The FAQ’s of Chinese Herbal Medicine

First, The fundamentals of Chinese medicine

If I told you that Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is thousands of years old, has changed little over the centuries and is based upon a vital life force called ‘Qi’ that exists in the body of all living things, would you believe me? Believe it or not traditional Chinese medicine including its own system of herbal medicine, acupuncture and dietary recommendations are still practiced today. In fact, the schooling for this lineage of medicine is anywhere from a 4 to 5 year rigorous masters or doctoral degree program. 

So, what does Chinese medicine do and how is it different from western herbal medicine?

Since we are dealing with the concept of Qi in our bodies, know that Chinese Herbal medicine is based on the principals of the natural world. This is true both for diagnosis of a condition and treatment. Notably, the entire herbal pharmacopia of 365 + single herbs is a highly complex interwoven system. When the herbs are combined to create a formula it seeks to balanced hot, cold, dampness and dryness in the body. Instead of treating a disease like western medicine, Chinese medicine brilliantly treats symptoms to bring the body back to homeostasis. For this reason, as your individual TCM Pattern changes over time with herbal treatment, your formula changes. In other words, there is not one formula for one condition. A common cold for example can manifest in different ways for different people depending how much heat, cold, damp etc.. is in their system. Whereas western herbal medicine or western medicine in general treats just the condition.  Chinese herbal medicine is a complex system that takes many years, even a lifetime to master. 

What does Chinese herbal medicine treat once my pattern is established?

According to the NIH, Chinese herbal products have been studied for many medical problems, including stroke, heart disease, mental disorders, and respiratory diseases (such as bronchitis and the common cold), and a national survey showed that about one in five Americans use them. Upon interviewing most Chinese medicine practitioners you will find that most have great success treating allergies, peri and post menopausal symptoms, infertility, digestive disorders, PMS, bacterial infections and some even prevent colds and flus. The list goes on but you get the point, this stuff really works!

Do Chinese Herbal Medicines work?

In short, yes. The same concoctions from thousands of years ago are still used today. If a pattern is diagnosed incorrectly a formula may not work as well as intended. Sometimes people need to try a few different combinations before it does the trick. 

Who prescribes Chinese herbal medicines?

Your local acupuncturist who also will have a degree in Chinese herbal medicine. You will find a variety of herbal formulas online. Sometimes it saves money to shop around but buyer beware, make sure your herbs are 3rd party tested and tested for pollutants. Companies that most practitioners stand by are, Evergreen Herbs, KPC, Classic Pearls, Blue Poppy, Golden Flower Chinese Herbs and Plum Flower to name a few. 

Can Chinese medicine be harmful? 

TCM should not be used as a replacement for conventional or allopathic treatment, especially for serious conditions, but it may be beneficial when used as complementary therapy. Since some TCM herbal medicines can interfere or be toxic when combined with Western medicines, you should inform your doctor if you are using TCM.

Written by Kileen Swenson LAC and MAOM a Chinese medicine practitioner at WellBalanced Center For Integrative Care