Tibetan medicine

Tibetan medicine (TM), the second largest traditional Chinese medicine system in China, boasts a long history and an integrated theoretical system. It abounds with classical medical works constituting a unique corpus of Tibetan materia medica (TMM). China has now conceived a modern education system of TM, and Tibetan medical hospitals at different levels have been set up.

Tibetan medicine is an ancient, timely healing tradition from Tibet. The Tibetan name is Sowa Rigpa, the science of healing. Over the millennia, Tibetan medicine has evolved into a profound philosophy, psychology, science, and art.

Tibetan medicine teaches that the purpose of life is to be happy. This holistic tradition consists of analyzing your unique inborn nature or constitution and making supportive lifestyle choices. Healthy choices promote healing the source of problems and developing health through balance.

Tibetan medicine explains the complex relationship between mind, body, and environment, and why the mind is the source of suffering. To be happy, you need to create a healthy mind. By using Tibetan medicine for your self-care and integrative care, you can create a healthy mind, even on your deathbed.

Liver disease is one of the most dangerous factors threatening human health. It is of great significance to find drugs that can treat liver diseases, especially for acute and chronic hepatitis, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, and liver cancer. The search for drugs with good efficacy from traditional natural medicines has attracted more and more attention. [1]

Tibetan medicine, one of the China’s traditional medical systems, has been widely used by the Tibetan people for the prevention and treatment of liver diseases for hundreds of years. The present paper summarized the natural Tibetan medicines that have been used in Tibetan traditional system of medicine to treat liver diseases by bibliographic investigation of 22 Tibetan medicine monographs and drug standards. One hundred and ninety three species including 181 plants, 7 animals, and 5 minerals were found to treat liver diseases in the traditional Tibetan medicine system. The most frequently used species are Carthamus tinctorius, Brag-zhun, Swertia chirayita, Swertia mussotii, Halenia elliptica, Herpetospermum pedunculosum, and Phyllanthus emblica. Their names, families, medicinal parts, traditional uses, phytochemicals information, and pharmacological activities were described in detail. These natural medicines might be a valuable gift from the old Tibetan medicine to the world, and would be potential drug candidates for the treatment of liver diseases.

Traditional Tibetan medicine (TTM) is one of the world’s oldest known medical systems. It has a long history of more than 2000 years. TTM originated from the local folk tradition called Bon that can be traced back to about 300 B.C. Later, TTM has gradually developed into a unique medical system by incorporating the theories of early traditional Chinese medicine, India medicine (Ayurveda), and Arabia medicine. The fundamental theory of TTM is three elements (also known as three humors) theory consisting of “rLung,” “mKhris-pa,” and “Badkan.” TTM believes that the three elements jointly maintain the body’s physiological balance. Among them, mKhris-pa represents fire, helping digestion, accelerating the decomposition of waste, absorbing heat energy from food, and producing heat energy , and so is the source of many functions such as thermoregulation, metabolism, and liver function. In the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau of China, TTM plays an important role in the health care system. It has been practiced by Tibetan physicians throughout the Tibetan regions, including Tibet, Qinghai, Gannan State of Gansu, Ganzi State and Aba State of Sichuan, and Diqing State of Yunnan. The number of physicians practicing TTM was over 5,000. Similar to traditional Chinese medicine, TTM mainly uses herbs, animals and sometimes minerals to treat diseases. According to the latest statistics , 3,105 natural medicines including 2,644 plants, 321 animals, and 140 minerals have been used in Tibetan medicine system. TTM has long-term clinical practices and accumulated rich experience in the treatment of various diseases. It has proved particularly beneficial in the treatment of chronic diseases, such as hepatitis, high altitude polycythemia, gastritis, stroke, cholecystitis, and rheumatism. It is worth noting that TTM has been widely used for the treatment of liver diseases in clinical practice. Many TTM monographs and official drug standards recorded a lot of natural medicines and prescriptions that were traditionally used to treat a variety of liver diseases. However, most of these records are scattered, and lack systematic summary and induction.[2]

After thousands of years of cultural accumulation, oral transmission from generation to generation, and attentive research by Tibetan medical workers, Tibetan medical theory has become a mature and perfect independent subject. Tibetan medicine takes the theory of three causes as its theoretical core. The “three causes” are not “internal causes, external causes, and not internal and external causes” as mentioned in traditional Chinese medicine but “Long, Chi Ba, and Bacon” in Tibetan medicine. These three elements are inherent substances in the human body, namely “three causes.” They restrict each other and make the organism in a relatively stable state. When one of the elements appears in an abnormal state such as excessive decay or dysfunction, the organism will lose its balance and cause disease. Therefore, in Tibetan medicine, diseases are usually divided into three categories: Long disease, Chi Ba disease, and Bacon’s disease. In pharmacy, Tibetan medicine is guided by the five-source theory, which holds that all living things originate from the five sources (Tu, Shui, Feng, Huo, and Kong). The growth of drugs also originates from the five-source theory. Based on the five-source theory, Tibetan medicine theories such as six flavors (sweet, sour, bitter, pungent, salty, astringent), 8 natures (cold, hot, light, heavy, blunt, sharp, moist, and dry), and 17 effects (soft, raw, warm, moist, stable, cold, blunt, cool, soft, thin, dry, arid, hot, light, sharp, rough, and moving) are derived, forming Tibetan medicine theory with national characteristics. The specific principle of its medication system is contrary treatment (i.e., the treatment of cold diseases with hot drugs), similar to the “contrary treatment” in traditional Chinese medicine.

