Shen De-Hui, Wu Xiu-Fen and Nissi Wang Eastland Press Hardback, 380 pages, £35.00
(Reviewed by Mazin Al-Khafaji, EJOM Vol. 2 No. 3)
In recent years the interest in Chinese herbal medicine has grown at breathtaking speed, and without doubt it has become best known, in this country at least, for the treatment of skin disorders. There have been two reasons for this. The first was to do with the publication in the early part of this decade of two clinic studies on the treatment of atopic eczema in the Lancet and British Journal of Dermatology extolling its virtues; the second is the fact that not only is Chinese medicine very effective at controlling many of the chronic skin disorders but is frequently able to trigger long term remission or even resolve them entirely. In contrast to this mushrooming of interest by patients seeking treatment with Chinese medicine, there is a paucity of reliable texts in the English language on this enormous subject for the practitioner. The publication by Eastland press of the Manual of Dermatology in Chinese Medicine goes some way to filling that gap. The text is arranged in the standard format. After a brief section on historical perspective, aetiology, diagnostics etc., the bulk of the work, the discussion of the individual diseases, is arranged into chapters according to biomedical categories. Thus impetigo or folliculitis is found under the heading of ‘Bacterial infections’, herpes simplex and measles under ‘Viral infection’ and so on. There is also a brief supplementary materia medica at the end of the book outlining the main actions and indications of some of the ingredients mentioned in the book that are not usually found in standard materia medicas.
For each disorder an adequate description is given, though for the readers who are not familiar with the condition, a dermatology atlas will be very useful. The major conditions that need to be differentiated are also listed with a brief outline of the salient characteristics that separate the disorder from others that resemble it. This is, in fact, far from an academic practise. Centuries ago, Chinese medicine recognised and named the vast majority of the common and less common conditions into disease entities very similar to those catalogued in Western medicine. Thus it is crucial to be able to differentiate, say, seborrhoeic dermatitis from psoriasis in order to be able to apply a correct treatment.
The section on treatment that follows outlines the frequently encountered patterns according to Chinese medicine with a number of suggested prescriptions and brief advice on modification. For most conditions a number of external treatments are also suggested and, in some cases, acupuncture and moxibustion points are also given. As we have grown to expect from Eastland press, the book is well designed and the layout is clear and easy to read. If I have to be critical I would say that, unfortunately, it does not go further than just outlining the basics of differentiating the all important sub-types or patterns according to Chinese medicine. The prescriptions and brief modifications suggested are standard and rather elementary. For those involved in a more fluid approach that is required in clinical medicine, it offers little in the way of practical and clinically relevant advice and guidance. Thus it did not come as a surprise to me that, oddly enough, none of the three authors are dermatologists. This I feel is reflected in the standard textbook approach adopted throughout. None the less, I feel this book makes an important contribution to the scanty material available in this field. It will be well received by many interested in furthering understanding of treatment of dermatological condition by Chinese medicine.
Mazin Al-Khafaji Mazin Al-Khafaji spent many years studying both classical and modern Chinese. After completing acupuncture studies in the UK in 1983, he was in China for four years studying internal medicine at the Shanghai College of Traditional Chinese Medicine, graduating in 1987. He runs a busy practise in Brighton specialising in dermatological conditions and teaches widely in the UK and Europe.