treating children with chinese medicine
treating children with chinese medicine
“A specialty in mutes”: that is what one of my teachers called pediatrics. Because children, especially younger children, don’t answer questions with any reliable precision, it makes diagnosing and treating them that much more challenging. However, with proper methods and tools, the treatment of children is satisfying for all involved, child, parent, and physician.
I would like to offer parents some ideas and advice in helping with your children’s health and well-being, from my personal experience and that of the perspective of Chinese medicine. I have seen and spoken with numerous well-intended parents whose children could be so much more vital and healthy, with only a few simple changes in their routine. I can almost hear parents, especially of infants and toddlers, saying we are doing so much already, we can’t do anything more. If you can do a little more in the short run, you may need to do less in the long run. Less is more.
Yin and Yang
There is polarity in everything. In Chinese medicine, these opposites are Yin, represented as water, and Yang, referring to fire. Yin embodies coldness, darkness, the moon, nighttime, slow, thickness, downwards, heaviness, roots, bark, wood, space, earth; Yang is hotness, brightness, sunshine, daytime, fast, thin, upwards, light, leaves, flowers, fruit, time, heaven. Children, especially younger children, are generally of a Yang nature: they are active, change quickly in their moods, growing upward and outward. Although Yang natured, they suffer from both Yin and Yang illnesses.
The cold time of year brings the Yin influence to bear. Runny noses turning into colds; darkness may bring fear and bedwetting; sweet foods causing upset stomachs. In the summer months we see more Yang issues: fever, irritability, even vomiting. By recognizing both the nature of your child, and the seasonal influence, you can keep your child relatively healthy.
Here are two examples of balancing the child’s nature with the seasons using foods: Melon is cooling, very good for nourishing Yin in the heat of summer. With a Yin/cold natured child, serving melon with ginger will prevent the yin extreme. Turkey is hot natured, a good fall and winter food. Turkey is too hot for the Yang/hot natured child. Serving turkey with sour and cold cranberries will mitigate this hot nature.
Another key to your child’s health is clothing. Developing an awareness of your child’s nature and what clothes are appropriate each season will provide, literally, another layer of preventive care. In Chinese medical theory, we are defended from cold and flu bugs by Protective Qi, or Wei Qi. Wei Qi is “fierce and bold”, and is hot natured. While we are awake, it is constantly circulating in the superficial layers of our body. If we get too cold, this Wei qi is depleted in trying to keep us warm, allowing cold and flu bugs to enter. This causes mucus, which in turn traps these bugs and compromises the lungs. The end result: your child gets sick. So, getting cold does cause us to catch a cold. When our children are at school, we can’t keep their jackets and hats on. But, with children who are prone to sickness, teachers can certainly be asked to help.
Diet and Nourishment
In my practice there is no subject that creates more dissent and resistance than diet. Everyone has an idea of what is best for themself and their child. Since such controversy and strong feelings exist, I will try to share only a few insights and observations on diet and nourishment.
Most of us, and especially children, like sweet foods. Many parents use sweets for bribes, either rewarding or withholding them in various situations. The sweet flavor is very important in our nutrition: it is moistening in small amounts. If we eat too much sweet foods we become over-moistened, the result being what we call Dampness and Heat.
Dampness comes in the form of excess mucus and phlegm in the lungs, stomach and intestines, with colds, upset stomach, and diarrhea the common outcome. Heat reveals itself in fever, irritability, vomiting, and nightmares. Note that sweet food includes fruit, honey, maple syrup, sugar, grains, bread, pasta and
If your child craves sweet things, there are several ways to work with it. First and best, serve main meals that are healthy, savory and delicious, with the hope that that will satisfy and fill your child’s desires. If they do crave sweets still, try to balance the sweets with something drying and dispersing: if they like maple syrup with pancakes or oatmeal, add enough cardamom, cinnamon and ginger to the mix to make it spiced, but not spicy; some warming tea of roasted roots and bark (my girls called it “children’s coffee”) served with ice cream; raw fruit with powdered ginger or cayenne, a la mexicana.
