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Chinese Nutrition Therapy: Dietetics in Traditional Chinese Medicine, 2nd ed.

Chinese Nutrition Therapy: Dietetics in Traditional Chinese Medicine, 2nd edition by Joerg Kastner. New York, NY: Thieme Medical Publishers, 2009. Paperback; 292 pages. ISBN–13: 978-3131309624. $69.95.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is one of the oldest systems of medicine in the world. As with other ancient traditional medical systems, health is viewed in a holistic way, incorporating health of the body, mind, and spirit within the cosmology and philosophy underlying the Chinese culture. Proper nutrition is viewed by the Chinese not only as sustenance for life, but also as a therapeutic option for the treatment of various maladies. This system includes an enormous repertoire of herbs and fungi, among other products, which possess important medicinal value.

Chinese Nutrition Therapy, 2nd edition was written by Joerg Kastner, MD, a physician and licensed acupuncturist in Wessling, Germany. He was trained as a conventional physician with a specialization in internal medicine and has been involved in TCM and acupuncture since 1987.

The book consists of 7 sections. The first section introduces the reader to the main concepts of TCM, such as the duality and complementary interactions of yin and yang, the energy concept of chi, the 5 phases (sometimes referred to as “elements”: wood, air, fire, water, and metal), and the 5 basic substances: life force or qi, congenital essence or jing, blood or xue, spirit or shen, and bodily fluids or jin ye—all of which can be intricately related to the principal causes of a diverse array of diseases. This section further states the methodology of Chinese nutritional therapy and focuses on the energetic properties of foods, as well as their flavors (usually in terms of the 5 flavors: salty, sweet, acrid, bitter, and sour) and thermal nature (hot, cool, or neutral), with regard to how they correspond with various organ networks of the human body. Each flavor, for instance, is related to a particular network of diverse organs in the body, such as sweet to spleen and stomach, and sour to the liver and gall bladder. Also mentioned are cooking procedures and meal preparation, in accordance to the 5 phases previously mentioned.

Section 2 deals with the recommendations of Chinese dietetics, especially with the planning of meals according to the season of the year, a practice once common in the past but apparently all but forgotten now in Western culinary culture. Proper nutrition throughout the human life cycle is also included. The book notes that during cold weather, a diet containing acrid spices such as bay laurel (Laurus nobilis, Lauraceae), would theoretically provide particularly good nourishment and help conserve heat in the body. Conversely, during the warm summer months, dishes are recommended that contain ingredients considered to have “cooling” properties, such as broccoli (Brassica oleraceae var. italica, Brassicaceae).

Section 3 mentions the practical applications of Chinese dietetics and provides guidelines for giving advice to patients regarding proper nutrition for the treatment of a wide array of health conditions, including respiratory ailments and digestive upsets. For example, a patient showing cold symptoms, including a cough with phlegm, would be advised to eat food that would loosen phlegm, such as watercress (Rorippa nasturtium-aquaticum, Brassicaceae), radish (Raphanus sativum, Brassicaceae), and celery root (Apium graveolens, Apiaceae). Recommended herbal teas for this condition would include peppermint (Mentha x piperita, Lamiaceae) and lemon (Citrus x limon, Rutaceae).

Section 4 classifies diverse foods, including fruits, grains, vegetables, spices, and meats, according to Chinese dietetics, mentioning their taste, thermal quality, and possible contraindications in the treatment of various disease states. Cabbage (Brassica oleracea var. capitata, Brassicaceae) is considered to possess a sweet flavor and to act upon the large intestine and stomach organ network. Its main effect is to promote digestion and alleviate acute pain in the gastrointestinal tract. The therapeutic indications for this plant include stomach and spleen disharmony and stagnations, as well as ulcers of the stomach and small intestine (duodenum). In the latter case, both TCM and Western medicine agree with this application.

Section 5 gives clinical examples of the application of Chinese nutritional therapy in the treatment of specific diseases (or as a TCM practitioner would perhaps state, “patterns of disharmony”). In this section, the clinical applications of Chinese nutrition therapy are provided for various conditions including respiratory and gastrointestinal disorders, obesity and weight loss, physical and emotional fatigue (stress), cardiovascular problems, gynecological issues, and more.

Section 6 is about Chinese dietetics applied according to a particular phase and its corresponding organ network. For example, chili pepper (Capsicum spp., Solanaceae) is considered to be a warming herb, classified as being subject to the earth phase and related to the spleen, pancreas, and stomach organ network. Its main function is to “move blood” (promote circulation) and qi (energy) throughout the body. Therefore, it can be used for a number of ailments including respiratory, arthritic, and gastrointestinal problems.

Section 7 is a brief but comprehensive glossary that defines common terms used in TCM and dietetics, with their English equivalents.

The book is well written and offers practical examples of the application of TCM, not only for the treatment but also for the prevention of various afflictions related to lifestyle and inadequate eating habits. Dr. Kastner vividly captures the essence of TCM and its application in nutritional therapy in a sensible and accurate manner, something that is not common among some Western physicians. Perhaps one of the most salient features of this work is that it reminds that various herbs, fungi, and certain foods of animal origin have more than just culinary importance; they also possess a therapeutic value. The 2nd edition of Chinese Nutrition Therapy will be a welcome addition to the libraries of nutritional consultants and dietitians, herbalists, naturopathic doctors, physicians, and nurses who are involved in giving nutritional advice to their patients and who may wish to access a source of information from a TCM perspective.

—Armando González-Stuart, PhD Research Assistant Professor University of Texas at El Paso and UT Austin Cooperative Pharmacy Program