The latest news on health from the National Center for Health Statistics in the US isn’t great. For the first time in 20 years the average life expectancy for both men and women has declined. Furthermore, the last three years before the current report life expectancy was flat. This is in contrast to the slow but steady increase the US had seen pretty much since the 1970s.
The report also found that some of the leading diseases in the US are killing more people each year – heart disease, chronic respiratory disorders, stroke, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and kidney disease are all up. Many, although not all, of these conditions are completely preventable, and experts suggest that the growing obesity epidemic as well as perhaps economic issues (the growing poor in the US are getting much poorer compared to the small percentage of rich getting much, much richer) are contributing to the nation’s declining health. Despite the US’s appearance as a modern nation with advanced health care systems, we still rank only 28th out of the 40 OECD member countries in terms of life expectance, behind countries such as the Czech Republic and Chile. Click here to read the BBC story on this news.
Longevity has been one of the main focuses of Chinese medicine for at least the last 2000 years. One project being undertaken recently in China is collecting famous doctors’ experience with all things health related. Starting in 2008 the Chinese government started to identify very experienced elders in the field of Chinese medicine who have made significant contribution to the art, and designating them as “Grandmasters of Chinese Medicine” (国医大师). During their first year of search 30 people in China were designated as such, and their unique clinical experiences were recorded in a series of books and articles. One of the topics covered was the Grandmasters’ longevity secrets.
Seeing as how the US is lagging behind in our overall health and lifespan, over the next emails and blog posts I’ll try to cover some of these longevity secrets and tips from the Grandmasters of Chinese Medicine.
Li Ji Ren’s Four Herb Tea
Born in 1931, Li Jiren is a Grandmaster of Chinese Medicine who started learning medicine at the age of 12 under a famous doctor from Xinan, Anhui Province, China. Even well into his 80s, Dr. Li is physically strong and in good spirits. He goes to bed around midnight and wakes by 7am, and most days he starts seeing patients by 8am!
When asked, he explains that he doesn’t have any particularly complex health regimens, but rather he relies on a simple tea. This “Four Herb Tea” (四药茶) is Dr. Li’s longevity secret.
- Huang Qi (Astragalus) 10-15g
- Xi Yang Shen (American Ginseng) 3-5g
- Gou Qi Zi (Goji Berries) 6-10g
- Huang Jing (Polygonatum) 10g
These four herbs are decocted for a short period of time and then consumed just once per day. The formula is a very basic one designed to supplement the Qi and Blood. Since Qi and Blood insufficiency lead to a myriad of problems, and since in modern times we deplete ourselves with poor lifestyle, poor diet, overconsumption of dangerous medicines, failing to get adequate sleep, etc…, gentle supplementation of the Qi and Blood can help prevent many conditions.
In this combination, Astragalus is one of the key ingredients. In Chinese medicine it is considered the leader of all herbs that supplement (补药之长), and it has the ability to strengthen the Qi of all the major 5 yin and 6 yang organs (the Zang and fu). American ginseng is also a substance that strengthens both Qi and Blood. While similar to regular ginsengs (such as Chinese or Korean), American ginseng is slightly cooling in nature and also protects the fluids. Paired with Astragalus it moderates the formulas temperature to make it more neutral rather than too cooling or heating. The last two herbs, the Goji berries and the Polygonatum, both strengthen the Kidney. The former is neutral and the latter is slightly warm, and both strengthen the blood. In ancient times Polygonatum was used by Daoists as a food substitute while fasting – it is very nourishing and treats fatigue and poor appetite.
Enjoy this simple formula in good health. If you need help sourcing the herbs, or want to get them as a concentrate powder for easier administration, please let us know!
Wang YT, Jiao L, ed. Great Doctors of Chinese Medicine Vol. 2 (大国医). Beijing: New World Press, 2010.