Asthma according to Chinese Medicine

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Asthma can be the consequence of several so-called “patterns of disharmony” in Chinese Medicine.

Chinese Medicine sees the body as a system, not a sum of isolated parts. A "pattern" is when the system's harmony is disrupted, leading to symptoms or signs that something is wrong (like asthma here). It is similar to the concept of disease in Western Medicine but not quite: a Western disease can often be explained by several Chinese patterns and vice-versa.

A pattern often manifests itself in a combination of symptoms that, at first glance, do not seem necessarily related to each others. For instance here asthma is often associated with coughing, vomiting and diarrhea in the pattern “Rebellious Qi”. As you will see below, we have in record two patterns that can cause asthma.

Once identified, patterns are treated using medicinal herbs, acupuncture, and other therapies. In the case of asthma we’ve identified three herbal formulas that may help treat patterns behind the symptom.

We’ve also selected below the five medicinal herbs that we think are most likely to help treat asthma.

The two "patterns of disharmony" that can cause asthma

In Chinese Medicine asthma is a symptom for 2 patterns that we have on record. Below is a small explanation for each of them with links for more details.

Inula Flowers (Xuan Fu Hua) is the king ingredient for Xuan Fu Dai Zhe Tang, a formula used for Rebellious Qi

Rebellious Qi

Pulse type(s): Wiry (Xian)

Tongue color: Normal (light red), Red sides

Rebellious Qi is when Qi flows in the wrong direction. For instance, if one suffers from a rebellious Stomach Qi (a common case), the normal downward flow of Stomach Qi is disrupted and it goes upward instead. This may result in nausea, vomiting, belching or hiccupping.

In addition to asthma, other symptoms associated with Rebellious Qi include coughing, vomiting and diarrhea.

Rebellious Qi is often treated with Xuan Fu Dai Zhe Tang, a herbal formula made of 7 herbs (including Inula Flowers - Xuan Fu Hua - as a key herb). Xuan Fu Dai Zhe Tang belongs to the category of "formulas for a rebellious qi", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Regulates the downward flow of Stomach Qi".

Read more about Rebellious Qi here

The Lungs is a so-called "Zang" Organ. Learn more about the Lungs in Chinese Medicine

Phlegm in the Lungs

Pulse type(s): Slippery (Hua), Wiry (Xian)

Tongue coating: Sticky coating, Thick coating

Tongue shape: Swollen

Phlegm in the Lungs (a synonym for "Substantial Phlegm") is the sputum that collects in the Lungs and is spat out during bronchitis or other Lung diseases.

In addition to asthma, other symptoms associated with Phlegm in the Lungs include sputum in the lungs and throat.

Phlegm in the Lungs is often treated with Ding Chuan Tang, a herbal formula made of 9 herbs (including Ginkgo Nuts - Bai Guo - as a key herb). Ding Chuan Tang belongs to the category of "formulas for a rebellious qi", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Clears Lung Heat".

Read more about Phlegm in the Lungs here

Three herbal formulas that might help with asthma

Xuan Fu Dai Zhe Tang

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 7 herbs

Key actions: Regulates the downward flow of Stomach Qi. Expectorant, treats hiccups.

Why might Xuan Fu Dai Zhe Tang help with asthma?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Rebellious Qi' of which asthma is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Rebellious Qi include coughing, vomiting and diarrhea.

Read more about Xuan Fu Dai Zhe Tang here

Xiao Xian Xiong Tang

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 3 herbs

Key actions: Clears Heat. Transforms Phlegm. Expands the chest. Dissipates clumps.

Why might Xiao Xian Xiong Tang help with asthma?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Phlegm in the Lungs' of which asthma is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Phlegm In The Lungs include sputum in the lungs and throat.

Read more about Xiao Xian Xiong Tang here

Ding Chuan Tang

Source date: 1550 AD

Number of ingredients: 9 herbs

Key actions: Clears Lung Heat. Expectorant for asthma.

Why might Ding Chuan Tang help with asthma?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Phlegm in the Lungs' of which asthma is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Phlegm In The Lungs include sputum in the lungs and throat.

Read more about Ding Chuan Tang here

The five Chinese Medicinal herbs most likely to help treat asthma

Why might Crow-Dipper Rhizome (Ban Xia) help with asthma?

Because it is both specifically indicated to treat asthma and also because it is an ingredient in herbal formulas known to treat asthma as a symptom (such as Xuan Fu Dai Zhe Tang for instance).

Crow-Dipper Rhizomes is a Warm herb that tastes Pungent. It targets the Spleen, the Stomach and the Lung.

Its main actions are: Drains Dampness and reduces Phlegm. Reverses the flow of Rebellious Qi. Reduces hardenings and relieves distention.

Read more about Crow-Dipper Rhizomes here

Why might Ephedra (Ma Huang) help with asthma?

Because it is both specifically indicated to treat asthma and also because it is an ingredient in herbal formulas known to treat asthma as a symptom (such as Ding Chuan Tang for instance).

Ephedra is a Warm herb that tastes Bitter and Pungent. It targets the Bladder and the Lung.

Its main actions are: Releases the surface through sweating. Promotes the circulation of Lung Qi and stop wheezing. Promotes urination.

Read more about Ephedra here

Why might Hematite (Dai Zhe Shi) help with asthma?

Because it is both specifically indicated to treat asthma and also because it is an ingredient in herbal formulas known to treat asthma as a symptom (such as Xuan Fu Dai Zhe Tang for instance).

Hematite is a Cold herb that tastes Bitter. It targets the Stomach, the Heart, the Liver and the Pericardium.

Its main actions are: Calms the Liver, anchors uprising Yang and clears Liver Fire. Moves Qi downward. Cools the Blood, stops bleeding.

Read more about Hematite here

Why might Mulberry Bark (Sang Bai Pi) help with asthma?

Because it is both specifically indicated to treat asthma and also because it is an ingredient in herbal formulas known to treat asthma as a symptom (such as Ding Chuan Tang for instance).

Mulberry Bark is a Cold herb that tastes Sweet. It targets the Lung.

Its main actions are: Clears heat from the lung, relieves asthma and induce urination to disperse swelling

Read more about Mulberry Bark here

Why might Ginkgo Nut (Bai Guo) help with asthma?

Because it is both specifically indicated to treat asthma and also because it is an ingredient in herbal formulas known to treat asthma as a symptom (such as Ding Chuan Tang for instance).

Ginkgo Nuts is a Neutral herb that tastes Bitter and Sweet. It targets the Lung.

Its main actions are: Assists the Lung Qi, stops cough and expels Phlegm. Stops leakage of Bodily Fluids.

Read more about Ginkgo Nuts here