The theory of Tibetan medicinal property emphasizes the relationship among 5 sources, six flavors, 8 natures, and 17 effects and considers the heaven and earth, medicine, the process of medicine in vivo, and the

therapeutic effect of medicine as a unified whole.[1] Based on the principles of Tibetan medicine such as “five sources,” “six tastes,” and “three tastes after digestion,” Dang-Zhi[2] established a basic data framework for the pharmacological mechanism of Tibetan medicine and made a textual research on the efficacy of the Tibetan medicine prescription. It was found that the “Suo Luo Xi decoction” has resistance to the effect of “Chi Ba” and “Long” in the aspects of “5 sources,” “6 tastes,” “3 tastes after digestion,” and “17 effects,” which provides a theoretical basis for the clinical treatment of lung fever, cough, and other diseases caused by “Chi Ba” and “Long.” This data mining method can guide the development of new Tibetan medicine, pharmacological analysis, clinical medication, diagnosis and treatment of diseases, and many other fields.

Tibetan medicine is guided by the Tibetan medicine theory. Applying the research methods of modern pharmacy, the therapeutic substance of Tibetan medicine is actually a chemical substance in effect. Therefore, we need to take advantage of modern science and technology to conduct in-depth research on the treatment process, pharmacodynamic substance basis, and chemical components of Tibetan medicine, and expound the treatment process, mechanism, and effect relationship of drugs from the structure, nature, pharmacological effects, toxic reactions, and other aspects of pharmacodynamic substances. In the process of developing Tibetan medicine, we should take the theory of Tibetan medicine as the foundation. Many botanicals are used by both Chinese medicine and Tibetan medicine, but they are different in usage and dosage. As a result, in the process of studying Tibetan medicine, we should pay more attention to take the Tibetan medicine theory as a guide and study the difference in the use of Tibetan medicine and traditional Chinese medicine based on their respective medical theories. This study will discuss the quality control, drug dosage form, chemical composition, and pharmacological effects of Tibetan medicine.


According to the Tibetan medical books, such as Crystal Beads Materia Medica (the famous Tibetan medical scientist Dumar Danzeng Pengcuo in 1840 collected the great achievements of Tibetan medicine and collected a comprehensive collection of Tibetan medicine books, which laid the foundation for the formation and development of Tibetan medicine), there are >2000 kinds of Tibetan medicines, of which plant medicines are the most, and the total amount is about 1500 kinds. In addition, there are >160 kinds of animal medicine and a small amount of mineral medicine.

The Qinghai–Tibet Plateau is a vast region, covering four climatic zones: subtropical, temperate, cold temperate, and frigid zones, with complex climatic conditions, great difference between north and south climates, and wide vertical difference. Therefore, the plant composition is complex, and the species are numerous. Dashang Luo has carried out field investigations in most areas of the plateau in the past 20 years, collecting data and a large number of specimens and samples. After identification and collation, there are 2085 species of Tibetan medicinal plants belonging to 692 genera and 191 families. Among them, there are 50 species of fungi belonging to 35 genera and 14 families; 6 species of lichens belonging to 4 families and 4 genera; 5 genera and 5 species of bryophytes belonging to 5 families; 118 species of ferns belonging to 55 genera of 30 families; 47 species and 3 varieties of tree plants belonging to 5 genera and 12 genera; and 141 varieties of 1 895 species belonging to 581 genera of 131 families of angiosperms, of which Compositae occupies the first place. At present, the modernization of Tibetan medicine research, including the reform of dosage forms, extraction of effective components and content determination, the efficacy of Tibetan medicine, pharmacology, and toxicology research are far from Chinese medicine. To better develop and utilize Tibetan medicine, researchers should digitize Tibetan medicine herbs on the basis of ancient Tibetan medicine books and literature and study Tibetan medicinal herbs in depth from production practice and medication practice. To fully embody the national characteristics of Tibetan medicine and realize the correct development of Tibetan medicine, the research of Tibetan medicine must be guided by the theory of Tibetan medicine and the experience of clinical medication. On this basis, modern scientific and technological methods such as high-throughput drug-screening technology, biotechnology, fingerprint analysis technology, and serum pharmacology research methods should be used. By means of multifactor analysis and orthogonal design, the effective components of Tibetan medicines were studied, and the mechanism of pharmacological action was further explained. It also provided a scientific basis for the formulation of quality standards of Tibetan medicines and laid a foundation for the development of new Tibetan medicines[3]