Herbs that heal
Thai traditional medicine can help patients suffering from diabetes and high blood pressure but patience is also required
As in the Western hemisphere, an ever-increasing number of Thais are being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and blood pressure. In addition to having to take daily medication, they are advised to lead healthier lifestyles, watch their diets, take more exercise and visit the hospital for regular screening.
While all of this is sensible advice, another form of healing is open to those who prefer a more holistic approach.
Thai traditional medicine diagnoses illness through dhat chao ruean (dominant body element), meaning that the traditional practitioner has to analyse which of the patient's elements is not in balance when they become ill. The doctor will then use various treatments, such as herbal medicines, food, massage or exercise to correct the imbalance.
As individual people have a different dominant element, the herbal medicine will be appropriate for that particular element. The relationship between the taste of a particular drug and the appropriate food to suit that particular body element is also taken into account, meaning that the doctor is able to give dietary advice according to the dominant element and the symptoms of the disease.
Like many diseases, diabetes and hypertension are not mentioned by name in the Thai traditional medicine textbook. However, their symptoms are common and there are many herbs to ease the illness.
Diabetes means excess intake of sugar and hypertension means the imbalance of wind in the body. Dr Chalalai Chokdeesrijun, an applied Thai traditional doctor at Abhaibhubejhr hospital, says that bitter and bland herbs are commonly used for healing the symptoms of diabetes, which vary from frequent urination, indigestion as well as feeling the need to drink more to replace the water that you are losing.
Herbs and food ingredients with a bitter and bland taste are recommended. They include the bitter gourd, emblica, phak chiang da (Perrpioca of the woods) and the popular Thai herb curcumin.
All of these herbs were used in ancient medicine and later proved by scientific research to be active in decreasing the blood sugar or helping control insulin production.
Thai traditional medicine believes that hypertension is related to the heart. Symptoms include inconsistent or a too strong a heartbeat and occurs when an individual is stressed, not sleeping enough,
working too hard or overweight.
Thai herbs that treat the symptom have a hot taste like chilli, onion and garlic. There are also bitter tasting herbs and those with a mild aroma to ease the stress. Roselle decreases the blood pressure, as do Asiatic pennyworth and garlic.
Many people eat celery - raw or cooked - to reduce hypertension. The vegetable has been widely used across Asia for thousands of years for its blood pressure decreasing effect.
Thai medicine can combine several holistic treatments to ease the chronic symptoms. The Thai traditional medicine doctor focuses on checking not just the patient's symptoms but also his or her lifestyle, a time-taking but helpful diagnostic tool that not many modern doctors can afford.
"By taking time to talk with patients, we see the minor details that can cause chronic symptoms. However, Thai medicine can't heal illness immediately like the modern medicine. It takes weeks or months to get better," says Dr Chalalai.
Thai traditional medicine clinics are now available in both private hospitals as well as in state facilities.