Commonly, I get questions about a wide-variety of herbs & supplements. Today, most people are familiar with the idea of taking vitamins & minerals in pill form, & main-stream t.v. shows like Dr. Oz, often tout the efficacy & safety of various "natural" remedies.
One of the main reasons I love Chinese medicine is that its modalities for healing are indeed natural, holistic, & recruit the body's ability to heal itself, often with little or no side-effects. In regards to Western pharmaceuticals, there are typically un-wanted side-effects & rather than solving the true cause of disease, they may simply mask issues, or even cause new problems down the road.
Pharmaceutical medications, vitamins, & supplements are arguably in the same class of product. These are products that are typically highly-processed in a laboratory, where the active ingredients desired are isolated & put into a pill or tablet form. They may or may not also have fillers & other additive agents. Because these products are processed, versus being in a more natural or "whole" form, they may actually cause side-effects or not be well-absorbed by the body. This is why vitamins, minerals, & nutrients are ideally best-absorbed via food. Sometimes these products may be necessary or useful, especially in an acute situations. Generally speaking, they do not get to the root of a problem and help the body heal from the inside out. Because of processing, especially in the case of pharmaceuticals, the active ingredient is removed from its natural state (many if not all of our pharmaceuticals come from plants or animals), where other naturally-occuring "buffers" may mitigate side-effects of the active ingredient. I will talk about this more in regards to Chinese herbal medicine. It might seem curious that an active ingredient would be isolated & put into a pill form, but it's how a pharmaceutical company is able to make proprietary claims to their product. As of today, plant & animal parts cannot be patented & trademarked.
Chinese herbal medicine aids the body in healing from the inside out. What on earth does that even mean? Chinese herbal medicine is very powerful form of medicine that has existed for thousands of years. It's typically extremely effective, though not necessary for every patient or condition. I believe that food, exercise, stress-management, & sleep should be your primary "medicines". From there, herbal medicine gives the body an additional boost & amplifies acupuncture treatment results. I see many patients who are tired, drained, over-worked, angry, or anxious & herbal medicine will help supplement where the body is deficient or help to soothe when there is too much overwhelm or thought. Traditional Chinese herbal formulas are truly works of art; they are almost exclusively designed with four or more herbs ( herbs can be flowers, roots, bark, insects, minerals, bones, & other animal parts) because each ingredient in the formula works in conjunction with the others. One herb may highlight or mitigate the actions of another herb in the formula. In this regard, it is easier for Chinese medical practitioners to avoid the side-effects of pharmaceuticals & tailor the formula exactly for you & your needs.
While it is simply un-true to assume that herbal medicine is automatically "safe" because it's natural, it's for that very reason that it is very important to be diagnosed by a licensed acupuncturist trained in herbal medicine before taking any type of herb. As with acupuncture, herbal medicine is prescribed by constitution & presenting signs & symptoms. There is no one-size-fits-all.
Some of the more common Chinese herbs I hear touted throughout the internet & by other health-practitioners are: ginseng, cordyceps, deer antler velvet, cinnamon, & turmeric. Unfortunately, these herbs are said to be "cure-alls" or "superfoods" or health-tonics. The issue becomes, while some of these herbs might be perfect for one patient, they may be completely wrong for another patient. And taking these herbs in the wrong amount may actually cause a NEW problem, rather than solving the OLD problem. Instead of taking ginseng for energy or deer antler velvet for stamina, please get evaluated by a trained Chinese herbalist who can give you the correct herbal formula, in the correct amount, & in the correct dosage.
I am a trained Chinese herbalist & I can help you with any of your questions or concerns regarding the right herbs for you. Let me know how I can help you! Here's to your health! - Holly Christiansen, Licensed Acupuncturist at Bluegrass Acupuncture & Herbal Medicine in Lexington, Kentucky.
About the Author:
Holly Christiansen, Licensed Acupuncturist, currently practicing in the gorgeous, horse capital of the world: Lexington, Kentucky.