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Soc Sci Med. 1984;18(9):757-66.

The use of food to treat and prevent disease in Chinese culture.


Interviews of 50 Chinese families in Hong Kong in 1981 indicated that the proper selection, timing and preparation of food was the most salient lay method of dealing with the prevention and treatment of some 59 common symptoms and illnesses. The food prescriptions and proscriptions were based on the traditional concept of maintaining body homeostasis through avoidance of: (1) excess 'hot'/'cold' or 'wet'/'dry' qualities of body energy; (2) disturbance of energy flow; or (3) inadequate energy levels. Various health problems were classified as being due to imbalances of these energy states. Excess 'hot'/'cold' or 'wet'/'dry' ailments were dealt with by increased consumption of foods of the opposite character; those due to disturbance of the normal flow of energy was avoided by the reduced intake of 'irritating' or 'poisonous' foods; and various tonics were believed to raise the amount of energy flow in the body. A rich knowledge of complex dietary rules was found to be prevalent among the lay public because the traditional rules filled explanatory and behavioural niches left open in Western medicine. Dietary manipulation was used to complement Western medicine in the multiple stages of the disease process by playing a predominant role at the beginning and end of the period of pathogenesis.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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