qi (energy) inside a person’s body.

Yin and Yang are terms used in Taoism to describe the opposing forces of the universe. These terms are used together to mean different but always opposing ideas (Britannica).

Often, an external reason can cause a person’s Qi to fall out of balance and get sick. For example, a common cold as we know it, with symptoms such as having a light fever, runny nose, sneezing, headaches, body soreness, is also recognized as a common cold in TCM that is caused by adjusting to a sudden drop in temperature during the autumn and winter or staying in a cold place during the summer. Overall, a person is considered strong and healthy when there is a balance of Yin and Yang inside their body.

To maintain or restore this balance, ancient doctors have developed thousands of remedies made with different herbs and flowers that are made into a drinkable decoction, rolled into round pills, or brewed into tea as supplements. These decoctions often need to be cooked and prepared at home, as the herbalist will usually give the patients a package of herbal ingredients that are chopped or dried based on the directions of the prescriber. In diagnosis, doctors will take the pulse of the patient and interpret signals to determine their health, including the location of an imbalance in the body and potential causes of this imbalance. Prescriptions are written to reverse the root of the sickness and less so to control the symptoms directly.

Diagnosis in TCM

Traditionally, there were four methods in a diagnosis: inquiry, listening and smelling, visual inspection, and palpation. Inquiry means to ask for the patient’s symptoms, habits, and medical history. Listening and smelling involves finding abnormalities from the patient’s respiration, breath, odors, and secretions. Visual inspection involves observing the patient’s vitals, tongue, and skin complexion. Lastly, palpation is pressing various parts of the body, including the pulse, to find abnormalities.

Pulse diagnosis plays a crucial role in how traditional Chinese doctors diagnose a sickness. A normal or healthy pulse (Ping Mai) is described as having a spirit (You Shen), having a stomach (You Wei), and having a root (You Gen). Translated, this means a strong, forceful, distinct, flexible, and slippery pulse that has a regular rhythm and can be felt all the way down at the bone instead of only at the surface. A sick pulse (Bing Mai) has many detailed descriptions for different sicknesses and patterns of the pulse.

In ancient times, the guidelines for reading pulse have been very qualitative. In order for this pulse diagnosis method to be more understandable with quantitative standards, studies have been conducted to conduct pulse diagnosis on devices with the help of TCM acupoints.

Please see this study for more information on this topic at this link.

For more reference on pulse diagnosis in TCM and their very unique qualitative descriptions of different patterns of pulses, please see link.

Ancient Greek Herbal Medicine

The ancient Greek people also found great purposes in herbal medicine. A variety of herbs have been used by the people and also recorded to be used by gods and goddesses in Greek mythology. The Greeks are experts at this since their climate nurtures many different plant species. The herbs used in ancient Greece are the same as the ones used today. There have been some additional uses found in these plants, both in cuisine and in medicine, but the purposes they served in ancient times are still valid in modern times.

Greek herbal medicines and supplements (

Article author: Ivy Sun

Article editors: Sherilyn Wen, Victoria Huang


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