A machine learning approach to Traditional Chinese Medicine

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Modern science can uncover ancient wisdom. While it may seem regressive or pseudoscientific to study concepts from Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), they reveal deeper meanings about who we are as humans when subject to scrutiny by the scientific method. The herb formulas, plant-derived nature produces of TCM are still used in disease prevention and treatment despite the dominance of modern science. When medical researchers performed machine learning classification methods on 646 herbs are according to organ systems, known as Meridians, they found the 20 molecule features were most important for predicting these Meridian. It included structure-based fingerprints and properties of absorption, distribution, metabolism, and excretion. As the first time molecular properties of herb compounds have been associated with Meridians, this provides molecular evidence of Meridian systems. 

The Meridian system dictates how he life-energy qi flows through the body. Qi includes actuation of the body, warming, defense again excess, containment of body fluids, and transformation between qi and food, drink, and breath. Each Meridian corresponds to a yin yang quality, an extremity (hand or foot), one of the five elements (metal, fire, earth, wood, or water), an organ (such as heart or kidney), and a time of day. The yin yang qualities describe how complementary, opposite forces of the universe interact, such as Greater Yin or Lesser Yang. Given these roots in traditional, non-scientific thought, scholars have debated the scientific justification behind why and how TCM works. In their paper “Predicting Meridian in Chinese Traditional Medicine Using Machine Learning 2 Approaches,” the researchers assumed Meridian can be found through scientific methods to begin with. The five elements are qi are metaphysical, not modern physiological or medical phenomena. The researchers emphasized the need to examine the herb medicine actions as they relate to disease etiology to create a formal understanding of TCM.

Qi and yin yang as they relate to human health date back to texts of discussion and debates from the Warring States period (475–221 BC) of ancient China. Philosopher Zhaunghzi noted qi was the basis of the body’s physical being with the six qi (wind, cold, summer heat, fire, dryness, and damp) in harmony with one another as they affect the seasons. These theories would be used in medicine to describe relations and analogies between the body, the state, and the cosmos, or the universe.

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