4. Introducing Chinese Herbal Treatments
There are some important differences
between Chinese herbal medicine and prescription or over the counter
Western drugs. Since many people in the U.S. are unfamiliar with
traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), it is important to point out
some of the basic general differences between Chinese herbal medicine
and Western drugs:
No Side Effects -- Unlike Western drugs, Chinese herbal treatments are taken in
a whole food form. For example, teas are decocted from whole roots,
stems, and leaves and capsules are filled with crushed whole food
material. Western medicine is made by locating active chemical compounds
and creating medicines from these compounds. When reduced to its
chemical fundamentals, pharmaceuticals have side effects. Side effects
are inevitable with pharmaceuticals. When used appropriately, Chinese
herbal treatments will cause no side effects as long as they are
used in their whole food form. Research in China has shown that
when reduced to their active chemical compounds, Chinese herbal
treatments will also cause side effects. This is one reason why
TCM practitioners continue to use whole food forms of treatments.
Because TCM treatments have not been reduced to their active compounds,
they must be consumed in larger quantities and more frequently than
most Western pharmaceuticals.
Occasionally, Chinese herbal
treatments will produce what may seem like a side effect. For certain
kinds of health conditions, it is necessary to treat with formulas
that work by clearing things from inside the body. For example,
when treating certain skin conditions, the symptoms may become worse
before improving because internal impurities are being eliminated.
Diarrhea is another way that toxins may be cleared from the body.
These are not side effects because they are necessary to the healing
process. Ask your practitioner if you can expect any such reactions.
Formulas Rather Than
Single Herbs -- Many people familiar with Western herbal
medicine think of herbs as they do Western pharmaceuticals _ a single
herb is good to treat a single disease. For instance, echinacea
is good for colds. In TCM, single herbs are rarely used. Formulas
may contain as few as two and as many as 15 or more different herbs.
In combinations, the individual herbs have different roles. Some
may augment or limit the potency of others. Some may concentrate
on one specific area of the body whereas others work on a different
area. Through thousands of years of practice and research, TCM practitioners
have found formulas to be the most effective, most powerful, and
safest way of using herbs. No Treatment Lasts Forever According
to TCM principles, no treatment, even herbal treatment, is appropriate
for continuous use. With Western drugs, it is not uncommon for individuals
to take certain medications indefinitely. For example, a person
with thyroid problems may take Synthroid, a thyroid medication,
his entire life. A person with chronic back pain may take Tylenol
for years and years. In TCM, a person takes a set of formulas for
a limited period of time. This is why TCM practitioners will see
their patients regularly (every one to four weeks is common practice).
When the patient no longer feels improvement or his practitioner
no longer finds improvement in his tongue, pulse, and nails, the
herbs will be changed. The first set of formulas has done its job
and it is time to move on to the next layer of the problem. When
the person's underlying condition is treated, she will no longer
have symptoms and treatment is completed. At that point, there is
no longer a need to take herbs. The purpose of treatment is not
to control symptoms, but to restore balance to the body. Once balance
is restored, the complaints will disappear and there is no longer
any need for treatment. The duration of treatment varies depending
on the nature and severity of a person's complaints, how long they've
had the complaints, and how quickly their body responds to treatment.
Depending on your complaints and condition, you may notice a difference
within two to three days. If you feel no changes within ten days,
you should make an appointment with your practitioner. This does
not indicate that Chinese herbal medicine cannot help you, it simply
means a different approach to your conditions must be taken.
Stop Treatment If You
Catch a Cold or Flu -- If you catch cold or flu during
your treatment, discontinue your current herb regimen. Herbs that
treat chronic problems may actually prolong a cold or flu by allowing
them to penetrate the body more deeply. Instead, the cold or flu
must be treated first. Keep a cold and flu remedy such as First
Defense on hand and use it at onset of any symptoms. If the illness
is not dramatically improved within two to three days, see your
practitioner for additional treatment. According to TCM theory,
it is very important to rid the body of a cold or flu as quickly
as possible. Many chronic problems originate with a cold or flu
left untreated. Once your symptoms subside, you can resume your
previous course of treatment.
Frequently asked questions:
When do I take my herbs?
It is best to take herbs at least
half-an-hour before or after meals. If you also take Western pharmaceuticals,
vitamins, or other herbs, it is best to take these at least two
hours apart from your Chinese herbs.
Will Chinese herbs conflict with my Western medicine?
In most cases, there is no conflict between these two kinds of treatments.
It is always best to let your practitioner know what medications
What can I do if I have problems taking
all the herbs at one time?
Most people will be given tablets, capsules, or teas to be taken
three times each day. If it is difficult for you to take all the
herbs three times each day, you may choose to take them throughout
the day instead. Try to do your best to take the total amount prescribed
What is the difference between teas and
Herbal formulas come in five
different forms: boiling teas, granule teas, capsules, tablets,
and patent formulas. The fastest acting form is boiling teas. The
problem with boiling teas is that they are inconvenient, require
time and dedication, and most taste and smell horrible. Granule
teas are more convenient since they only require the addition of
hot water and do not taste as bad as boiling teas. They are also
fast acting. Capsules, tablets, and patent formulas are generally
not as fast acting, but can work at a deeper level for some chronic
conditions. They are also more convenient than the granule teas
as they require no preparation.
How can I make the tea taste better?
You can add anything you like to the teas (e.g. sugar, lemon, juice).
Another method is to let the teas cool to room temperature, hold
your nose, and swallow quickly.
*These statements have not been evaluated by
the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not
intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.