Chinese Medicine is a total change from the Western/allopathic medicines that we are used to in the United States. It is hard to wrap your mind around because of the extent of that departure from our normal. Chinese medicine both classical and traditional use long standing methods of diagnosis dating back to some approximately 1500BC. Ayurvedic medicinal techniques may have migrated east and further evolved in China.
To understand how a practitioner may diagnosis and treat you with this modality of medicine it may be helpful to understand a bit of the language. It is outlined very superficially below. Once you have a basic understanding it won't seem as foreign and then we can talk about breast health and breast cancer in terms of Chinese Medicine.
Qi is at the essential core of Chinese medicine. It is the vital life force energy that flows through us and connects us to the universe. It will be discussed in detail below.
Prefer to skip the basic overview below, or already have an understanding of TCM, scroll down past all the pretty pictures and notes.
1. Yin: dark, cold, "the valley," tends be to associated with the feminine.
2. Yang: bright, heat, "the hill that the sun has kissed," tends to be associated with the masculine.
3. Interior: something inside you.
4. Exterior: something outside of you.
5. Cold: an aversion to cold and cool things.
6. Heat: an absence of an aversion to cold.
7. Deficiency - generally describing a lack of vital life force, qi or even blood.
8. Excess: anything that lacks deficiency, or too much of one element.
1. Wood: associated with the liver, gallbladder, eyes and tendons. Represented by the color green and connected to anger, wind and a sour taste.
2. Earth: associated with the spleen, muscles, stomach and mouth. Represented by the color yellow; connected to sweet tastes, damp weather and feeling pensive.
3. Fire: associated with the pulse, heart and tongue, color is naturally red. Also connected to joyful emotions, external heat and bitter taste.
4. Water: associated with the kidneys, bladder, ears and bones. Black represents this element and it has connections to fear, cold and salty tastes.
5. Metal: is associated with those organs that interact with air, the nose, skin and lungs. It connects to sadness and dryness, is represented by the color white and pungent flavors.
Zang - functions to store and produce energy, blood and other bodily fluids, essence and spirit. Zang Organs consist of:
Fu - functioning to transport nutrients and excrete the waste. Includes:
Upper Jiao Region
Middle Jiao Region
Lower Jiao Region
Based on imbalances of internal emotions or external stressors.
Wind: representative of change
Cold: cold - sorry it's not more exciting
Heat: hot and heavy
Dampness: heavy, moist, sluggishness
Dryness: umm dry... yeah, that is all...
Fire: extreme heat, inflammatory response, more than just hot - can be deadly.
Taiyang - Greater-Yang state
Yangming - Bright-Yang state
Shaoyang - Lesser-Yang state
Taiyin - Greater-Yin state
Shaoyin - Lesser-Yin state
Jueyin - Terminal-Yin state
Stages and levels are assessed by physical manifestations and mental ailments. Normally by inspection, palpation, inquiry and auscultation.
Qi - Your vital life force or energy. It needs to remain in balance to remain in a healthy state.
Wei - The body's protective shield, much like an aura passed down from your ancestors, our physical environment and mental status.
Ying - The energy from the nutrients in the food you ingest.
Xue (Blood) - Is like a more dense version of Qi and transports Qi and nutrients throughout your body.
Jing - The essence of lineage that you get from your parents and pass on to your children. Responsible for growth and reproduction.
Shen - Responsible for your "spirit," your thought, consciousness and emotional life.
(Upper) Dantian Shen
The energy center in the head, probably correlated to the third eye or pineal gland, in the area of the Ajna chakra.
(Middle) Dantian Qi
Located at the center of the chest, this energy center is correlated to the heart chakra or Anahata and is associated with the thymus gland.
(Lower) Dantian Jing
This energy center is associated with our genetic lineage, kidneys and adrenals. Has similar location as the base of Kundalini energy or base chakra, both physical and sexual power.
San Jiao - Triple Burner
Relates to the combination all three dantian energy centers.
The pathways in the human body that map out the energy centers which can be activated to treat a variety of ailments with acupuncture.
There are 12 primary meridians in the body:
2. Large Intestine
6. Small Intestine
10. Triple Burner
As well as 8 extraordinary meridians:
1. Governing Vessel
2. Conception Vessel
3. Thrusting Vessel
4. Belt Vessel
5. Yin Heel Vessel
6. Yang Heel Vessel
7. Yin Link Vessel
8. Yang Link Vessel
To support breast health we consider food, herbs, emotions, beliefs, as well as the way energy, Qi, travels through the body.
The liver supports breast health. Reducing alcohol with a 3-4 drink weekly maximum will help your liver from getting bogged down into a state of stagnation. Bitter tasting things help to detoxify your liver, adding lemon juice, dandelion, coffee, broccoli rabe, etc. will help to improve liver function. Liver detox is very important when we come out of the winter months or times when we have been over indulging.
Be aware of your emotions. Breast findings, specifically lumps in the breast are considered to be areas or pockets of stagnation. If you are holding on to anger - the emotion of the liver - it may erupt as a lump in your breast or other area supported by the liver. Find ways to process this energy so it does not physically manifest in the body, journaling or other creative outlets can help with these feelings, if they are too overwhelming perhaps seeking a professional therapist may help.
