Medical Therapies of TKM-Dietary Therapy/ Simple Traditional Korean Medical Therapies


Written by Jeonghwa Lee, Choonjae Lee, Published by Korea Institute of Oriental Medicine

H. Dietary Therapy

Dietary therapy is a method as good as self-healing. Self-healing takes advantage of homeostasis of the human body, which is the tendency of maintaining a constant state. Homeostasis is an instinctive characteristic that tries to restore equilibrium like a seesaw continues to go back to the state of balance. That is, deep body temperature, chemical components, etc. are controlled in a way of restoring the state before the occurrence of diseases.

In a sense, dietary therapy is one of folk treatment methods. It is because people discover the efficacy of relatively simple food through long experience without expert knowledge and eat the food or take it as a remedy. However, it is not safe to practice dietary therapy based on people’s opinion alone even if long experiences have been accumulated. Food may contain toxic substances, which do not work in usual but may produce in unexpected results in a weak body. Therefore, it is desirable to follow specialists advice and directions. In particular, patients with chronic diseases such as hypertension, arteriosclerosis and diabetes must practice dietary therapy very carefully according to an Oriental medical practitioner’s

Then, how is our daily food different from herbs used in Oriental medicine? It is said that Shennong, who is regarded as a legendary figure in ancient Oriental medicine, tasted 70 kinds of toxin one by one a day in his examination of herbs. Among a variety of herbs, those harmless and nontoxic are used as food and those containing a little amount of special elements, which are toxic, are used as medicines (herbs) that produce curing effects through the toxic elements. On other words, diet is food that does not produce any poisonous effect regardless of how much it is taken. However, herbs produce a poisonous effect even with a small amount of intake. In addition, food used in dietary therapy should have the characteristics of both diet and medicine so that it can be used as both food and medicine depending on necessity.

I. Simple Traditional Korean Medical Therapies

Health is a state in which the whole body and its parts are all normal and can cope with environmental changes without dispositional or functional discomfort. If the body cannot deal with environmental changes and shows abnormal physiological reactions, it is considered to have to have a disease. That is, one is healthy when he can lead daily life with normal body functions, and if not, he is ill.

Allopathic treatments are often focused on visible symptoms without examining the root causes of diseases. This may lead to wrong diagnosis and even can aggravate the condition. Therefore, it is desirable to identify the cause of a disease and apply appropriate treatment. This is true in both Oriental and Western medicine, but how to diagnose and how to choose therapies are difference between Oriental and Western medicine.

What plays a decisive role in treating a disease is the self-healing ability of the body, which is known to cure 75% of diseases. Therapies in TKM are focused on enhancing the self-healing ability. So-called healthy qi can be considered self-healing ability. When one is full of healthy qi, it drives out poisonous agents causing diseases in the body such as disease? causing germs. However, if healthy qi has been enervated by a long lasting disease, it should be toned up first. It is also important to remove poisonous air in the body.

If an appropriate treatment procedure is selected, detailed practices are applied including medication, acupuncture, moxibustion, massage, physiotherapy and surgical treatment. Methods used frequently in medicinal therapy, which is one of internal therapies, are diaphoresis, emesis, purgation, mediation, warming, clearing, tonification and resolution. Since Hwangjenaegyeong, these eight methods have been developed by numerous TKM doctors and form the frame of today’s internal medicine. The contents of these methods are as follows.

  • Diaphoresis: This therapy drives out poisonous air outside the body through sweating, and is applied to diseases on the surface of the body.
  • Emesis: This method is used to ease a serious state of a disease and cure the disease by discharge poisonous air or harmful substances through vomiting.
  • Purgation: This therapy is to accelerate metabolism by removing substances stuck in the body through excretion.
  • Mediation: When disease-causing germs cannot be removed actively through diaphoresis, emesis or purgation, this method is used to neutralize such pathogenic agents.
  • Warming: This method treats diseases using medicines containing warmth or heat. This is applied mainly to yin syndromes, which happen in constitutions lacking the strength of growth because yang qi is insufficient. Warming
    reinforces yang-qi, accelerates anabolism and blood circulation, and promotes growth.
  • Clearing: Contrary to warming, this therapy lowers body temperature and protects body fluid and humor using medicines that contain a cold and chilly spirit.
  • Tonification: This method tones up qi and blood and restores balance between yin and yang. In addition, it invigorates weak internal organs and cures infirmities. Specific invigorating methods include the tonification of qi
    that strengthens infirm vigor using medicines removing poisonous air, the tonification of blood that produces blood in the body through medication, the tonification of yin that strengthens yin qi in the body, and the tonification
    of yang that strengthens yang qi.
  • Resolution: This method resolves, destroys and removes masses in the body.

