Chinese Herbal Medicine, An Introduction

In this article, I’d like to introduce you to Chinese herbal medicine and hopefully address any apprehensions or questions you may have about taking medicine in this form. Like many of you, I grew up in Western culture and was quite used to taking Advil, aspirin or Tylenol for pain and fever. I take cough syrup like Robitussin for nose congestion and for coughing. I would take antihistamines like Claritin or Reactine for allergies.

For thousands of years, human beings throughout the world have been utilizing substances found in nature to heal the sick and prevent the onset of many illnesses and this tradition has continued unbroken within Asia. Herbal medicine is actually one of the medicines practiced by some of the top hospitals in China to this day.

Chinese herbal medicine can be prescribed either as a standalone treatment or combined with other therapies such as acupuncture in Bellmore. When prescribed by a licensed professional trained in Chinese medicine, it is both safe and effective.

So what does Chinese herbal medicine look like?

The majority of herbal substances are compounds from roots, trees, seeds, fruits, grains, minerals fungi and some animal products. When prescribing an herbal formula, a person’s dietary restrictions and ethical requests are always considered. The use of endangered animal products or heavy metals is not part of modern Chinese medicine.

Most of the commonly used medicinal herbs are actually native to Asia and must be imported. Many people ask me if they can be grown in North America or other parts of the world. In many cases, that’s not actually possible. I often give the example of wine. When you have a wine producing grape from one region and grow it in another region, the soil, climate and other attributes will actually change the grapes and will taste different.

Similar to Chinese herbs, there are different properties that are brought out by different growing conditions. The herb ginseng is an excellent example of this. The same plant is grown in Korea, China, North America and Japan and each of these regions has a different attribute to it. In Korea, it’s more of a hot natured herb or as when it’s grown in North America, it has more of a cooling nature.

How is Chinese medicine different from Western medicine?

Actually, many pharmaceutical drugs have been derived from or inspired by chemicals discovered in plants. In fact, the pain relieving and fever reducing qualities of aspirin was derived from the leaves and bark of the white willow. And as with the creation of aspirin, the approach of Western medicine is more geared towards isolating or extracting and then synthetically reproducing the active compounds.

Therefore, drugs are directed at specific actions and the person may need to take a multiple of drugs to address all his concerns. Whereas with Chinese medicine, the approach is to combine several herbs together that will function synergistically to address the mechanism causing the ailment to relieve the presenting symptoms and balance any potential side effects that may result from anyone of the single herbs.

So, although we use natural substances, it is still medicine and should be prescribed safely. What is beneficial for one person may not work for everybody.

How is Chinese herbal medicine prescribed?

Chinese herbal medicine can be prescribed in several different formats, depending on the individual and also what’s going to work for compliancy. The most popular and most traditional way is to boil the herbs from their raw or bulk form, and they are boiled down to decoct them into a tea. This tea is usually taken once or twice a day.

Another form is granules. Granules have the benefit of raw herbs with the convenience of just adding hot water to mix them into a tea. And finally, for those that don’t like to drink the herbs, you can have them prepared in tablets or capsules. Depending on what specific health concern we are working on, herbal medicine is often taken once or twice a day for a period of weeks or several months.

The prescription will be modified along the way to address the individual and how their symptoms and their constitution is changing along the course of treatment. The goal of treatment is to bring the body back into balance so the medicine is no longer needed and the symptoms do not return. My particular clinical focus is on reproductive health and fertility.

I use Chinese herbal medicine in the treatment of fertility concerns for both men and women, menstrual irregularities, pain and PMS, endometriosis, polycystic ovary syndrome or PCOS, recurrent pregnancy loss, hormonal balance and stress management.