If your child craves sweets, or has peculiar food issues, you may want to look at nourishment in a deeper way. We are nourished by the food we eat and the air we breathe, as well as the love we receive at home and at school. Is there room in your child’s life for them to breathe? to swallow? to pee and poop? to be who they want to be? Even infants and toddlers may have these emotional issues. Home and school stress is constricting. Children internalize/ swallow/ inhale stress, and this can push a tendency to its extreme, hastening what is fast, stopping what is slow (diarrhea, constipation, asthma come to mind).
Children’s immunity is primarily dependent on the health of their gut and it’s resident flora. We must do all that we can to develop and maintain their gut “biome” with a healthy diet. What that diet is specifically is an extensive discussion that is best left to another article at another time. If you would like to find out more about the best diet for gut health, feel free to contact me.
Qi, sometimes translated as vital energy , is what animates us, defends us from illness, warms us, circulates our blood and fluids, and holds us together. Qi flows through meridians connected internally with our vital organs, and externally to every fold, crook, finger-and-toenail. Qi is the basis of the art and science of acupuncture: by inserting needles at precise and carefully selected points on selected meridians, we can benefit the flow of qi, stimulating thebody’s innate healing response. I use needles on older children (12 and up), and rarely on younger children, only when other methods prove ineffective.
Fight Evil & Support the Righteous
The oldest known Chinese medical text, The Inner Classic, was written over
2500 years ago. This memorable quote provides insight into the basis of the
Chinese medical approach:
“..the wise man does not wait for men to become sick in order to nurse them;
he guides them, when they are in good health, by making them follow the
precepts - the Dao; thus he keeps them flourishing. He does not seek to
suppress the rebellions, but to maintain the existing good order. To nurse the
sicknesses or repress the rebellions when they break out is similar to the man
who waits to be thirsty in order to sink a well”.
In children 8 and younger, Qi tends to be light and quick. With propertreatment, their recovery is quick. So, light, quick touch is a very effective treatment. Tui Na, or Chinese medical massage, is a gentle massage technique that I use for younger children, one that they usually enjoy. I use it to treat all types of childhood illness, and it is easily learned by parents to use at home. I have used Tui Na to treat irritability, hyperactivity, rashes, sleeplessness, ear infection, indigestion—the list is almost endless. It is a curative technique, not one that masks or suppresses symptoms. Because of their vitality, children respond to the treatment amazingly fast. I have seen chronic conditions of over several year’s duration improve dramatically after one treatment. Treatments are given once weekly, with a course of treatment usually 4 to 6 weeks.
I use Chinese herbal medicine to treat most every pediatric complaint. ChineseHerbal medicine draws from over 300 individual herbs combined in formulas of4 to 15 herbs. These formulas are individually tailored for each person, treating both the root of the problem, and its manifesting branch of symptoms. For example, an herbal formula combining astragalus, atractylodes and silerus can both increase immunity and reduce or eliminate symptoms of colds and flu. Adolescent problems such as acne and menstrual disorders also respond very well to herbal therapy.
A discussion of children’s health would not be complete without something about vaccinations and immunizations. There are extreme opinions regarding this subject, both sides providing valid points supporting their perspective. There is, however, a middle ground. The Chinese medical perspective, validated by a renowned pediatric osteopath, is to allow a child’s immune system to develop for two years before immunizing. And then, when immunizing, being selective with which shots to give of the common vaccines: polio and tetanus have severe, debilitating effects; measles and whooping cough, although severe illnesses in some, can convey stronger immunity once your child recovers.
A word about antibiotics
For some children, antibiotics play a major role in their health. Often they are prescribed in conditions for which they are not really indicated, i.e. ear infections. According to a British ENT: “It is often difficult to distinguish between bacterial and viral infections. In most cases of middle ear infection, antibiotics have been shown to be of little benefit.” And this from a colleague: “Children who use antibiotics have a higher incidence of a repeat infection within six weeks then those who don’t use antibiotics.” The type of bacteria associated with ear infections quickly develop resistance to antibiotics, which is a major problem. And, of course, antibiotics damage our primary immunity, that of our gut flora and biome.
We want what is best for our children: the healthiest food, a loving home, a good education, and the best healthcare. Respect and praise goes out for parents who strive for these things for their children. I would challenge parents to go one more step by choosing natural instead of conventional healthcare. Before using antibiotics, antihistamines, steroids, ear tubes, etc. think about trying Chinese medicine.