Natural Living: Efficacy and safety of Chinese herbal medicine

Acupuncture has seen much limelight in the U.S. since reporter James Reston accompanied President Nixon to China in 1971. Mr. Reston fell ill with appendicitis and underwent surgery with only the use of acupuncture as anesthesia. Interestingly, acupuncture is only one modality out of the many practiced in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), in fact, in China, Chinese herbal medicine is used like that of pharmaceuticals in the U.S. — a patient may be given herbal medicine via injection, intravenous, by mouth or by external application.

Drawing from ancient practices, Traditional Chinese herbal medicine is as old as humanity itself. Early human beings were hunter-gatherers whose survival depended on their knowledge of their environment. Direct experience taught them which plants were toxic, which ones imparted strength and sustained life, and which had special healing qualities. These early discoveries were passed along until thousands of years and millions of human trials brought about the evolution of an incredibly sophisticated system of diagnosis and herbal medicine.

Chinese herbal medicine has been a novel basis of drug development in China. Up to 2007, China had collected 3,563 extracts, 64,715 compositions, and 5,000 single compounds from 3,000 Chinese herbs, together with about 130 kinds of chemical drugs obtained from either Chinese herbal medicine ingredients or their derivatives. More than a million tons of herbs are used each year in China.

In the U.S., a Doctor of Oriental Medicine, (O.M.D.) employs more than 250 standard formulas, each of which can be modified to fit a patient’s individual pattern of disharmony. These formulations are used for a wide variety of ailments according to one’s individualized diagnosis, thus treating the root of the disease and not just the symptoms. 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 Chinese Medicine, 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. As the person’s health improves, the nature of the imbalance changes, so the herb formula must also change. 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.

Herbal formulas come in many forms; bulk herbs you boil into a tea, granular herbs you drink as a tea, tinctures you drop into the mouth, and Chinese prepared medicinal’s, which includes pills, tablets, cough syrups and external applications. Bulk herbs are the most effective, but are more expensive and time consuming. Granular herbs and tinctures are the next most effective and have better patient compliance. Chinese prepared medicinal’s are the easiest and cheapest, however are not as potent and may take longer to see desired results.

Most O.M.D’s prescribe pharmaceutical grade Chinese herbal formulations, which are internationally certified and undergo stringent laboratory testing to assure the highest standards of safety, purity and quality of the herbs. The majority of these Chinese herbal formulations have to be prescribed by an O.M.D. and can’t be purchased in a retail store. For more information, contact your local O.M.D.


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