Negative emotions like worry also cause spleen-stomach qi deficiencies and dampness- typically when you are deficient in spleen-stomach energies you feel fatigued. The spleen-stomach organs are a transformative organs - literally changing food into energy and distributing that energy through the body. The spleen governs our fleshy bits - breasts fall into this category. We want to be able to tonify the spleen-stomach organ system to promote optimal breast health. Avoid overly sweetened and processed foods and if possible enjoy your meals cooked over raw.
Try to avoid external sources of undesirable estrogen. It can be difficult as we see estrogens in all parts of our environment, in plastic containers, in chemicals and pesticides on our foods, in our water. Estrogens that make their way into our bodies will bind with estrogen receptors on our cells and breast related problems can sometimes have that estrogen receptivity - making them grow.
We can also attempt to control the estrogens we take in, flax oil, a phytoestrogen improves liver function and may actually inhibit the growth of some breast cancers. For nursing mothers flaxseed oil can provide healthy fats that promote baby's brain development and is also considered to be lactogenic - meaning it will aid in the production of breast milk. Other foods that will bind to estrogen receptors are soy products (like tofu or edamame), sesame seeds, chickpeas, garlic, fennel, alfalfa sprouts, dried fruits and cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, brussels sprouts, etc).
There is a lot of controversy about whether or not consumption of phytoestrogens is good or bad for breast health. We are of the opinion that good estrogens from natural sources are better than bad estrogens from the environment. Your cell's receptors do not distinguish good or bad, just whether or not the molecule fits in that receptor space.
Moving your Qi to prevent stagnation and supporting your general breast health is also essential for a healthy body and also healthy breasts. Exercise is extremely important, sleep and restorative time is equally important. Try to cultivate healthy habits likes exercising for at least 20 minutes 3 times a week and getting at least 7 hours of sleep. Carrying around extra pounds is a sign of dampness in your physical body - obesity has been linked to breast cancer in both eastern and wester medicine. Qi Gong and Tai Chi are both exercise and moving meditation that can promote breast health.
Attempt to regulate alcohol consumption, not just for you liver, but for your overall health. If you are a smoker, seek help to quit. Not only is smoking linked to a variety of health problems it is also really expensive nowadays. Healthy you (physically, emotionally, mentally) generally means healthy boobs.
Chinese medicine's focus is primarily on prevention of cancer, restoration and maintenance of balance. TCM utilizes treatment modalities like herbal therapies (tinctures, teas, etc.), acupuncture, Qigong, and food as medicine to address the causes for breast cancers to optimize prevention. The focus of prevention and treatment is mainly on the origin of disease and how to address the underlying issues. Chinese medicine can be used in combination with western medicine for the treatment of breast cancer.
The main factors that contribute to breast cancer in this healthcare paradigm are stagnation, cold and Qi deficiency. If you see a doctor of oriental medicine, you may hear that your breast cancer is attributed to liver stagnation or kidney Qi deficiency. Remember that TCM is a holistic approach to medicine and your practitioner will evaluate your entire person and essence before offering you any suggestions for care. This will likely include a pulse diagnosis of both wrists, tongue evaluation, belly diagnosis and extensive discussion. Your unique diagnosis is not going to be the same as your neighbor's or sister in-law's friend's.
The meridians running though your breast or if there is an energy center located where your breast cancer is located within your breast will also be examined as they correspond to certain organs and energy channels within the body. It doesn't mean that your doctor will want to stick an acupuncture needle into that area, but they may recommend needling along the pathway to correct and restore balance in your body.
Surgery was never historically part of a treatment in TCM, though it has been used during surgical procedures as a way to reduce pain or even anesthetize patients enough that they could be awake during surgery with some strategically placed needles. It is unlikely that your surgeon would welcome your acupuncturist into the OR suite in most hospitals in the United States, but this has been trialed extensively in China with remarkable success.
TMC may be useful in post surgical treatment. If you are planning on having chemotherapy or radiation therapy acupuncture and herbal remedies may be useful in minimizing some of the unfortunate side effects. Acupuncture can facilitate healing energy to flow thoroughly through the body and stimulate areas of blockage
If you choose to use Chinese medicine to prevent breast cancer, help you before or after breast cancer surgery and treatment make sure that you disclose this information to your entire healthcare team as some remedies may contraindicate other western remedies.
There are multiple meridians and many more points that can affect the breasts and breast health.
Acupuncture can be used to move energy and has be effective in helping move Qi through the body to restore balance and promote healing for many cancer patients. It can also help with pain reduction and the combating some of the fatigue associated with cancer treatments.
If you choose to use acupuncture for yourself please make sure you find a licensed therapist or a doctor of oriental medicine who is trained in this highly specific artform.
Please see our page dedicated to this healing modality for more information.
Click on the image below.
