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Home/Blog/Chinese Herbalism Benefits and Principles, Including "Like Supports Like"

Chinese Herbalism Benefits and Principles, Including "Like Supports Like"

By Jordan Rubin

August 14, 2023

Chinese herbalism like supports like

Have you ever heard the term “like supports like” when it comes to health and nutrition? If you have, you’re likely familiar with Chinese herbalism, and if you haven’t, keep reading to learn how this principle has been utilized for millennia to help balance the body and mind and support overall well-being.

Chinese herbalism is a holistic and ancient approach to supporting health that has been practiced in China and other parts of East Asia for thousands of years. It is one of the key components that encompasses various therapeutic approaches, including acupuncture, dietary guidance, exercise and lifestyle recommendations.

Of course, you should always consult your healthcare professional prior to beginning any new dietary or lifestyle regimen. 

Perhaps no philosophy encompasses this form of health care more than “like supports like,” the belief that foods that look like certain organs in the body can help support and strengthen those same organs.

What Is Chinese Herbalism?

Chinese herbalism is based on the concept of balance and harmony within the body, and it seeks to maintain health by addressing any underlying imbalances in the body. Those practicing the principles of Chinese herbalism use a vast array of plant, mineral and animal-based substances to create herbal formulas tailored to the individual's specific health goals and constitution.

Chinese herbal formulas can consist of multiple herbs, each with specific properties and mechanisms of action. These herbs are often combined to promote beneficial effects, avoid potential side effects and create a balanced formula.

In addition, Chinese herbalism focuses on spiritual, emotional and physical well-being, incorporating various lifestyle, fitness and nutrition approaches to address imbalances in the body.

Key Principles

Some key principles of Chinese herbalism include:

1. Like Supports Like

The "like supports like" philosophy is a fundamental concept in Chinese herbalism. This principle is often referred to as the "Doctrine of Signatures" or "Law of Similarities."

It suggests that certain aspects of nature, such as certain foods, have an affinity for specific organs or systems within the body, and by consuming or applying those that share similar qualities with those organs, a beneficial effect can be achieved.

For example, eating animal liver — or taking a liver supplement — is thought to support your liver health, and the same for eating animal kidneys or heart. 

2. Herbalism

Certain herbs are believed to have properties that resemble certain organs or systems in the body. For example, a plant with a shape resembling the human liver might be used to promote overall liver health, an extension of the like supports like principle.

3. Food Guidance

Foods are categorized based on their energetic properties (such as warming or cooling effects) and their resemblance to different organs. Consuming foods with qualities similar to a specific organ is believed to support its function and balance (again, like supports like).

4. Acupuncture and Acupressure

Specific points on the body are stimulated using needles (acupuncture) or pressure (acupressure) to balance the body's energy flow (qi). These points often correspond to specific organs or systems, and the stimulation is thought to support their functioning.

5. Moxibustion

Moxibustion involves burning a mugwort herb near specific acupuncture points to provide heat and energy to corresponding organs or systems.

6. Five Elements Theory

Chinese herbalism incorporates the Five Elements (Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water), which are thought to correspond to different organs, seasons and emotions. Imbalances between these elements can impact health, and herbs are chosen to address these imbalances.

7. Yin and Yang

This concept represents the dualistic nature of existence, where opposite forces are interconnected and interdependent. Yin represents qualities such as darkness, coolness and rest, while Yang represents qualities like light, warmth and activity.

In the context of health, yin and yang imbalances are believed to impact health, and herbal formulas aim to maintain harmony between these forces.

8. Qi (Life Force Energy)

Often translated as vital energy, qi flows through the body along specific pathways (meridians). When qi is blocked or imbalanced, it can impact health. Chinese herbal formulas are designed to regulate and promote the smooth flow of qi.

9. Pattern Differentiation

Those practicing Chinese herbalism observe individuals based on patterns of possible disharmony, rather than just outward physical appearance. These patterns are identified through careful observation, questioning and examination. Herbal formulas are then customized to help address the specific pattern.

10. Zang-Fu Organs

Chinese herbalism recognizes specific organs as primary systems (Zang) and hollow organs (Fu). Each organ has its own functions and is associated with specific meridians and qualities. Imbalances in these organs can impact health.

11. Meridians and Acupuncture

Chinese herbalists use a network of meridians (energy pathways) to regulate the flow of qi. Acupuncture involves inserting thin needles into specific points along these meridians to promote balance and overall health.

12. Holistic Approach

This approach emphasizes the importance of maintaining a balanced lifestyle, including proper nutrition, exercise and emotional well-being. It addresses not only outward physical appearance, but also emotional, mental and spiritual aspects of health.

13. Individualized Approaches

Chinese herbalism recognizes that each person is unique and responds differently. Therefore, health plans are tailored to the individual's specific constitution, possible patterns of disharmony and overall health.

14. Integration of Mind and Body

This practice views the mind and body as interconnected. Emotional well-being and mental states are considered important factors in maintaining health, and imbalances in emotions can impact the body's overall equilibrium.

Benefits

Chinese herbalism provides personalized benefits, since the goal is to promote and maintain balance in the body by:

  • Addressing an individual’s external factors and environment.

  • Helping people relate to their internal emotions in a healthier way, including managing stress.

  • Improving someone’s lifestyle factors, including diet and exercise routine.

As such, while more research needs to be conducted, some research shows that this “like supports like” practice and other principles of Chinese herbalism can provide benefits for the following:

  • Overall bodily comfort

  • Hormonal health and balance

  • Healthy organ support

  • Stress

  • Healthy muscle strength

  • Flexibility

  • Balance

  • Overall mental and cognitive health

Top Herbs and Superfoods

Some of the top Chinese mushrooms, herbs and herbal supplements to help promote overall health include:

Jordan Rubin is one of America’s most recognized and respected natural health experts. He is the New York Times bestselling author of The Maker’s Diet and 26 additional titles, including his latest work Essential Fasting. An eco-entrepreneur, author and lecturer on health and nutrition, Jordan is the co-founder of Ancient Nutrition, where he currently serves as CEO. Jordan is also the founder of Heal the Planet Farm and the Ancient Nutrition Center for Regenerative Agriculture and Sustainability located in southern Missouri and middle Tennessee.

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