Student Blog: Kampo
By Owen DeAngelis
What is Kampo?
Kampo is a form of traditional Japanese medicine that is widely used today, especially in the Eastern Hemisphere. Its underlying idea is that the body and mind are inseparable, and balance between the body and mind are fundamental for human health. Kampo utilizes a completely different approach and methodology than Western medicine. Western medicine is characterized by the idea of a linear relationship of cause and effect. On the other hand, Kampo’s effects are more holistic, circular, and complex, yet often equally effective.
Kampo is a collection of combinations of plants and minerals used in both preventative and healing capacities. Based on hundreds of years of research, Japanese scientists and physicians have perfected more than 140 combinations of natural herbs that are in use today. Kampo combinations focus centrally on improving nutritional balance, increasing immunity, and limiting side effects. Recent data shows that side effects of Kampo are reported by merely 0.2% of users.
A few Kampo treatments are effective in fighting viral infections, and often severe viral infections are prevented by Kampo’s improvement of nutritional balance. By utilizing the same formulas that have been hand-crafted for hundreds of years, results are very predictable, a defining feature of Kampo medicine. Whereas Chinese traditional medicine is less exact, Kampo combinations always consist of the same ingredients with a consistent composition. Kampo is also very low in cost, whereas synthetic drugs are often very expensive. The affordability of Kampo makes it very unique and optimal for usage, given that it is very effective as well.
History of Kampo
Kampo began as Chinese traditional medicine that was brought over to Japan in the fifth and sixth centuries. Traditional medicine in China and Japan was one unique methodology until the Edo period in Japan from 1630 to 1868, a period in which Japan closed its doors to outside influence. During the two-hundred-year isolation, Japan strived to simplify traditional Chinese medicine and establish their own form of traditional medicine, what we know today as Kampo. By creating a more practical edition of traditional Chinese medicine, Kampo thrived and would eventually begin to spread to other parts of the globe.
In the 1860s, as Japan reopened its doors to outside influence, Western medicine was introduced and adopted by Japanese society. For a long period of time, Western medicine outshined Kampo practices and it almost seemed that Kampo practices had been forgotten. However, the traditions remained and resurfaced into mainstream healthcare in the twentieth century. According to the World Health Organization, Japan has the highest per capita consumption of botanical medications. In Japan, many physicians prescribe Kampo drugs for medical use, and some combinations are sold over-the-counter at pharmacies and drug stores. Japan is the only country where physicians are legally permitted to prescribe both Western medications and Kampo treatment simultaneously.
Although Kampo is not a revolutionary treatment plan by today’s standards, it is a well-established healthcare mechanism that does minimal harm on the body. Although a well-established system in the Eastern Hemisphere, it is scarcely found in the Western Hemisphere. In the United States, Kampo is not nearly as popular as traditional Chinese medicine or Western botanical medicine.
However, Kampo’s popularity is indeed growing, and there are a number of U.S. licensed physicians who specialize in Kampo medicine, however the majority of Kampo practice in the U.S. comes from acupuncturists and alternative medicine professionals. Much of the skepticism is due to the often very bitter taste of Kampo combinations. There is an old Japanese saying that “good medicine tastes bitter.” However, modern Kampo consumption often involves dissolving the medication in hot water. Some manufacturers also make Kampo tablets or herbal powders which disguise the bitterness of the herbs and ease consumption. In today’s world, ease of consumption is key, especially if Kampo medicine wants to spread to an already hesitant United States. Outside of Japan, Kampo combinations are often part of clinical trials that aim to find alternative groundbreaking treatments for chronic diseases such as cancer.
Given that Kampo medicine is gaining popularity in the United States, I envision its continuous growth due to its low cost, extremely low risk of side effects, and proven results in its scope of care. There is a rise in holistic approaches to human health and wellbeing in the Western Hemisphere, an idea from which Kampo derives itself. The rise in chronic disease in the United States has caused many patients and healthcare practitioners to turn towards functional medicine physicians or other healthcare professionals with a holistic approach. Kampo medicine has been treating the body holistically for hundreds of years, thus I believe more U.S. citizens will embrace Kampo practices with open arms.
Western medicine will not go away any time soon, however more health care professionals understand that Western medicine and synthetic drugs are not the only option. Western medicine does a great job with the treatment, however it struggles with effective preventative measures. I think most people would agree that the idea of consistently treating our body well as a protective measure is not a radical idea. Even here at the University of Florida, the One Health Center of Excellence promotes a circular approach to human health, emphasizing its connection to the environment. Large public universities such as UF are conducting groundbreaking research within the discipline of holistic healthcare.
Therefore, I strongly believe holistic practices such as Kampo will gain much more popularity, even if its rise is a slow process in the United States. I envision its growth in usage in clinical trials before the general public utilizes Kampo treatments, but it is very possible that drug stores and pharmacies may sell over-the-counter Kampo treatment sooner than I think. In reflection, the phrase “if it can’t hurt, then why not?” replayed over and over in my head. I believe many Americans will eventually adopt this attitude towards Kampo, and maybe some will be surprised with its effectiveness!
“The Secrets of Kampo Medicine.” YouTube, uploaded by The Kampo Hacks Channel, 4 July 2020, www.youtube.com/watch?v=BD5JqyQFb0E. Accessed 30 Mar. 2021.
Jordan, Meg, PhD, RN. “Kampo: Japan’s Herbal Tradition Emerges in US.” Holistic Primary Care, 15 June 2002, holisticprimarycare.net/topics/acupuncture-a-oriental-med/kampo-japans-herbal-tradition-emerges-in-us/. Accessed 30 Mar. 2021.
Terasawa, Katsutoshi. “Evidence-based Reconstruction of Kampo Medicine: Part I-Is Kampo CAM?.” Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine : eCAM vol. 1,1 (2004): 11-16. doi:10.1093/ecam/neh003
Kracie Group. (n.d.). About kampo. Retrieved April 20, 2021, from https://www.kracie.co.jp/engbusiness/ph_kampo.html