What is Chinese Herbal Medicine?
Chinese herbal medicine is one of the great herbal systems of the world, with an unbroken tradition going back to the 3rd century BC. Yet throughout its history, it has continually developed in response to changing clinical conditions, and has been sustained by research into every aspect of its use. This process continues today with the development of modern medical diagnostic techniques and knowledge. In California, acupuncturists are the only licensed health care professionals who are required to be trained and tested for competency in prescribing herbal medicine.
Because of its systematic approach and clinical effectiveness, it has had a very great influence on the theory and practice of medicine in the East for centuries, and more recently has grown rapidly in popularity in the West. It still forms a major part of healthcare provision in China, and is provided in state hospitals alongside western medicine.
Chinese herbal medicine, along with the other components of Chinese medicine, is based on the concepts of Yin and Yang. It aims to understand and treat the many ways in which the fundamental balance and harmony between the two may be undermined and the ways in which a person's Qi or vitality may be depleted or blocked. Clinical strategies are based upon diagnosis of patterns of signs and symptoms that reflect an imbalance. However, the tradition as a whole places great emphasis on lifestyle management in order to prevent disease before it occurs. Chinese medicine recognizes that health is more than just the absence of disease and it has a unique capacity to maintain and enhance our capacity for well being and happiness.
A growing body of research indicates that traditional uses of plant remedies and the known pharmacological activity of plant constituents often coincide. However, herbal medicine is distinct from medicine based on pharmaceutical drugs. Firstly, because of the complexity of plant materials it is far more balanced than medicine based on isolated active ingredients and is far less likely to cause side effects. Secondly, because herbs are typically prescribed in combination, the different components of a formula balance each other and undergo a mutual synergy that increases efficacy and enhances safety. Thirdly, herbal medicine seeks primarily to correct internal imbalances rather than to treat symptoms alone, and therapeutic intervention is designed to encourage this self-healing process.
Chinese medicine is successfully used for a very wide range of conditions. Among the more commonly treated disorders are:
- Skin diseases, including eczema, psoriasis, acne, rosacea, urticaria
- Gastro-intestinal disorders, including irritable bowel syndrome, chronic constipation, ulcerative colitis
- Gynecological conditions, including PMS and dysmenorrhea, endometriosis, infertility
- Hepatitis and HIV: some promising results have been obtained for treatment of Hepatitis C, and supportive treatment may be beneficial for HIV
- Chronic fatigue syndromes
- Respiratory conditions, including asthma, bronchitis, and chronic coughs, allergic and perennial rhinitis and sinusitis
- Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis
- Urinary conditions including chronic cystitis, enlarged prostate, urinary tract infections
- Depression and Anxiety
People of any age or constitution can use Chinese medicine. Previous or current illness or medication will be taken into account before treatment is provided. With suitable adjustments for dosage and careful selection, children and pregnant women can very well be treated by Chinese medicine.
Herbs are now available in a number of formats, both traditional and modern. The traditional method is to boil a mixture of dried herbs to make a tea or to use pills. The herbs are also now commonly prescribed as freeze-dried powders or tinctures. The herbs will at first taste unusual and often bitter to anyone who has not tried them before, but the vast majority of people get used to the taste very quickly.
Chinese herbs are very safe when prescribed correctly by a properly trained practitioner. Over the centuries, herbologists have compiled detailed information about them and placed great emphasis on the protection of the patient. Allergic type reactions are rare, and will cause no lasting damage if treatment is stopped as soon as symptoms appear.
In recent years, herbs have become popular to self-treat many conditions. They are available in health food stores, supermarkets and on the Internet. While herbs are promoted as safe, inexpensive “natural” alternatives to pharmaceutical drugs, many health care professionals have concerns about safety, effectiveness and potential misuse of herbal products, especially when self-prescribed or recommended by a grocery clerk. The California Acupuncture Board strongly recommends consulting an acupuncturist before beginning any herbal therapy. It is also important to inform both your physician and your acupuncture about all of the drugs, herbs, and other supplements you are currently taking so they can monitor and prevent any adverse reactions.
A proactive approach
Although herbal medicines are primarily used to heal illnesses, many patients enjoy a customized formula to balance lifestyle demands and their constitutional makeup. Call me at 323.662.6560 and make your appointment for an herbal consultation, either with or without acupuncture. I look forward to hearing from you.