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Patchwork solutions for winter ills in summer

By Liu Zhihua  (China Daily)

09:00, June 26, 2013

Traditional Chinese medicine believes getting sanfu patches during the hottest summer days is effective for coughs, asthma and arthritis. Provided to China Daily

Summer heat is not always bad — at least in the eyes of traditional Chinese medicine practitioners.

As sanfu, the three hottest periods of the year according to the Chinese almanac, approaches, people are preparing to get the sanfu medicinal patches and go for moxibustion.

"These treatments are based on the TCM principle of yin and yang, and have been proven to be effective," says Wang Aicheng, director of the TCM acupuncture department of the No 3 Hospital of Beijing University of Chinese Medicine.

TCM believes when yang is lacking, chronic diseases attributed to a "cold nature", such as coughs, asthma and arthritis, will occur or worsen when winter arrives.

Summer is when the treatments are done, to take advantage of the yang elements, to anticipate and relieve these conditions, Wang says.

Sanfu patches contain herbs that are "heaty", while the moxibustion uses medicinal powders, minced garlic (a natural antibiotic) and moxa or mugwort to replenish the yang in the body.

Sanfu patches are applied to certain pressure points, usually on the back and neck. Moxibustion works through heating up pressure points on the spine and looks like a snake winding up the back, hence its Chinese name of changshejiu.

While sanfu patches are gaining popularity, moxibustion is still not commonly requested. The reason is probably a question of immediate or lasting effect.

A Beijing resident surnamed Zhang, in her 60s, has gone for moxibustion in a hospital, for about three hours each time.

She says the treatment fails to have a lasting effect to ease the arthritic aches in her neck, hands and legs.

"I feel good when the doctor just finishes. But after several hours, the pain comes back," Zhang says.

She says she had gone through other treatments, and all failed to provide a lasting cure.

Wang, the TCM acupuncture specialist, says moxibustion requires a relatively long course of treatment to relieve severe symptoms.

Sanfu patches are more to prevent conditions with a "cold nature" rather than to cure them immediately, the specialist adds.