A formula I’ve been quite intrigued with for many years, and use quite often in clinic, is Bēn Tún Tāng from the Jīn Guì Yào Lüè. The following is a short translation from one of my favourite Qīng dynasty scholar/physicians Huáng Yuán-Yù, followed by some brief clinical musings written by myself.
Huáng Yuán-Yù on Bēn Tún Tāng
Translated from the Cháng Shā Yào Jiě (长沙药解)
The Golden Cabinet’s Bēn Tún Tāng
Gān Cǎo 2 liǎng
Bàn Xià 4 liǎng
Shēng Jiāng 4 liǎng
Shēng Gé (Gēn) 5 liǎng
Huáng Qín 2 liǎng
Xiōng Qióng 2 liǎng
Dāng Guī 2 liǎng
Sháo Yào 2 liǎng
Gān Lǐ Gēn Bái Pí 1 jīn
This formula treats Bēn Tún qi, with surging into the chest, abdominal pain, and alternating heat and cold. When yang collapses, and the spleen is vanquished, (this causes) sinking and obstruction in Liver-wood, wood qi depressed effusion, and surging from the umbilicus, abdomen, chest and diaphragm, (resulting in) pain and concurrent heat and cold. Because Liver-wood surges upwards, both the stomach and gall-bladder run counterflow, and the Shaoyang is depressed and distressed, this results in a struggle between the interior and the yin, and this ongoing battle manifests with alternating cold and heat. The qi of Jué Yīn is wind-wood. When wind stirs it consumes the blood, and when warmth is depressed, it results in heat. Gān Cǎo supplements the earth and moderates the center; Shēng Jiāng and Bàn Xià descend stomach and gall-bladder counterflow; Huáng Qín and Shēng Gé (Gēn) clear depressed heat in the stomach and gall-bladder; Xiōng Qióng and Sháo Yào course wood and moisten wood dryness; Gān Lǐ Gēn Bái Pí clears the liver and descends surging qi.
Gān Lǐ Gēn Bái Pí is sweet, cold, collecting and astringent. It is excellent at descending the surging qi of Jué Yīn, which can therefore treat bēn tùn. It is mainly indicated for alleviating thirst, eliminating vexing counterflow, arresting dysentery, and stopping vaginal discharge.
In my experience, Bēn Tùn (running piglet) can be both objective and subjective. Subjective in that the patient will feel some sort of rush that starts in the lower body, and rises either to the chest, throat, or face. It’s pretty hard to get a patient to tell you that they feel a surging sensation from their lower abdomen to their chest. Some do, but it’s not something I hear very often. Anxiety can manifest this way for some people, while some will tell you that they get facial redness, slightly dizzy or a bit of a rush when they are nervous. Another possibility for some is that this sensation, or ‘rush’ can cause patients to become anxious. I would interpret these manifestations as a form of running piglet.
However, running piglet is also objective, manifesting in several ways such as; sudden sweating, facial redness, epigastric pain, chest tightness, shortness of breath, dizziness, headaches/migraines, premenstrual acne, etc.
This is due to a wood-earth pathology, where wood is abundant, which damages the earth, hence we see the abdominal pain. Since we have a Shào Yáng element here, there is alternating heat and cold (往来寒热), which can be interpreted the way Huáng Huáng (黄煌) does in that this alternating heat and cold can refer to anything that alternates, or occurs cyclically. This is a major feature of the Shào Yáng, and so having someone that breaks out into sweats, gets cyclical acne, cyclical migraines, anxiety attacks, etc., that is due to a wood-earth pathology, Bēn Tùn Tāng is a great choice.
In addition, we have an element of a Jué Yīn pathology as well just to complicate things. Here, blood was affected which left a slight blood deficiency and when there is not enough blood and wood-qi tries to move, this can get stuck and lead to heat (which is the flaring of ministerial fire).
Sāng Bái Pí is the most common substitute for the Gān Lǐ Gēn Bái Pí. Some doctors like Hu Xi-Shu used Chái Hú as they saw this pattern as a Shào Yáng-Tài Yīn concurrent pattern, and added Chái Hú to clear Shào Yáng heat from the chest. I personally use Sāng Bái Pí, as I feel that due to the flaring of ministerial fire, there is a bit of heat in the lungs and adding Sāng Bái Pí ensures that it gets cleared but also that metal descends. With the Spleen-earth affected, ascent and descent in the entire body is affected and we always need to make sure that the proper physiological wheel keeps turning.