Chinese Herbal Medicine
The use of Chinese herbs is one of the foundational modalities included in Classical Chinese Medicine. There are over 6,000 identified Chinese herbs, each of which is classified by quality of taste, thermal nature of the herb in the body, organs affected, directionality or areas in the body for which the herb has a strong affinity, and therapeutic uses. When a patient seeks treatment from a practitioner of Chinese herbal medicine, their chief complaint is assessed very thoroughly. In addition to the primary condition that spurred them to make an appointment, all of their body systems will be discussed and questions will be asked regarding lifestyle, dietary habits, stress, sleep, and how they find enjoyment in their lives. These seemingly unrelated questions will be asked to provide better understanding of the entire terrain in the body, mind and spirit. This detail helps the practitioner to carefully assess, diagnose and formulate an individualized prescription that is as unique as the person and their presentation.
The History of Chinese Herbal Medicine
Chinese herbs have been in use for thousands of years, dating back to a farmer and teacher named Shennong who personally tested and recorded the therapeutic impact of hundreds of herbs. His teachings categorized them into food herbs that help to preserve health through nutrition and medicinal herbs to be used for the treatment of specific symptoms and diseases in the body. His compendium is still in use and is known as the Shen Nong Ben Cao. From these beginnings, Chinese herbal medicine traditions grew into more scholarly bodies of work that started to include the formulation of multiple herbs. Chinese herbal formulas may be old in origin but are still formidable for the treatment of complaints and illness.
How Chinese Herbal Medicine Works
Every herb and foundational herbal formula in use by Chinese medicine practitioners is classified in the Materia Medica. While the book’s categories may look different from the Western medicine Physicians’ Desk Reference, it has many therapeutic overlaps with Western drug functionality. Where a Western drug’s benefit might be classified as antibiotic or anti-inflammatory, Chinese herbal medicines have also been categorized based on benefits and therapeutic effects, and many share common attributes.
The difference in categorization of Chinese herbs reflects the diagnostic constructs of Chinese medicine. Chinese herb categories map to the organ systems they impact, the benefits they provide, and their flavor and thermal nature in the body. Unlike Western forms of herbalism, individual herbs are generally not used singly. The use of polypharmacy formulations allows a practitioner of Chinese herbal medicine to craft a very specific and sophisticated message to the body. Successful diagnosis and formulation combined with good patient compliance can yield positive results for many conditions. Chinese herbal medicine can rectify proper physiology and function in the body. Often the use of Chinese herbal medicine is recommended in conjunction with acupuncture to realize faster results.
Science’s View of Chinese Herbs
Thousands of years after the individual herbs used in Chinese Herbal Medicine were selected, studied and categorized, modern scientific studies have revealed that they contain potent chemical compounds that explain their impact. Many have been found to have anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, anti-viral and antibiotic effects, and formulas that have been offered to patients suffering from maladies ranging from chronic pain to circulatory problems have proven just as effective as prescription medications, often without adverse side effects. Listed below you will find just a few of the medical conditions that Chinese herbs have proven effective at treating.
- Chinese herbs as an integrative cancer therapy – Chinese Medicinal Herbs are often used in conjunction with traditional Western cancer treatment therapies in China, and it has been proven that this combination therapy can yield real and lasting therapeutic impacts. The compounds in the herbs generally have low toxicity, and when used in tandem with chemotherapy or radiation therapy and under the supervision of ordering physicians (both Eastern and Western,) they can boost effectiveness of the traditional therapies and reduce side effects such as nausea and pain. Studies have shown herbal formulas to have both anti-tumor properties and anti-metastatic properties while protecting bones and strengthening healthy cells, and even to reduce the size and spread of breast, lung and liver cancers in laboratory animals. Here in the West, Chinese herbs also provide benefits: the key for patients is to make sure that herbs are used with the knowledge and consent of their oncologist. Patients often opt to use Chinese herbal medicine after the completion of chemotherapy and radiation regimes. The use of herbs after completing traditional therapy can provide support to the body to help regain strength, balance and vitality from the impact of both the disease and the therapies.
- Chinese herbs for the treatment of pain – In the face of the growing opioid epidemic, Western medicine practitioners have struggled to find effective ways to manage chronic pain. In conjunction with acupuncture, Chinese Herbal Medicine has been proven to reduce both inflammation and neuropathic pain, and even to help people recover from opioid addiction.
- Chinese herbs for the treatment of diabetes – There are many Western prescriptions used to manage blood sugar levels in the treatment of Type 2 diabetes, but there are other complications related to diabetes — including the increased risk of cardiovascular and heart disease, nerve damage, eye damage and poor wound healing. When medications are used in combination with Chinese herbal treatments, they’ve been shown to provide many benefits in overall health and in maintaining healthier and more stable blood sugar levels.
Chinese Herbal Medicine at Empirical Point Acupuncture
Sharon Sherman has been licensed to practice Oriental Medicine since 2001, including the art and science of dispensing Chinese Herbal Medicine. She holds the highest credential available from both the Pennsylvania State Board of Medicine and the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. Sharon has deep knowledge and understanding of how Classical Chinese therapies and herbs can provide relief and numerous benefits for the unique range of symptoms experienced by her patients.
All herbal products dispensed through Empirical Point Acupuncture come from highly reputable professional suppliers. All herbs undergo strict quality testing similar to that of pharmaceuticals so purity of product is known and strictly controlled. Empirical Point Acupuncture does not dispense any herbal products containing endangered plant or animal species.