Recently the New York Attorney General pulled an awful lot of herbal supplements off the shelves of some big name chain stores. It seems that the ingredients listed on the bottles did not match those that were found inside those bottles. It is a disturbing story to say the least. Find the article here.
In light of this appalling news about herbal (or not so herbal) supplements pulled from the shelves of large chain stores, I wanted to touch on Chinese herbal medicine and how it works. While the revelations concerning the supplements being sold by Target, Walmart, Walgreens and GNC were deeply disturbing, the event also will hopefully inspire folks to ask a few more questions going forward. In the spirit of education, lets take a little journey to the apothecary.
Role of Herbs in TCM
Many people these days are becoming familiar with acupuncture (or at least aware of its existence). Since most of the research that has been presented has focused on acupuncture's effectiveness for pain, that's what most folks assume it treats. It does. And so much more!
The same way that acupuncture is for so much more than pain, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is so much more than acupuncture. In fact, there are 5 traditional branches of Chinese medicine: acupuncture, herbs, massage, dietary therapy, and qigong (exercise therapy).
One of the treatment modalities that I employ in the clinic with regularity is herbal medicine. This usually means the prescription of an herbal formula for a patient to take home and self-administer. Chinese herbal medicine is extremely effective at treating a wide variety of conditions, and often plays a key role in the treatment plan. If patients are taking their formulas, the healing process continues day after day, often necessitating less regular, and fewer total acupuncture visits.
So how do we choose the correct herbal formula for a patient? Based on a clear diagnosis according to TCM pattern differentiation. In the same way that a western MD must perform a differential diagnosis to determine what pathology pattern any given symptom(s) is indicative of, we must do the same. Though we use western disease names as a secondary reference, the end result of our diagnostic process will not match anything sounding familiar to any western physician. Is one system wrong and one system right? Of course not!! These are merely different ways of categorizing disfunction. The important thing about any diagnostic system is its clinical integrity, and its ability to clearly guide treatment.
Chinese Herbal medicine has evolved together with diagnostics for thousands of years. The continuity of this is system is part of what makes it what I believe to be the most advanced system of botanical medicine in practice on the planet today. Clear diagnosis determines clear treatment.
One of the differences between modern western herbalism and Chinese herbal medicine is that in Chinese medicine we utilize formulas of substances rather than single herbs. Again, this is a reflection of the diagnostic system. While symptoms are taken into account in TCM, these do NOT constitute a disease. Symptoms guide us toward our final diagnosis but do not constitute that diagnosis.
One benefit of a formula based herbal system is that we can modify those formulas to match each patient specifically. I can remove herbs, add herbs, change dosages all based on the presentation of the person in front of me. This flexibility and ability to tailor treatment is a hallmark of Chinese medicine.
The herbs we use for internal consumption come in two major forms: Granulated extract and Alcohol extract. Granulated extract means that the herbs were decocted in the traditional way, and then they were essentially dehydrated and made into a powder. This produces a product that reconstitutes immediately in hot water to make a tea. Most of these herbs are packaged singly and mixed in the clinic based on my diagnosis. Our alcohol extracts, or tinctures, are most often already formulated.
All products we use are pharmaceutical grade. The companies that supply our herbal products were chosen because of their commitment to quality. Period. We have worked with other companies in the past and have had to discontinue our support because we felt the products were not living up to our standards. We will not hesitate to do the same with our current products if we feel that something wavers in their commitment to quality.
I want to encourage anyone with further questions to get in touch with us. I can talk about Chinese medicine all day long, so feel free to come by, email, or call if you're curious about Chinese medicine and how it might serve you or someone you know.