What is Kampo?

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  • Written By: Melissa Barrett
  • Edited By: PJP Schroeder
  • Last Modified Date: 06 May 2020
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Kampo is a form of Japanese traditional medicine that focuses largely on herbal healing. This form of medicine is derived from traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and still shares many principles and practices with TCM. The primary difference between these two disciplines is the use of different formulas and herbs. It is also referred to as kanpo, especially in modern medical texts.

In kampo, herbs are generally mixed together into standardized formulas. Practitioners often use a whole-patient evaluation to determine which formulas should be used with an individual. The traits of the person as a whole, as well as the symptoms, are taken into consideration. Thus, many of these formulas may be used to treat the same symptoms but are intended for different patient types.

There are more than 160 herbs recognized for usage in these formulas. Chinese licorice root is the most commonly used and is listed as an ingredient in 94 of the 148 formulas approved by the Japanese Ministry of Health. This herb has historically been used to treat a variety of conditions, including cough, sore throat, and diarrhea. It is also widely used in TCM.

Several herbs also appear in many different kampo medications. Ginger in dried or fresh form appears in 63 formulas and is traditionally used to treat digestive issues and cold symptoms. Chinese peony root is used to reduce fever, treat bleeding, and prevent infection, and it is included in 44 formulas. Chinese angelica root, cinnamon bark, and ginseng are also common ingredients.

Mugwort is also an important herb in Japanese kampo. Although it is only found as an ingredient in three formulas, it is often burned near or on the skin in a treatment referred to as moxibustion. Moxibustion is common in many forms of traditional medicine, including TCM. It is believed to stimulate circulation in general and specifically to increase blood flow to the pelvic region.

Although this practice focuses primarily on herbalism, other therapies reminiscent of TCM can also be incorporated into treatment. Chinese acupressure has been adapted into the Japanese form of healing massage shiatsu. In addition, acupuncture is also commonly prescribed by kampo practitioners.

In Japan, mainstream medicine has embraced kampo to a degree enjoyed by very few other traditional medicines. The manufacture of kampo formulas within Japan’s boarders is as tightly regulated for quality and effectiveness by the Japanese Ministry of Health as mainstream pharmaceuticals. Many remedies qualify for payment through insurance, and practitioners of kampo must be licensed doctors or pharmacists.

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