TCM & Body Constitution
Traditional Chinese medicine has a rich history stretching back to approximately 2 millennial and has benefited mainly the Chinese people in ancient times. Today, the allure and benefit of TCM are no longer limited to the predominantly Chinese populations around the world. The internet has made TCM knowledge readily available to everyone with internet access.
However, TCM principles are niche knowledge, and its abstract concepts and specialised medical terms are not easy to comprehend, let alone acquire deep understanding. This article strives to elucidate one of these important concepts: Body Constitution.
Inborn & Acquired Factors
Body constitution is the individual’s body condition that makes an individual susceptible to certain diseases but not others. It is a fundamental concept in TCM, as it lays the foundation for diagnosis, treatment and disease prevention. TCM regards each individual as unique. Both inborn and acquired factors affect our body constitution. Thus, an understanding of our unique body constitution can guide us towards more effective treatment and disease prevention through making lifestyle changes and avoiding these factors. This is especially true for acquired factors.
Acquired factors include, but are not limited to, diet, environmental factors, emotional state and lifestyle. Inborn factors, on the other hand, are inherited traits which make us susceptible to certain diseases. These inherited traits cannot be easily changed and therefore, an emphasis is placed on improving the body constitution as a whole and avoiding acquired factors that are harmful to health.
A Tailored Approach
In recent times, modern medicine has been progressing swiftly with the technological advancements, and the concept of ‘personalised medicine’ has been proposed as an ideal form of medicine. Modern medicine primarily uses genetic testing tools to tailor treatments for each individual according to their genetic predisposition, aiming at optimised effectiveness. Personally, I feel that the TCM concept of body constitution has a resemblance to the concept of ‘personalised medicine’. TCM treatments are almost always based on the individual’s unique condition at the particular time of acquiring the disease. In other words, it is ‘tailor-made’ to suit your needs.
Even if two different individuals were to contract the same disease, TCM regards each individual as unique, treating them differently according to their body constitution. Practitioners employ unique diagnosis methods such as categorising symptoms, observing the tongue and feeling the pulse at the radial artery to make diagnoses and tailor treatments to the individual’s health status. It is therefore essential that the patient’s body constitution is determined to have an in-depth understanding.
General Classification – Neutral, Yang & Yin
In general, an individual’s body constitution can be classified into three categories. These are the neutral, yang and yin body types. The optimal body type is the neutral type which is deemed as the ideal body constitution of a healthy person with a strong immune system. A person with a neutral body constitution is in a state of balance, with internal organs functioning optimally and acquires resistance to diseases. Both the yin and yang body constitution types are in a state of imbalance.
For the Yang body type, the yang energy is in excess in relative to the yin energy. This results in the person being susceptible to acquiring diseases which are yang in nature, which often manifests as symptoms such as fever, headaches, insomnia and even abscesses. A person with yang body type is prone to being easily irritable, hyperactive, resents hot weather, perspires easily and often feels thirsty.
On the other hand, for the Yin body type, the yin energy is in excess in relative to the yang energy. This results in the person being susceptible to acquiring diseases which are yin in nature, which often manifests as symptoms such as chills, phlegmy cough and water retention. A person with yin body type is prone to being easily fatigued, inactive and resents cold weather.
A more extensive classification of body constitution categorizes individuals into nine different types.
9 Body Constitution Types:
Physically fit, emotionally stable, energetic, have good sleep habits and healthy appetite, adaptable to environmental changes.
Prone to panting, easily fatigued, susceptible to the common cold or flu bug, perspires easily with little physical activity, easily affected by changes in weather. These individuals usually take a longer time to recover from illness.
Aversion to cold and humidity, often complain about feeling cold at the hands, feet and abdomen, often feel unwell after eating cold food
Often complain about feeling warm at the palms of the hand and soles of the feet especially in the night, dry mouth and nose, dry stools or constipation, aversion to hot and dry weather.
PHLEGM AND DAMPNESS
Prone to excessive sebum secretions on the face and scalp, excessive phlegm production, chest tightness, often have cravings for food high in fat and sugars, aversion to humid and wet weather.
Prone to have acne on the face and neck area, often complains of a bitter taste in the mouth, feeling fatigued and heaviness in the body, sense of incomplete defecation or dry stools, excessive secretions or dampness at the reproductive organs, aversion to warm and humid weather.
Prone to forgetfulness, irritable, often have dull complexion and pigmentation on the skin, dark-coloured lips, unknown bruising, aversion to cold weather, prone to bleeding disorders and abnormal growths in the body.
Copes poorly to stress, prone to mood swings, anxiety and depression, excessive sighing, palpitations, aversion to autumn, winter and rainy seasons.
Inherent sensitivity to certain drugs, foods, scents, or other allergens. Often have allergies that affect the respiratory system and skin. Often sensitive to changes in temperature, weather and seasons.
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