Tibetan Medicine

5 mins read

Origin, benefits, efficacy, and methodology

Tibetan medicine is a complex medicine system with a prolonged history of active treatment. Since this system of medicine is now spreading worldwide similar to Indian Ayurveda, Chinese, and other traditional healing systems, it is important that the salient features of each modality are accurately compiled and awareness is spread as much as possible. Western doctors can enable through their alliance and collaboration, the spread of the principles of Tibetan medicine in a clear and helpful manner, which can be done via dialog, discussion, research, and sharing of intellectual resources.

What is Tibetan Medicine? Where did it originate?
Features of Tibetan medicine date back to nearly 2,500 years. Practitioners of the Bon Shamanistic religion in the Kingdom of Shang Shung wrote formal texts that describe healing rituals, astrology, and medical divination. Medical divination practices lead to more or less the same treatment. In a divination, a disturbance in a particular element is observed and consequently, a ritual is performed as a remedy. Divinations were not limited to medicine in ancient Tibetan culture. They extended to starting businesses, funerals, and marriages.

In pre-Buddhist Tibet, indigenous cultures used natural herbal remedies for illnesses. Poultices and wraps were used for wounds incurred in harsh environmental conditions. These basic treatments were combined with Bon rituals to provide relief to the people.

How is it beneficial?
Here is a list of benefits of Tibetan Medicine:

  • Heals chronic illnesses
  • Treats anxiety, frustration, agitation, insomnia, and stress
  • Treats digestive system-related disorders such as diabetes, hepatitis, jaundice, food stagnation, irritable bowel syndrome, or food poisoning
  • Heals acute or chronic skin problems
  • Treats sinus problems such as congestion and sinus headaches
  • Heals menstruation and menopause-related issues.
  • Cures common cold, cough, pneumonia, asthma and bronchitis.
  • Mends neurological problems such as sciatica, spinal stenosis, multiple sclerosis

Studies/research on its efficacy
The early publications on Tibetan medicine research have been found in 1970. Studies on specific medicines such as Padma Lax, Padma 28, Byu-Dmar, Zhi-Byed etc reported positive outcomes in the laboratory.

How is the procedure carried out?
Traditional Tibetan medicine, also sometimes called “Lamaist” or “Buddhist” medicine, has developed into a unique medical system in 1200 years. According to the practice, a disease is regarded as an imbalance of three principles (or Nyes-pa) that comprises of 3 elements: rLung (wind, air), mKhris-pa (fire) and Bad Kann (earth and water). This medicine has a background of Buddhist philosophy as well as Shamanic origins of Tibetan culture.

The prevalent forms of treatment in Tibetan medicine are:

  • Preparations of plants (as medicine); seldom minerals or animal matter
  • Physical treatments, such as baths or massages
  • Regulation of diet and life
  • Spiritual techniques

Derivative forms of Tibetan medicine have evolved from standardization of originally individualized medicines, separation of medicine from its underlying philosophies, and discontinuation of certain techniques such as cauterization and Tibetan dental medicine.

In Tibetan medicine, the first and the most important step will be to determine the humoral constitution of the patient. Similar to Ayurvedic Doshas, even a person’s ‘humor’ level can be determined when one is an infant. The humor is determined by the diet followed by the mother and her behavior while she was pregnant.

Factors determined by the differences between the three elements or humors are head shape, digestion, body type, emotional expressions, and sleeping patterns. Each humor predisposes a person toward certain illnesses. People with mKhris-pa are susceptible to rashes, infections, and skin diseases. Thus, diseases can be predicted before they manifest themselves and prevented.

It is believed that other factors can cause specific imbalances, such as the environment (warm wet valley vs. dry cold desert) and behavior (hard physical labor vs. strong intellectual stimulation). Tibetan medicine has a strong history of sharing doctors and educating people.

The primary focus of Tibetan medicine is digestion. How a person digests food provides insight into the imbalances present in the body. According to Tibetan medicine, an imbalance in the body is first caused by indigestion. Thus, every treatment includes diet, behavior, and external treatment targeting the digestive system.

How can you get started with Tibetan medicine?
When a Tibetan doctor is consulted, the first thing that will be checked is the patient’s pulse and their urine (if possible). The pulse shows an individual’s humor and can be used to diagnose imbalances in each organ of the body. There are nine aspects of urine that are checked – color, bubble formation, film, sediment, and smell. These aspects help in the diagnosis of the problem. Lastly, the doctor will check the patient’s response to treatment and will adjust the cure as required.

In Tibetan medicine, there is no single complete cure. The doctor works with the patient to create a long-term plan for treatment. For chronic diseases, the treatment can last from months to years. In addition to herbal remedies, the doctor will also prescribe Meditation or Tibetan Yantra Yoga.

Tibetan medicine uses combinations of 108 or more ingredients to enable a formula to gain strength.

1. Roberti di Sarsina P, Ottaviani L, Mella J. Tibetan medicine: a unique heritage of person-centered medicine. EPMA J. 2011 Dec;2(4):385-9. doi: 10.1007/s13167-011-0130-x. Epub 2011 Nov 12. PubMed PMID: 23194325; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3405412.

2. Reuter KP, Weißhuhn TE, Witt CM. Tibetan medicine: a systematic review of the clinical research available in the west. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2013;2013:213407. doi: 10.1155/2013/213407. Epub 2013 Apr 11. PubMed PMID: 23662117; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3638583.

3. Vennos C, Melzer J, Saller R. Clinical studies on the efficacy and safety of Padma 28, a complex herbal formulation from Tibetan medicine: an overview. Forsch Komplementmed. 2013;20 Suppl 2:25-30. doi: 10.1159/000351722. Epub 2013 Jun 21. Review. PubMed PMID: 23860110.

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