The idea of Toxins in Chinese Medicine

Chinese medicine has a deep understanding of the concepts of ‘toxins’ and ‘toxicity’ in the human body.  It has functional theories as to the origins of toxins, how they manifest in our organ systems, and how exactly to treat them once they have caused pathology to develop. However, what Chinese medicine identifies as toxins, is quite a bit different from the casual and frequently used expressions that are so common in today’s alternative health care vernacular. In Chinese medicine, as practiced in the People’s Republic of China, toxins are visible to the eye of the practitioner, manifesting through redness and swelling, rotting and pustulating of the bodily tissues. The concepts include visible diseases such as sores on the skin, cystic acne, skin boils and mastitis of the breast tissue. Toxins are diagnosable through both Chinese medical theory and western medical laboratory testing. They are not, in Chinese medicine, non-descript, unseen, or hidden pathogens which accumulate in our bodies from PCB’s, parabins, carbon monoxides, or mercury.  I am in NO WAY suggesting that Chinese medicine does not recognize environmental pollutants as being harmful to health, but, I am suggesting that we need to use concrete definitions and diagnostics if we are going to claim a person has a disease. Simply telling someone that they ‘are toxic’ is harmful to the patient, in the immediate stress and worry which it causes, and in the long term actions they may take to deal with these supposed toxins. Chinese medicine uses its elaborate theories to treat illness with medicinal herbs or acupuncture and does not advocate purging oneself through fasts, cleanses, or colonics. While I would not dispute that these methods have helped some people in the past, I would posit that they are not sourced from professional Chinese medicine. Often, but not always, these methods seem to cause frequent, loose bowel movements, cramping and bloating of the digestive tract, and prolonged weakness of the body afterwards.  All of these effects are themselves consider true pathology in professional Chinese medicine which would require treatment. The cure for these ‘toxins’ can lead to a genuine disease.

Chinese medicine aside, it seems like we are exposed to the ‘idea’ of toxins constantly these days. Whether through Dr. Oz and television infomercials, books on raw food or so called Paleolithic diets, or health magazines that constantly advise us on ways to load up our bodies with all sorts of non-local and exotic foods to cleanse ourselves of toxins. The warnings are so dire and the infection of our bodies is so pervasive that one might be led to think we are all simply rotting away inside from our water, air, food, and the building materials that we live around. I have found in the clinic that this concept breeds significant fear and worry in many people.  I have on many occasions seen these worries become severe to the point where those fears actually do become a health damaging condition which now requires medicine, whether holistic or allopathic, to correct.  I have seen patient’s bodies fall apart over fears of Fukashima’s effects, I have listened to grown adults shaming themselves over having a cup of coffee in the afternoon, some non-organic wine in the evening,  or, God forbid, a piece of the all evil dairy on the weekends. Even that delicious and local Humboldt Fog Blue Cheese is now a potentially deadly indulgence which could start a whole chain reaction of toxic damage in the body.

All this worry creates so much stress which actually does lead to illness. Maybe, the signs and symptoms that people are always ascribing to toxicity are actually the same signs and symptoms of a person who obsessively worries about food and environment? Maybe we can simply stay ‘clean’ by becoming engaged in our local Mediterranean climate and food sources; you know that same Mediterranean diet which has actual scientific research to show its long term benefits? I purpose that we need to focus on the entire natural world around us that gives us health and not overly worry about the un-natural world we have to deal with during our day to day environment. I am very much for environmental activism and ecological protection through waste reduction and small carbon footprint. I just find it hard to reconcile this with the health advice we are bombarded with advising us to fly in our Acai berries from Brazil, our Seaweed from Scotland, and our Goji berries from China just to rid our bodies of these nebulous toxins.

I would recommend that each person see a professionally licensed practitioner about whatever health care concerns they may have. Check into your state licensing boards and see what professions require schooling and continued education.  If you wish to explore the idea of these modern toxin concepts you may wish to speak with a Naturopathic practitioner or Chiropractor as I believe many of these ideas circulate and originate within that community of healthcare workers.  In California, a practitioner of Chinese medicine can mean many things and not all would agree with my opinions. However, they are the theories and mechanisms of diagnosis and pattern discrimination practiced in mainland China. Our medicine believes that our health is self-governed through balance and the avoidance of either too much, or too little, of any substance in life. If we become ill it is because we ignored this principle of balance, restore balance and you will return to health. Our medicine does believe in Toxins and treats them very effectively through the use of medicinal herbs and in the right hands you will get the care that you need and not given cause for worry about those things which we cannot completely avoid.



Speak Your Mind