After taking herbs, sometimes we see unexpected symptoms that have not been predicted at all and the existing chronic disease is healed quickly. Such a case is called myeonghyeon reaction or myeonghyeon phenomenon. If patients are ignorant of the myeonghyeon phenomenon, they may give up treatment. However, such a reaction disappears soon in 2~3 days in most cases, so does not need to be minded.

Other treatment methods in TKM include acupuncture and moxibustion. Acupuncture and moxibustion are based on the basic theories of TKM. They are parts of traditional Korean medical technology that prevent, alleviate or treat diseases
by giving physical stimulation to specific points of the body by pricking with a needle or burning moxa and causing the reaction of the body. Both acupuncture and moxibustion are external treatment. Acupuncture is mechanical stimulation using various acupuncture tools, and moxibustion is thermal stimulation that burns or warms specific parts of the body using moxa or various kinds of herb.

Acupuncture and moxibustion can be regarded as physiotherapy, and in a broad sense they include cupping, doin angyo, finger-pressure treatment, etc. Recently, with the development of manipulation methods for acupuncture and moxibustion, people use electric and electric heating appliances, various medicines, laser beam, etc. in addition to traditional acupuncture and moxibustion. What is more, the therapies are being developed and applied by combing the meridian theory and the anatomical and physiological knowledge of Western medicine.

Acupuncture and moxibustion have advantages as follows. First, it can be applied widely not only to treatment but also to prevention and diagnosis in internal medicine, gynecology, pediatrics, neuropsychiatry, surgery, five sensory organs, etc. Second, the effect appears relatively fast and the curing rate is high. Third, they are very economical because they do not need expensive equipment or facilities. Fourth, they are safe, free of side effects. Fifth, they can be practiced conveniently.

Of the two, acupuncture is the simpler. Acupuncture is advantageous in that it uses small-size tools and is not restricted by place. Therefore, it can be practiced very easily. Acupuncture can be used to treat various diseases including sprain, digestive troubles, neuralgia and paralysis. These days, ear acupuncture has been found very effective in smoking cessation.

The principle of acupuncture is based on the government-of-spirit-throughharmonization-of-qi works of stimulation needling. The harmonization of qi means regulating circulating the qi and blood of the five viscera and six bowels, and meridian and collateral vessels, so that they cooperate with one another.

It also facilitates the harmonization of qi and blood. The main functions of qi and blood are represented by wigi (defense and qi), which protects the body by making it well adjusted to external environment through opening and closing the pores of sweat gland, and yeongwi (nutrient and defense), which indicates nutritious substances from food taken into the body and nutrient and blood from the substances. Therefore, the harmonization of qi and blood means promoting the comfortable interaction and normal operation of external defense and internal nutrient.

In addition, the government of spirit makes the mind concentrate on a point and flow into it. This enhances the efficiency of qi control and strengthens the movement of qi and blood in meridians and collaterals. The works of moxibustion are similar to acupuncture. Like acupuncture, it has the government-of-spirit-through-harmonization-of-qi works in that it attains the treatment effect by stimulating acupoints and strengthening the circulation of qi and blood and the activities of spirit and qi in the body. However, moxibustion is different from acupuncture in that it uses thermal stimulation.

Accordingly, acupuncture is used commonly in acute diseases, febrile diseases, and symptoms resulting from the concentration of qi and blood or the concentration of pathogenic substances in specific body parts due to the poor circulation of body fluid. In addition, moxibustion is used mainly in cold syndromes, which refer to all symptoms resulting from declined body functions and metabolic activities and lowered resistance due to weakened healthy qi or aggravated
yin qi, and in deficiency syndromes resulting from low resistance and weak physiological functions due to deficiency in healthy qi. Both acupuncture and moxibustion prevent and treat diseases by controlling the yin and yang of the human body and normalizing the activities of essence, qi, and spirit of the viscera and bowels.

Besides, cupping is recommended as one of other treatment methods. It treats neuralgia, bruise, internal diseases, etc. by attaching small vessels to the sites. This method may strengthen immunological functions.