CONVERSATIONS WITH… A TCM Expert

Physician Lim Lay Beng doesn’t just use traditional Chinese medicine to heal you, she’ll help you balance your life.

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If you don’t know better, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) seems to take an unconventional approach to healing. Besides the use of herbs and roots, some treatment options even involve needles and suction cups ― so, yes, TCM is indeed a far cry from its Western counterpart.

Unlike Western medicine, which addresses a patient’s symptoms, TCM takes a more holistic approach to treatment. Explains Lim Lay Beng, a TCM physician at YS Healthcare, “[TCM] not only helps you to restore and enhance your health, but also teaches you to balance your life, so as so to be in harmony with others and the environment ― to prevent the future diseases.”

A TCM diagnosis is also more complex than just taking one’s pulse. A proper one has four steps ― observation, smelling and listening, asking questions and analysing the pulse rate.

Lim explains, “This will help the physician collect information, correlate, consolidate and analyse the illness of the patient, identify the imbalanced nature of the body and derive proper treatments.”

TCM treatment takes into account a wide variety of factors like the nature of the illness — whether it is caused by “cold” or “heat”, but also affected organs like the lungs, heart, liver, kidneys and spleen. In TCM, the functions of these organs are different from Western standards. For instance, the kidney is responsible for functions like controlling human reproduction, growth and development, producing marrow and even the lustre of one’s hair.

In addition, the physician also looks at the relationship between the factors that cause the infection or disease such as “wind”, “cold”, “heat”, “fire” and “dampness”. TCM is also used in the treatment of conditions like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), allergic sinusitis, eczema and even bedwetting in kids.

"[TCM] not only helps you to restore and enhance your health, but also teaches you to balance your life, so as so to be in harmony with others and the environment ― to prevent the future diseases.”

At which age can parents safely let their kids undergo TCM treatment?
Kids as young as 6 months old can undergo TCM treatment. The treatment mainly involves TCM infant massage and oral medication. We also customise the TCM dosage according to the ages of the kids.

How do you help ease the fears of your patients?
Fear happens when there are doubts and uncertainty. So, I will answer any doubts and concerns that the patients may have to ease their fears. During the treatment process, I’ll let them know what we are doing and why. Very often, the patients fear the pain from the acupuncture. I will show them the needles and let them know that acupuncture needles are sterilised and disposable, they are so thin that most people feel nothing more than a slight tingling sensation when they are inserted.

How about young patients?
[Children tend to] fear strangers and injections. Very often, we have to let them know that TCM don’t [involve] injecting them. To help their child feel secure, the parent can carry them or [distract] them [with a] movie on the phone while we perform TCM infant massage. For oral medication, some herbal medicines are sweet and the kids have no problem taking it. If the child finds difficulties taking the herbal drink, honey can be added or it can be taken together with milk, or the child can be given a sweet after the herbal drink.

How can parents help make your job easier?
It will be helpful if the parents can brief their child about TCM treatment, so that they are mentally prepared without fear.

Is it safe to take TCM and Western meds at the same time? Read on…

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Share with us an experience with a young patient, which has left an impression on you?
In 2007, a grandmother brought her 6-year-old grandchild to the clinic for gastric flu with fever, cough and vomiting. To my surprise, the small boy asked me whether I will do acupuncture on him. I was wondering at his young age, how would he know about acupuncture? The grandmother smiled and explained to me that she was a former nurse and before they came to the clinic, she briefed her grandson about different types of TCM treatments. She even let him read a basic TCM book with pictures to ease his fears. I then explained to him that his illness only requires infant massage and oral medicine. He enjoyed the treatment and subsequently shared his experience with his two younger brothers, who came to the clinic for allergic rhinitis, cough and flu treatment. All three have since recovered and are now healthy teenagers staying in Shanghai with their parents.

Is it safe if someone takes both TCM and Western medication at the same time?
My advice will depend on what kind of TCM and Western medication they’ll be taking. If TCM and Western medication are treating unrelated illnesses that have no impact on each other, we will advise the patients to take Western medication two hours before from the TCM medicine to avoid any effects.

If the patient is taking anti-coagulants such as aspirin or warfarin, we will be cautious to prescribe Chinese herbs, which may have blood-thinning effects. Besides the two-hour gap before consuming Western medicine, we will include other herbs to minimise the blood-thinning effect of the prescription. We will also start with a small dose to monitor the patient’s reaction. To avoid any complications. It is important for patients to inform their TCM physicians, as well as their doctors, that they are consuming both TCM and western medication together.

“It is important for patients to inform their TCM physicians, as well as their doctors, that they are consuming both TCM and western medication together.”

What are some common misconceptions people have about TCM?
Some feel that TCM medicine require hours of cooking. [The herbal medicine I dispense] in my clinic is in powder-, tablet- and pill-form where no cooking is required. The powder medicine just needs to be mixed with water, similar t three-in-one packet beverages. These herbal medicines are manufactured in pharmaceutical companies following international protocols. They are controlled and regulated by Health Sciences Authority in Singapore. And a copy of the Certificate of Analysis for each herb has to be submitted to [them] for approval before it can be used in Singapore.

Another misconception is that TCM is not backed by scientific studies. There are actually lots of evidence-based clinical research and pharmacological studies done in TCM hospitals in China, which are funded by the China Ministry of Health. But due to language issues, most of them are published in Chinese medicinal [journals] and can only be researched through paid web-sites in universities. Singapore’s Ministry of Health has even started a TCM Clinical Research Grant of $3 million to encourage TCM practitioners and mainstream medicine researchers to study chronic diseases.

For serious health conditions like cancer, what sort of role does TCM play in terms of treatment?
For cancer treatment in Singapore, the role that TCM plays is to complement Western medicine. Pre- and post-surgery, TCM helps to strengthen the cancer patient’s immune and digestive systems, increase the qi (meaning life force) and blood to speed up wound recovery.

During chemotherapy, TCM speeds up recovery by strengthening the organs to prevent, reduce and/or alleviate the side effects of chemotherapy. Besides helping to restore the patient’s blood counts and liver function to normal levels, so that he can go through the chemotherapy cycle smoothly, it also boosts the chemo drugs’ ability to kill the cancer cells.

During radiotherapy, TCM helps patients strengthen their organs and increases the body’s fluids to reduce radiation’s side effects such as fatigue, dry throat, mouth, dryness, itchiness and skin irritation.

Research findings show that integrating TCM before, during and after treatment with chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery shows the five-year survival outcomes are remarkably enhanced, often prolonging life by twice the amount of time as with Western medicine alone.

What sparked your interest in TCM and how did you get started?
I wanted to explore ways in which TCM could enhance my health. When I learnt TCM and started practising it on myself, I discovered TCM is result-oriented ― my health condition also improved significantly. It not only helped me but also others with serious illnesses such as cancer and stroke. I spent six years doing a part-time diploma course and did internships with clinics, which really sparked my interest in TCM and prompted me to further pursue a three- year master’s degree course at the Beijing University of Chinese Medicine.

What do you enjoy the most about your job?
When a patient recovers from their illness and starts sharing their TCM experience with others.

What is the toughest part of your job?
TCM is the essence of Chinese history, philosophy and medical knowledge. The toughest part of the job is to explain TCM principles and concepts within the short 10- to 20-minute-long consultation time. In addition, it is also a challenge to convince the patients to change their lifestyle to prevent future diseases.

Complete this: You often tell your patients...
Prevention is better than cure. It’s easier to stop disease in the first place than to treat the damages of the disease after it has happened.

Lim Lay Beng is a TCM practitioner at YS Healthcare.

Photos: Courtesy of Lim Lay Beng

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