Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for High Cholesterol
High cholesterol is a medical condition in which the amount of cholesterol in one’s bloodstream exceeds a normal or recommended level. Cholesterol is a complex organic compound that occurs naturally in the body and is used to produce bile acids, vitamin D, and a number of hormones needed by the body to function normally. When excessive amounts of cholesterol are present in the body, they may deposit on the inside lining of arteries, leading to a number of coronary heart disorders. While high cholesterol can be treated by a variety of western medical approaches, such as statin drugs, there are often unwanted side effects and unclear benefits. Traditional Chinese Medicine offers a safe, natural alternative form of care than can be used in conjunction with regular checkups to manage your cholesterol levels.
How Is Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) Used in Treating High Cholesterol?
TCM practitioners recognize four primary conditions that are connected to high cholesterol. Each diagnosis is determined from an individual analysis of your pulse, tongue, symptoms, and lifestyle. These diagnoses include Damp-Phlegm in the Lung or Spleen, Blood Stasis, Spleen-Stomach Deficiency, and Liver-Kidney Deficiency. Acupuncture and herbal treatment will be based upon the correction of your imbalance with additional points and herbs for the specific symptom of high cholesterol.
Acupuncture for High Cholesterol
Acupuncture treatment for high cholesterol focuses primarily on balancing the body. For conditions of Damp-Phlegm, the acupuncture points of Stomach 40 and Spleen 9 are used to assist the body in transforming the pathogen. In order to break Blood Stasis and correct the flow of blood, acupuncture points Spleen 10, Large Intestine 4, and Liver 3 may be used. Conditions of Spleen-Stomach Deficiency can be supplemented by needling Stomach 36 and Spleen 6. Liver-Kidney Deficiency can be supported by treatment of Liver 3, Kidney 3, Bladder 23, and Bladder 18.
Chinese Herbal Medicine for High Cholesterol
Generally, herbal medicine is the primary method of treatment for cases of high cholesterol. Herbal medicine can more directly affect the primary mechanism of cholesterol absorption and production within the body.
A number of herbs and formulas are recommended for the treatment, including:
- Crataegus pinnatifida (Shan zha; Chinese hawthorne)
- Monascus purpureus (red yeast rice)
- Guggul (or gugul; obtained from the mukul myrrh (Commiphora mukul) tree
- Gynostemma pentaphyllum (Jiaogulan)
- Senna obtusifolia (Ju Ming Zi; sicklepod seed)
- Jiang Zi Yi Gan Tang (a combination of the herbs Zhu Xie, Sang Si Wi, Ju Ming Zi, Dan Shen, Huang Jin, Seng Shen Zha,Hu Zheng, and He Ye.)
A popular herbal tea, called Bojenmi, is also used for the treatment of digestive problems, including weight loss and high cholesterol. The product is available at many oriental grocery stores and herbal shops.
What Is Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)?
Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is a complete system for treating physical and medical disorders that was developed at least three thousand years ago. The system is based on the belief that the human body is a microcosm (smaller version) of the Universe itself. Two fundamental principles of TCM are the theory of yin and yang and the five-element theory. Yin and yang are the names given to complementary but opposite forces operating within the human body. Yin is the female principle, and yang the male principle at work in the body. Good health depends not only on a balance between yin and yang, but also the harmonic operation of these two principles.
The five-element theory of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) teaches that the five fundamental materials of which the Universe is made—earth, fire, water, metal, and wood—are expressed within the human body in five organ systems: the liver/gallbladder, heart/small Intestine, spleen/stomach, lung/large intestine, and kidney/urinary bladder systems. TCM is also based on the belief that the human body contains and depends on a fundamental life force known as Qi that controls and depends on the function of other forces within the body. An imbalance of Qi, yin, yang, or other forces within the body results in physical or mental problems. The role of the TCM practitioner is to discover the basis for such problems within the general system of Qi, yin, yang, the five elements, and other components of TCM and then to devise a method of treatment to resolve those problems using traditional methods, such as acupuncture, massage, Qi Gong, herbal medicine, and traditional nutritional therapies.
How Effective is Traditional Chinese Medicine in the Treatment of High Cholesterol?
Acupuncture and herbal remedies have been used for at least 3,000 years for the treatment of a variety of medical problems, including high cholesterol and related cardiac problems. Most TCM practitioners have traditionally not felt the need for scientific studies to support their use of these therapies. In the last 50 years, however, both TCM and allopathic physicians have begun to explore the use of scientific research to determine the efficacy of TCM therapies for the treatment of high cholesterol and other medical problems. Some early results suggest that acupuncture and herbs may hold promise in such cases, although most authorities believe that much more research is needed before definitive results are available to test the efficacy of such treatments.
What Is High Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is produced naturally by the human body and is essential for its normal function. Two forms of cholesterol exist, high density cholesterol (HDL, also known as “good” cholesterol) and low density cholesterol (LDL, or “bad” cholesterol).
An individual’s cholesterol level may differ for a number of reasons, such as:
- Heredity - one’s genetic composition determines to some extent the amount of HDL and LDL his or her body tends to produce
- Physical activity - in general, cholesterol levels tend to depend to some degree on the amount of physical exercise an individual engages in
- Weight - overweight and obesity may have an effect on the level of HDL and LDL in one’s bloodstream
- Age - cholesterol levels have a tendency to rise with age
- Gender - before menopause, women tend to have lower cholesterol levels than do men; after menopause, their cholesterol levels tend to become higher than those of men.
An extensive amount of research indicates that high levels of cholesterol, especially LDL, are associated with high risk for coronary heart disease (CHD), the leading cause of death in the United States. In 2004, the last year for which data are available, 451,326 Americans died of CHD. Allopathic practitioners recommend changes in diet and increased physical activity as the first steps in reducing one’s cholesterol level.
A number of medications are also available for treating the condition, the most effective of which are compounds that belong to the chemical family known as the statins.
Jarrett, Lonny S. Nourishing Destiny: The Inner Tradition of Chinese Medicine. Stockbridge, MA: Spirit Path Press, 2001.
Traditional Chinese Medicine World Foundation: “What Is Traditional Chinese Medicine?”
Wu, Changguo. Basic Theory of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Shanghai: Publishing House of Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, 2002.