An important and effective healing tool that we use at BodaHealth is that of Chinese Herbal Medicine. Because Chinese herbology is more complicated than buying a bottle of herbs at the drug store for your current symptom, and because the use of these herbs may feel unfamiliar to some, many people have questions. In response, here are our answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about Chinese Herbal Medicine.
What is Chinese Medicine?
Chinese Medicine is the use of herbs in the treatment of illness, imbalances and health conditions. It’s based on the principle that herbs have an inherent temperature, property or properties, and affect certain organ systems. In Chinese Medicine, several herbs are combined into formulas based on their properties.
What is the difference between Chinese Medicine and Chinese Herbal Medicine?
They’re actually the same thing. The use of Chinese herbs (or Chinese medicinals) is a therapy that is a part of Traditional Chinese Medicine, or TCM, which has been in practice for thousands of years. A number of healing methods fall under the umbrella of TCM. The best-known is acupuncture. However, in addition to acupuncture and herbs, nutritional therapy, cupping, Gua Sha, and a kind of bodywork called Tui Na are also therapies that are considered a part of Traditional Chinese Medicine.
What is Classical Chinese Medicine?
It’s the practice of acupuncture and herbal medicine founded on a 6 phase system, also known as conformations. It’s based on one of the oldest known texts on Chinese medicine, called the Shan Han Lun. According to this system, diseases in your body are classified according to six stages based on how the illness affects your body, some loosely think of this as the severity and depth of the illness. For example, the earliest stage of an illness is called Tai Yang and it enters through the most exterior of the pathways. These patterns are usually caused by something that came from outside your body (think colds or flu). As an illness proceeds deeper into your body, it progresses through the Yang Ming, Shao Yang, Tai Yin, Shao Yin and Jue Yin levels. Many of the classical formulas that are still in use today were developed to treat these specific stages of illness, but their use has expanded to treat a number of other conditions. By comparison, Traditional Chinese Medicine is based on something called the Zang-Fu system in which your organ systems act as interconnected functions within the body that describe how energy (Qi) is produced. Each organ system is associated with an actual organ, a system of functioning and even an emotional component.
Why is there more than one herb in a Chinese herbal formula?
Herbs are combined for a couple of reasons. First, illnesses and imbalances are complicated, and no single herb can do everything, so they’re combined with other herbs to make a complete treatment. In addition, herbs may be combined to enhance or offset the actions of other herbs in the formula. For example, if a formula has a number of hot herbs in it, a cooling herb may be included to offset the heating effects. Herbs are also combined when more than one action is needed from a formula. For example, if you had a sinus infection with a fever, herbs may be used to reduce the phlegm in your sinuses and cooling herbs may be added to address your fever. Chinese herbs are combined to address a pattern, rather than to address individual symptoms.
What is the difference between Chinese Medicine and Western Herbal Medicine?
Chinese Medicine involves the use of formulas based on specific diagnostic patterns. In contrast, Western Herbal Medicine usually involves a single herb, vitamin or supplement to address a symptom. For example, in Western Herbal Medicine your practitioner may prescribe Echinacea if you have a cold. In Chinese Medicine, your practitioner would need to know a number of details about how your cold is affecting your body (for example, do you have a sore throat, sweats, fever or chills) before they can determine the diagnostic pattern associated with it to prescribe the right formula for you.
Is Chinese Medicine better than Western Medicine?
They’re very different styles of healing, and both have benefits and limitations. Chinese Medicine is gentle, natural and is based on encouraging your body to heal itself. In addition, a key principle in Chinese Medicine is to understand and treat the cause of your illness or symptoms, so they don’t keep returning. Western Medicine often involves powerful treatments that work quickly to address symptoms, the downside is that those treatments can come with side effects.
Can Chinese Medicine cause side effects?
In general, if you have side effects from taking an herbal formula, it’s because the herbs in the formula need to be adjusted or because it’s the wrong formula for you. When prescribed by a trained and experienced practitioner, side effects are rare in Chinese Medicine.
What kinds of herbs are used in Chinese Medicine?
There are hundreds of herbs in the Chinese formulary. They consist mostly of roots, fungi, leaves, bark, nuts, some animal products and nutritional substances, such as foods. Herbs that are taken from different parts of plants have healing properties related to the part of the plant. For example, a flower such as dandelion (Pu Gong Ying) is said to be light (like a flower) and treat illnesses that are more exterior like skin and eyes.
Are banned substances used in Chinese Herbal Medicine?
They are, but we don’t use formulas with those substances at BodaHealth. Some herbs are banned from Chinese Medicine because they have been used improperly. For example, despite being safely used in Chinese herbology, ephedra is heavily regulated because it has been associated with cases of heart problems, seizures and even death when used improperly, in high doses for weight loss and energy enhancement. In addition, herbs that are made from endangered species are banned from use, despite continued illegal trafficking. For example, rhinoceros horn, tiger bones and the gallbladder of the sun bear are considered to be Chinese herbs. Today, however, the traditional prescriptions that called for these ingredients have been reformulated, substituting herbs with a similar action for those from an endangered species.
Do Chinese herbs contain heavy metals or other toxic chemicals?
