Saturday, September 17, 2011

Tibetan medicine: first impression

CCTV's Chinese Medicine program is excellent. This time it's about the amazing Tibetan Medicine (TM). I'm no stranger to Traditional Chinese Medicine's diagnostics (checking tongue, pulse, etc), acupuncture and moxibustion, herbs, ... TM has most of it, but some are modified. A TM doctor makes an extraordinarily long and detailed analysis on the patient's urine, checking its smell repeatedly, stirring it occasionally. Moxibustion looks more violent than in TCM; the skin will get burned, which is taken care of separately. Living at a high altitude causes elevated hemoglobin level, and an effective treatment is bloodletting, of the "bad" blood as they call it. Making the precious "seventy-component pearl pellet" involves mercury, and toxicity control is crucial.

Overall, TM has similarity to TCM, only more brutal, primeval, archaic. In spite of the effectiveness, smelling each patient's sample will have the problem of desensitizing the doctor's nose, limiting his accuracy in diagnosing the patients that come later in the day. Bleeding is, according to a Han-looking Tibetan doctor, the only way to cure hyperhemoglobinemia. I'm sure TM has certain authority on this disease but I wonder if it's really the only treatment. The most appalling scene to me is the use of a large quantity of mercury in preparing the pearl pellets. As far as I know, mercury is proved to have absolutely zero benefit and a great deal of harm to our bodies. I seriously doubt that the current science and technology has not had a replacement for it in the preparation process. Mercury's uniqueness lies in the fact that it's metallic and stays in liquid form at room temperature. If that's the property being made use of, gallium, if memory serves me right, does the same, with much lower toxicity. If I live in Tibet, I'll definitely refuse to take this traditionally highly cherished "sacred" medicine.

I believe TM and TCM will learn from each other more than ever, thanks to the Internet and much improved transportation between Tibet and the rest of China. Diagnostics by the smell of urine may be an important contribution to TCM, as well as the bleeding as treatment of hyperhemoglobinemia. One of the most urgent changes to TM, as far as what's shown in this program so far, should be complete removal of mercury in the pearl pellets, a commonly prescribed medication. Sadly, no mention of this change is made by anyone interviewed.

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