By Michael Max
We learned this in our first quarter of Chinese medicine school, and if you read through the advertisements and support materials for any of the multitude of herbal products you will see this…
Jade Windscreen Powder is for building the immune systems in those who easily get colds.
I’m one of those people. I had easily caught colds for most of my life. I wish it were not so. I remember reading about yù píng fëng sân (Jade Windscreen Powder) and thinking my troubles were over. But, after taking it for a week or so, I woke one winter night in a panic thinking the house was on fire. It was not, but I had this odd smell of burning paper in my nose. Which followed me around for a few days until I stopped the Jade Windscreen.
Let’s look at this from the point of view of constitution, and we will get some clues as to why this prescription not only did not work, but also caused me problems. And why it is perhaps less than effective for some of your patients as well.
The main herb in Jade Windscreen is huáng qí (Astragali Radix). Back in the Han dynasty the primary uses of huáng qí (Astragali Radix) were for non-healing sores and edema. The body type associated with huáng qí (Astragali Radix) tends to be a bit on the heavy side, and what in the usual Chinese medicine lingo we would say is damp, and thus there is a bit of a fluid metabolism issue. The bái zhú (Atractylodis macrocephalae Rhizoma) in this formula is one of the main herbs that Zhang Zhong-Jing used to correct water metabolism problems. As to the fáng fëng (Saposhnikoviae Radix), while it does release the exterior, it also can be a bit drying as it promotes the expulsion of water via the sweat. For a guy like me that tends toward dryness it is little wonder this stuff kindled an internal fire! And it might be the reason behind your own disappointing clinical results with some people who easily suffer from recurrent respiratory infections.
Consider that different body types have affinities for different herbs, and need to be regulated in different ways.
Patients who do not tend toward dampness, will likely have trouble with drying formulas like Jade Windscreen. It can be a real head scratcher when some textbook, seemingly easy to apply formulas, are terrifically ineffective. Dr. Huang, author of The Ten Key Formula Families in Chinese Medicine, encourages us to consider constitutional aspects of our patients as a way to improve our clinical effectiveness.
When it comes to recurrent colds (or allergies as well) he suggests most patients will fall within the cinnamon twig, bupleurum, or astragalus constitutional types. For the cinnamon twig person who frequently gets colds, see how they do on a small dose of guì zhï täng (Cinnamon Twig Decoction). With these patients you are not looking to induce a sweat, like when treating the early stages of wind strike. You are looking to gently adjust the communication between the nutritive and protective, and give a gentle boost to the yang qi with cinnamon, thus helping to stabilize the exterior. Likewise, if they are a bupleurum type consider xiâo chái hú täng (Minor Bupleurum Decoction). This formula promotes the flow of qi through the san jiao, and when the san jiao is clear the yang qi flows more freely, which in turn allows the surface of the body to be stronger.
As already discussed, the astragalus constitution tends toward dampness, and it is this dampness that obstructs the free flow of defensive qi. Improving the water metabolism by draining water away from the skin layer, and by dispersing gently outward also results in the yang/defensive qi being more readily available on the surface of the body.
All three of these prescriptions have the same result; improved circulation of yang qi at the perimeter of the body. However, they all achieve this in different ways. Recurrent colds are due to a weakness of qi at the body’s exterior layer, but those weaknesses come from different etiologies. Considering constitution gives you another way to understand what is going on with your patients, and prescribe a formula that will be effective for them.
Many thanks to Michael Max for offering this article for the Jade e-news. For more information on the use of classic formulas and to download an introduction to the ten constitutional types discussed in The Ten Key Formulas Families in Chinese Medicine, visit www.classicformulas.com.
Michael Max graduated from the Seattle Institute of Oriental Medicine (SIOM) where he studied acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine and earned a Master’s of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. After graduating and practicing in Seattle for a few years, Michael followed his curiosity to Taiwan and Mainland China to learn Chinese and to further his understanding of Chinese medicine from within the Chinese language and cultural frame.
Upon returning from Asia he spent three years running Yong Kang Chinese medicine clinic in downtown Seattle, then relocated to Missouri where he currently runs Yong Kang Chinese Medicine in Saint Louis and continues to travel regularly to Asia, both to study and occasionally lecture. He has translated a great many articles on Chinese medicine, as well as the book “Ten Key Formula Families in Chinese Medicine” written by Huang Huang, published in July 2009.