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Other Names:

Japanese Herbal Medicine, Japanese Medicine, JM, Médecine Japonaise, Médecine Kampo, Médecine Orientale, Médecine Traditionnelle Asiatique, Medicina Kanpo, Oriental Medicine, TAM, TJM, Traditional Asian Medicine.

KAMPO MEDICINE Overview Information

Kampo medicine is an ancient system of medicine that uses a wide variety of methods for diagnosing and treating many different medical conditions.

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) was introduced to Japan over 1000 years ago. The Japanese modified the TCM system to reflect their culture and needs. The practice became known as kampo medicine. Kampo medicine was the main form of medicine until 1885 when the Japanese government recognized conventional modern medicine. However, after World War II, kampo became popular again and is currently widely practiced in Japan.

In Japan, only physicians can practice medicine. However, they are able to practice modern medical techniques as wells as kampo medicine.

Practitioners of kampo medicine are not legally recognized or licensed in North America. Some states recognize practitioners called “licensed acupuncturists.” These practitioners often have training in traditional Chinese herbal medicine and possibly kampo medicine. In other states, a Certificate in Acupuncture is recognized. Some people who practice TCM have a “Doctor of Oriental Medicine” degree (OMD or DOM). However, this reflects training, not licensure. Standards for this degree are not uniform.

Similar to TCM, a major problem facing kampo medicine is herbal product quality. There are often issues with misidentification of herbal species, which can lead to substitution of possibly poisonous plants. In several cases, the TCM herb guang fang ji was substituted for han fang ji. This substitution resulted in over 100 reported cases of kidney damage because guang fang ji contains a chemical that harms the kidneys.

How does it work?

Kampo medicine began over 1000 years ago when traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) was brought to Japan. At that time there was no scientific concept of disease or drug treatment in terms that can be related to our modern understanding of medicine. Therefore, the principles of kampo medicine were formed based more on philosophy than on science. Kampo medicine shares many of the key components, practices, and philosophies of TCM. To understand kampo medicine, it is important to know the meaning of the following terms:

Acupuncture. This practice originated in China and is now commonly used throughout Eastern countries. Needles are inserted into over 350 key points along “meridians” in the body. Stimulating these points through a needle or pressure (e.g., acupressure) is thought to stimulate the body to correct energy flow and balance.
Meridian. There are 12 meridians forming a continuous pathway throughout the body. Ki circulates through the body on these meridians.
Pulse diagnosis. This is an important diagnostic tool used in kampo medicine, often in conjunction with tongue diagnosis. Kampo medicine practitioners take the pulse at the wrist on each side and in three different positions. The pulses are thought to provide information about the internal organs.
Ki. This term, pronounced “chee,” refers to the total energy of the body.
Kigong. This is exercise, either through physical movements or meditation, that is used to stimulate ki and maintain energy flow and balance.
Sho. This is a term used to describe the kampo diagnosis or identification of symptoms or signs of disease.
Tongue diagnosis. The appearance of the tongue is used to evaluate possible illness. Cues such as tongue moistness, coloring, or coating suggest certain conditions.
Yin and You. Yin and You, similar to yin-yang in Chinese medicine, are believed to be the two forces that control the universe. Virtually, all medical problems are considered to be due to imbalances in one of these forces. Yin is the feminine side of nature and includes tranquility, darkness, cold, wetness, and depth. You is masculine and represents light, heat, activity, dryness, and height. Yin and You are not the same as good and bad. Instead they are considered forces that work together to complete each other. Kampo therapies are intended to correct imbalances of these forces to cure disease.
Herbs and herbal combinations. Like other kampo medicine therapies, herbals are used to correct energy flow and balance. Herbs are described as having four qualities:

Nature. The nature of an herb usually describes whether it has “cooling” or “heating” effects. An herb's nature might also be described as energizing or relaxing.
Taste. Herbs can have different effects based on tastes such as sweet, sour, bitter, spicy, salty, or bland. Bitter herbs, such as goldenseal, are often described as having a drying effect and are used for upper respiratory tract infections.
Action. Herbs are often described based on their primary action such as “tonic” or to strengthen, or as astringent.
Affinity. Herbs can be described based on which organ system they have an affinity for.

In kampo medicine, most herbs are taken as a fixed formula or a fixed combination of several herbs. Each individual herb is thought to address a particular imbalance in an ill person. Specific formulations are prescribed based on kampo-diagnosed imbalances. In each herbal formula, there is usually a main ingredient combined with several other supportive ingredients.

KAMPO MEDICINE Uses & Effectiveness What is this?

Insufficient Evidence for:

  • Kampo medicine is an ancient system of medicine that uses a variety of treatments including herbs and specific combinations of herbal ingredients. See specific therapies for effectiveness information.

KAMPO MEDICINE Side Effects & Safety

Kampo medicine is an ancient system of medicine that uses a variety of treatments including herbs and specific combinations of herbal ingredients. Some of these are safe while others may not be. See specific therapies for safety information.

KAMPO MEDICINE Interactions What is this?

We currently have no information for KAMPO MEDICINE Interactions

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