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Weighty Issues

TCM solutions for obesity

EveI have to weigh myselfry day, advertising billboards and television bombard us with images depicting the current ‘desirable’ body shape. How can we achieve our weight loss goals, in the face of wide-spread obesity?

Obesity is defined as “increased body weight caused by excessive accumulation of fat”. People are considered obese if they weigh 20% or more above average for their height and build.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), good health consists of the body’s systems acting in harmony according to the individual’s constitution. If all is working well, there will not be any weight problem.

The Roots of Obesity

Obesity was first mentioned in Chinese medicine in the Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine: “When treating exhaustion syndromes, sudden syncope, hemiplegia, atrophy, or rapid respiration conditions that occur in obese patients, recognise that these are usually due to overindulgence in rich foods.”

As early as in the Han dynasty, TCM practitioners recorded the symptoms, mechanism and risk factors of obesity. The Suwen (Book of Basic Questions) states: “If obesity occurs in the nobleman and rich people, they must be over-consuming heavy and greasy foods.” Similar to the modern understanding of obesity, associated risk factors include undesirable eating habits, under-exercising, body constitution and mental state.

The ancient Chinese also knew that obesity has close links with metabolic disorders such as diabetes and other conditions such as stroke or chest pain.

Four Main Types of Obesity

In TCM theory, obesity is believed to be the result of many factors. Careful observation over many centuries allows Chinese medicine to say that there is not just one type of overweight or obesity, there are many.

TCM classifies overweight and obesity into four main types:

 Excessive Internal Phlegm and Dampness

Phlegm is an important concept in TCM, indicating not only mucus from cough or nose discharge, but also stagnant body fluid. The spleen is said to be at the root of all phlegm production.

When the spleen becomes damaged, such as when one eats too many sweet foods and gets too little exercise, it will fail in its duty to move and transform waste fluids and foods. Instead, these metabolic wastes will gather, collect and transform into dampness. If dampness evils endure, over time they will congeal into phlegm, and become fat tissue.

The excessive internal phlegm manifests itself as:

  • Excess weight
  • Tiredness
  • Body heaviness
  • Chest and/or stomach distension
  • Poor appetite, in some cases
  • Slimy covering or ‘fur’ on the tongue

This type of obesity is generally due to an eating disorder, or secondarily by some other illness.

Treatment revolves around sweeping away phlegm and removing stagnation. Once the phlegm is swept away, the qi (vital energy) can move smoothly and easily. This promotes the movement of phlegm and reduction of fat with the ultimate result of decreasing obesity.

  1. Stagnation of Qi and BloodiStock_000041369636_Full
    Patients exhibiting this condition may suffer from:
  • Irritability or low motivation
  • Chest or breast fullness
  • Insomnia
  • A dreamy state
  • Menstrual disorder or amenorrhea (absence of menstruation)
  • Infertility
  • Headaches in some patients
  • Dizziness and numbness of the four extremities
  • Tongue may turn dark red with a thin white fur or a thin and greasy fur

This is because the movement of blood is not smooth or easily flowing. Stasis obstructs the vessels and inhibits the qi mechanism. Therefore, fat and dampness collect and accumulate within the vessels, making the blood more viscous. If this continues over time, obesity and arteriosclerosis (thickening and hardening of the arteries) will result.

The principle treatment is to speed up the blood flow and remove stagnation.

  1. Yang Deficiency of Spleen and Kidney
    The third type is yang deficiency of the spleen and kidney.

Common symptoms for people in this category include:

  • Feeling exhausted or fatigued
  • Lower back and knee weakness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Impotence or low libido
  • Tongue is pale and without any fur covering

Genetic factors can play a part in this condition. It may also be the result of other illnesses, stress or an unhealthy lifestyle.

Treatment involves fortifying the spleen and rectifying the kidney deficiency.

  1. Liver Stagnation
    Liver stagnation caused by prolonged strong emotions or depression leads to disharmony between the spleen and the liver and gives rise to fluid retention. Due to the liver being depressed, the gall bladder is also depressed and exhausted, the ebb and flow of these organs become unbalanced, and the qi does not flow freely. Hence, there is difficulty in transforming fat. Over time, this leads to obesity.

People in this category may experience:

  • Excessive fatty material deposited in the abdomen
  • Bloated physique
  • Feeling drained of energy
  • Excess sputum secretion
  • Dizziness
  • Vertigo
  • Retching
  • A dry mouth
  • Lack of desire for food or drink
  • Discomfort in the chest and abdomen
  • Tongues are usually covered by a white glossy or greasy coating

Treatment involves improving liver function, unblocking the gall bladder and removing stagnation.

iStock_000015508292_MediumTCM Therapies

Since the nature of each type is different, the treatments are also different. Today, we are using many TCM therapies, such as herbal medicines, acupuncture, as well as diet combined with exercise to treat obesity. With these treatments, most patients can lose 5 – 10 kg per month.

Herbal Treatment

TCM believes that Chinese medicine possesses certain properties and that every medicinal substance has its strengths as well as shortcomings. Chinese preparations are complex recipes combined according to particular TCM theories. Medicinal substances (usually herbs) are carefully balanced in quality and quantity, in order to accentuate the health restorative actions while reducing side effects.

Classic herbal preparations dealing with this problem have been passed down for centuries. The plan for treatment will be based upon each individual’s constitution and differentiation of syndromes.

Besides the individual’s physical state, a TCM physician also takes into account the geographic location, sex, age, lifestyle patterns and past medical and family histories. As a result, the therapeutic methods are comprehensive and are customised to an individual’s condition.

Tapping in acupuncture needleAcupuncture Treatment

Acupuncture therapy affects the autonomic nervous system and regulates energy metabolism by stimulating the qi flow in the body’s meridians. Acupuncture is often most effective for stubborn stagnation problems in the meridians. It can also prohibit appetite and increase the metabolic rate of obese individuals.

TCM has a lot of experience with obesity. Chinese medicine and acupuncture are alternative treatments to help control weight problems. Besides these treatment methods, individuals must also exercise and practise good dietary habits. Chinese medicine and acupuncture combined with exercise and food therapy can greatly enhance the treatment of obesity and help individuals manage their weight.

TCM, by its holistic focus on the body and its systems, provides a key to long-term healthy weight maintenance. It is important to consult a qualified TCM physician to help you select the most appropriate formula to meet your needs.

Dr Leslie Ong Kwee-Nam is a Doctor of Medicine (Nanjing University of Chinese Medicine). He has a Bachelor Degree in TCM (Singapore College of TCM) and Bachelor Degree in TCM (Nanjing University of Chinese Medicine). He is a registered TCM Physician of Singapore and practises at Si En TCM Medical Clinic.
Posted by ezyhealth on Mar 5 2015. Filed under Alternative Medicine. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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