QI GONG & TAI CHI
Qi Gong and Tai Chi are traditional low impact exercises practiced throughout China and the world to move energy and restore balance. Studies suggest that both techniques can help with stress reduction and management of pain, both would be beneficial for patients.
Qi Gong aims to move Qi so that it does not become stagnant and encourage energy to move through the meridians to build and restore balance. There are many forms of Qi Gong, but it is important to know that anyone can do this. Even watching someone else practice Qi Gong can have positive affects on the energy on non-participants.
If you are a breast cancer patient now faced with post operative decreased range of motion Qi Gong can be a useful practice to help restore your body's full range of motion.
Tai Chi requires a bit more effort than Qi Gong. This is a form of moving meditation that combines slow, deliberate movements with breathing techniques. There are also many forms of Tai Chi, so finding a form that feels well suited to you may be appropriate - explore your options.
There have been limited studies about Tai Chi and breast health or breast cancer, but we know exercise and mediation help tremendously. Tai Chi postures will take time and practice to learn.
Chinese food is not what you get at the Americanized Chinese restaurants with General Tao's Chicken on the menu. Sorry if that is disappointing.
In Chinese culture food is incredibly important, It is the way that we get our Qi. Sunlight energy used to produce our foods is embodied in what we eat so choosing food for health is extremely important. Chinese cuisine for health has an emphasis on whole foods, fermented foods, and eating in a harmonious way. Meals are served with rice as a standard and a variety of teas. Many common foods are great sources of Qi to help the body heal, detox and maintain balance.
Common fruits and vegetables good for breast health, cancer prevention and sources for lots of Qi are listed below as well as some specialty items that might mean a trip to your Asian grocery store. Add healthy grains, some nuts and protein for a complete meal. Fruits can be eaten cooked or raw, but vegetables need to be cooked before consumption so that your stomach doesn't need to expend too much energy to digest them -that means no salads - aren't you overjoyed?
Leafy greens - all types
Sprouts - all types
Black beans - fermented
Cabbage - fermented
Chinese red dates
Chinese pearl barley
Green Tea - with caffine
Lotus root and seeds
Miso - fermented soy
Mustard spice and greens
HELP FOR NURSING MOTHERS
If you are experiencing low milk supply it can be attributed to insufficient Qi. Herbs to help simulate and promote lactation:
Basil (罗勒), Marjoram (马郁兰), Mint (薄荷), Barley (大麦), Anise (八角), Turmeric root (郁金)
Drink lots of water also to help replenish Qi and blood supply.
Traditional Chinese herbs to stimulate milk production are:
Codonopsis Root (党参), Sweetgum Fruit (路路通), Globethistle (漏芦), Balloon flower root (桔梗), Vaccaria seed (王不留行)
Herbs to improve the flow of milk:
Tangerine pith (橘络),Green tangerine peel (青皮), Fructus Tribuli -Jili (蒺藜)
If you are experiencing mastitis try:
Honeysuckle (金银花), Forsythia fruit(连翘), Gleditsia Thorn (皂角刺), Red Peony Root (赤芍)
When you're ready to wean:
Barley sprouts (麦芽), Xiao Yao San Combination(逍遥散): ginseng, white peony root, largehead atractylodes rhizome, buplerum root, sclerotium root, Chinese liquorice root, mint leaves, ginger, and mimose bark.
Please seek the help of skilled practitioner in the preparation of teas or decoctions. In the wrong doses even natural herbs can be dangerous and we do not want you to pass anything on to your baby.
FOR BREAST HEALTH & BREAST CANCER
You aren't likely to cure breast cancer with a tea and this section is not intended to treat breast cancer; though more research is being done using herbs in a curative manner. We're not in anyway encouraging you to forgo the recommendations of your care team in favor of Chinese herbs and recommend having a Doctor of Oriental Medicine prescribe these to you with the correct dosage and instruction.
In 2020 Laskar YB et al. published "Herbal Remedies for Breast Cancer Prevention and Treatment," which features a chart identifying the plant source for many chemotherapy drugs targeted for breast cancer. Most are still currently being investigated.
While that information is all well and good we can recommend in the meanwhile that you incorporate herbs into your teas that promote liver Qi and help to tonify the kidney, stomach and spleen Qi, and herbs that remove dampness.
For your Qi:
Buddha's Hand (佛手), Turmeric root (郁金), Patchouli (藿香), Cordyceps (冬虫夏草), Dandelion (蒲公英), Fennel seeds (小茴香), Cinnamon (肉桂), Ginger (生姜), Nut-grass rhizome (香附), Clove (丁香), Burpleurum root (柴胡), Licorice Root (甘草)
To reduce dampness:
Tangerine peel (陈皮), Ginger (生姜), White Atractylodis rhizome (白术), Poria mushroom (茯苓), Black Atractylodis Rhizome (蒼朮), Milkvetch (黄芪), Chinese motherwort (益母草), Water Plantain Rhizome (澤瀉)
General good health and anti-inflammation:
Turmeric root (郁金), Dried rose flower (玫瑰花), Ginseng (人参), Milkvetch (黄芪), Fleeceflower tuber (何首乌)