Hundreds of years ago, some herbs were purposely made up of toxic substances. Believe it or not, mercury (called Zhu Sha) was actually a Chinese medicinal used to settle and calm the mind. However, it is now considered an obsolete substance and longer used. Any type of herb, drug or supplement has the potential to contain toxins or heavy metals such as lead or pesticides. At BodaHealth we only stock herbs that have been extensively tested and assayed by leading government certified laboratories to rule out those substances, in order to ensure the safety of our patients. Every herb we sell at BodaHealth has an associated certificate of analysis.
What is Chinese Medicine used to treat?
People who are considering herbs want to know if Chinese Medicine is effective. Chinese herbs have been used in a clinical setting for hundreds of years to effectively treat a wide variety of conditions such as digestive disorders, women’s health and fertility and issues with sleep and energy. The fact that these herbal treatments are still in use is a testament to their effectiveness. More recently, however, Chinese herbs are being studied for effectiveness in a number of health conditions, including heart disease, emotional health problems, respiratory issues, skin conditions and relieving side-effects of cancer treatments—just to name a few. Because herbs are used to treat the underlying imbalance, which ultimately relieves symptoms, the list of conditions it can help is long.
How come some acupuncturists don’t practice Chinese medicine?
The ability to prescribe herbs to patients is based on certification and licensing in British Columbia. Some practitioners train in acupuncture only, and others combine their education to include acupuncture and Chinese herbology. In BC we have the additional credential of Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine, this is a combination of licensing in acupuncture, herbal medicine with the addition of advance Chinese medicine and western medical theory.
Can Chinese Herbal Medicine treat Western diseases, like endometriosis?
Because Traditional Chinese Medicine is based on addressing patterns of disease or imbalances, it can be helpful in a large variety of conditions. Many modern western diagnosis did not exist at the beginnings of Chinese medicine (over 2000 years ago). In fact, it’s common for TCM practitioners to effectively treat health problems without having a Western diagnosis.
Is Chinese Medicine used in fertility treatments?
Yes, both acupuncture and Chinese herbs are incredibly helpful in balancing hormones, building nutrients in the blood and uterus, and preparing your body for embryo implantation. A number of Western fertility doctors (reproductive endocrinologists) in Vancouver refer their patients to BodaHealth for Chinese Medicine treatments to support their Western fertility treatments.
Can I take Chinese herbs while I am doing an IVF cycle?
At BodaHealth, we tend not to prescribe Chinese herbs for patients while they’re undergoing IVF hormones or hormone blockers. However we will prescribe herbs before and after.
Can I take Chinese herbs while I am taking pharmaceutical prescriptions?
In many cases, yes, Chinese herbs can be prescribed while you’re taking prescription medications. However, because there are exceptions, it’s important that you disclose all medications that you’re currently taking. In addition, it’s important to work with a practitioner who is trained and certified in prescribing Chinese herbs, as they are well-aware of any herb-drug interactions.
Where to you get your Chinese herbal medicine from?
Our herbs come from Taiwan, USA and China. The herbs in all of our formulas have been tested for contaminants and heavy metals. The companies we order from produce papers on the lab results for all of their batches of herbs.
Why do you sell Chinese herbs in your clinic? I don’t buy prescriptions in my Western doctor’s office.
Good question! Since Chinese medicine isn’t as widespread in Canada as Western pharmaceutical medicine, herbal pharmacies are rare and hard to find. Years ago, there was an herbal pharmacy in Vancouver where patients could go to pick up their prescriptions, but they are no longer in business. We carry herbs at BodaHealth as a convenience to our patients.
How do you take Chinese medicine?
At BodaHealth we usually prescribe pills or granules that dissolve in water. We are also able to make arrangements for patients that prefer to make the raw herbs into decoctions.
Are Chinese herbs in raw form better than pills or granules?
Raw herbs may be a little more effective, but cooking and storing them is time-consuming and inconvenient. Granules and pills are far easier to take which improves compliance, and ultimately effectiveness.
Can I travel on a plane or over the border with Chinese medicine?
While there are no guarantees, I have taken my herbal formulas with me when I travel for years and have never had a problem.
Can taking Chinese herbs cause liver damage or liver enzymes to rise?
Many people think that because Chinese medicine involves herbs which are natural substances, taking them are completely without risk. However, Chinese herbs are powerful in their ability to heal. As a result, herbs should be prescribed by a trained and certified practitioner. There have been cases in which Chinese medicine has resulted in liver changes. However, the majority of those cases involved a dose that was too high, misuse of the herbs involved, taking the herbs without a prescription from a qualified practitioner or poor quality of herbs.
Can Chinese medicine be used for pain management?
Chinese herbs can be helpful for pain management, however the underlying cause of your pain will determine which herbal formula will be best for you. For example, if you were being treated for low back pain that’s dull and achy from a previous injury, the formula you would be prescribed is different than if your pain was caused by hormone cycles like menstrual cramps or endometriosis.
The bottom line is that Chinese medicine involves the use of Chinese herbal formulas for a variety of health conditions. Herbs can be a safe and effective healing strategy that can be used as a stand-alone therapy or as a way to support your acupuncture treatments. Chinese herbs should be prescribed by a practitioner who is certified to do so, as they have years of training and expertise in the use of herbs and combining them into formulas. If you’d like to know if Chinese Medicine can help you, please contact us to learn more.