Why use herbal medicine? The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates 4 billion people in the world use herbs. Herbs have been used medicinally by all cultures throughout history and presently in primary health care.Today, an increasing number of Americans are using herbal medicine to treat their health conditions.
An herb is a plant or plant part valued for its medicinal, aromatic or savory qualities. Herb plants produce and contain a variety of chemical substances that act upon the body. Many drugs commonly used today are of herbal origin, such as digitalis, derived from foxglove, in cardiac conditions. Indeed, about 25 percent of the prescription drugs dispensed in the United States contain at least one active ingredient derived from plant material.
WHO notes that of 119 plant-derived pharmaceutical medicines, about 74 percent are used in modern medicine in ways that correlate directly with their traditional uses as plant medicines by native cultures. Major pharmaceutical companies are currently conducting extensive research on plant materials gathered from around the world for their potential medicinal value.
How does herbal medicine work? Chinese herbs work on a synergistic level with acupuncture. Herbs have been used safely and medicinally for over thousands of years with minimal side effects when prescribed correctly by a trained herbalist. What makes Chinese herbs particularly safe and effective is the art of combining herbs to form a carefully balanced prescription, or herbal formula. (Chinese herbs are rarely taken individually.) These individualized formulas not only treat the patient’s main, presenting problem but also address associated, secondary problems.
Chinese herbal formulas are based on standard, classical prescriptions that have been tried and tested through millenniums of clinical use, and are modified to fit the individual needs of the patient. The herbalist modifies the prescription by taking out unnecessary herbs or those with redundant functions and adding herbs to address any additional symptoms the patient has.
Nourishing and harmonizing herbal formulas serve as excellent tonics, strengthening those weakened by overwork, serious illness, childbirth or poor diet and irregular eating. Herbs with a cooling action can counteract fevers, night sweating and hot flashes. Similarly, herbs with a warming action can help those who feel cold. They work on the mind (shen, in Chinese) as well as the body, treating stress, anxiety, depression and insomnia. Herbs can be used for acute and chronic conditions, e.g. colds, allergies, digestive disorders, menstrual conditions, rashes and pain to name a few but is not limited to. Herbs have been used for thousands of years to reach and maintain good health.
Are Chinese herbs safe? The minimization of side effects while maintaining clinical efficacy is the chief benefit of Chinese herbal formulas. Their comparatively gentler action reduces the potential for side effects drugs cause. Using single herbs require higher dosages to achieve therapeutic effect, thus increasing potential of side effects such as in drug therapy. By combining herbs with similar functions that moderate each other’s actions into an herbal formula, Chinese herbalists are able to the lower the dosages of individual herbs so to minimize the likelihood of side effects. Although rare, when side effects do occur they are generally limited to gas, indigestion or changes in bowel habits and will stop when the herb’s use is discontinued. To prevent future recurrence, the TCM herbalist can modify the formula by adding herbs that improve digestive function in order to counteract the harsh property of the herbs.
What are the steps for quality assurance of herb formulas used? Carolina Clinic of Natural Medicine uses herbal formulations on the forefront of herbal medicine preparation. Every measure is taken to produce herbal formulas of the highest quality and purity. Manufacturers are among the most reputable and technologically advanced suppliers known today. The facilities are cGMP-certified for pharmaceutical products, which hold much higher standards than the GMP-certified facilities for dietary supplements commonly seen in the USA. The proprietary technology results in products with the highest possible extraction ratio, and never add any pharmaceuticals, dyes or sugar. Little binding agents are added, so you never see the long list of inactive ingredients often found in other herbal products and dietary supplements on the market. Comprehensive tests for heavy metals and microbes are conducted for each batch of finished products by independent laboratories in China and the USA, in accordance with the guidelines established by the U.S. Pharmacopoeia.
Are Chinese herbs effective like western drugs? Yes. Many conditions treated by western drugs can also be successfully treated with herbal medicine. Examples include: hypertension, diabetes, headaches and pain conditions, fibromyalgia, allergies and sinus infections, acid reflux disease, bowel problems (IBS and Crohn’s disease), bladder infections, skin conditions, menstrual cramping, peri/ postmenopausal syndrome, parkinson’s disease, insomnia, anxiety, depression and so on.
Patients and their physicians are often discouraged by the undesirable side effects of western medications, or the prospect of having to remain on these drugs for long term periods. Especially for chronic conditions, Chinese medicine often offers superior clinical results and longer lasting effect than conventional medicine.
When beginning TCM treatments, patients on western drugs should continue taking their medications. As their condition improves and with clearance from their prescribing physician, a patient may begin titrating (weaning) off the drug under their prescribing doctor’s supervision. Once they are completely off the drug, symptom free, and cleared by the prescribing physician the patient is released from regular TCM visits.
What about interactions between drugs and herbs? Because drugs are a strong and powerful medicine, they can have a tendency to negatively interact with each other and with other substances, such as food or herbs. So it is important to understand drug interactions if your are taking pharmaceutical interventions. What causes interactions is a biochemical process described as competition for binding sites on cells. Cells have binding sites that enable them to absorb substances and nutrients through the cell wall into the interior cell body. Each cell has a limited number of binding sites that substances can lock onto in order to pass through the cell wall. When many different substances try to gain entrance to the cells simultaneously, they flood the available binding sites and are unable to get in. This causes the interaction problem.
Taking herbs and drugs two hours apart from each other will usually eliminate the cause of this scenario. The interval allows one substance to use the available binding site to gain entry to the cells. After the substance passes through the cell wall the binding site is available for a second substance to be ingested by the cell; therefore, interactions do not occur. Please be sure to bring any prescription drugs or supplements that your are consuming with you and if any interactions are possible this will be addressed thoroughly at your appointment.