According to fundamental ideas in Chinese medicine, the brain is an outgrowth of and nourished by the Kidney. Alzheimer's disease is viewed as a depletion of Kidney essence (jing) which nourishes the brain throughout the lifespan. When the jing is deficient brain tissue deteriorates more rapidly (Hadady, 1996). The cognitive functions of the brain are said to be regulated by the Heart. The Kidney provides the substance, while the Heart regulates activity. Memory, cognition and wisdom are believed to become distorted if the Heart is agitated, or if the orifices that connect the Heart and brain are obstructed by Phlegm (Dharmanandada, 1996a). Dementia is thought to be a combination of collapse of original Qi (yuanqi) and the presence of impure Qi in the meridians and Heart orifices (Jingyue Quanshu, 1637 in Dharmanandada, 1996a).
The first step in dementia development is depression of Liver Qi, usually caused by emotional problems. This instigates a cascade of pathological events leading to excess Phlegm production in the digestive system. Excess plaque, as discovered during autopsies, can result from Phlegm obstructing circulation (Hadady, 1996). Confidence in a viable treatment protocol of Jing tonics (Dharmanandada, 1996a) and Phlegm resolving herbs ensures that a diagnosis of this disease is less catastrophic for Chinese patients and families than their western counterparts. Brain defects and deterioration may be prevented, limited, halted or reversed by ingestion of Kidney tonics. Appropriate treatment has reversed symptoms and results sustained for two years (Jiezhong, 1997).
Numerous herbal formulas have been shown to significantly increase acetylcholine levels (Dharmanandada, 1996a), the neurotransmitter implicated in the disorder. In analysing Chinese medical therapies for Alzheimer's disease, it is crucial to recognize the difficulty in distinguishing this condition from other cases of senile dementia such as atherosclerotic dementia. Extensive brain imaging procedures are required, yet are not done routinely in China. Symptom patterns are used as diagnostic criteria. Some reversible diseases and even severe depression may cause dementia, so it is wise to reserve caution when evaluating results that show improvement in Alzheimer's disease with Chinese therapies (Dharmanandada, 1996a).
Although further validation is required, a carefully controlled study employing CT scan confirmation, evaluated the effectiveness of a patent herbal formula designed to rectify the pathological condition. Forty percent of Alzheimer's disease and 86% of atherosclerotic dementia improved in three months (Dharmanandada, 1996a).
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