This is the introduction to a new blog series examining the qualities of essential nutrients from both a Western and Chinese Medicine perspective.
The field of nutrition is an area of medicine that will benefit tremendously from combining the wisdom of Chinese Medicine and the science of modern biochemistry. Chinese Medicine is able to create a complete, holistic system that encompasses all phenomenon, and Western biochemistry is able to fill in the gaps and details that are left unclear. By utilizing information and theories from both sides, a more complete picture is revealed.
Chinese Medicine has no conceptual framework for vitamins, minerals, or other essential nutrients. Energy, or nourishment, is extracted from the food we eat and used to support our minds and bodies. Foods can be warming, cooling, moistening, drying; they can go to a particular organ network, such as the Lung, or the Kidney; they can nourish a certain element of the body, such as the Blood, or the Fluids. Though different foods have different properties, there is no concept of any separate element of a given food that is analogous to the Western concept of a nutrient. This lack of detail limits the ability of Chinese Medicine to understand nutritional deficiencies.
In comparison, the field of nutrition in Western Medicine is focused primarily on the nutrients contained within a food. Food has macronutrients, consisting of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats; food has micronutrients, such vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, polyphenols, etc. The chemical analysis of food has given us a wealth of data about what food is made out of, and has enabled us to understand single nutrient deficiencies extraordinarily well. However, the complex interplay of nutrients in the body is still being explored, and new discoveries will continue to emerge. The lack of an overarching model of human physiology limits the Western understanding of how nutrients may interact, and how a complete food may be different from its constituent chemicals.
Utilizing the big-picture approach of Chinese Medicine alongside the detail-oriented perspective of Western nutrition gives greater understanding. I’ll begin the exploration with the B vitamins, a group of water-soluble compounds that are essential to numerous processes in the body. Part 2 – B Vitamins