Herbal therapy has been championed by China and other Eastern countries for centuries. As Western medicine looks for more natural alternatives with fewer side effects, herbal medicine is gaining a foothold in the treatment of several common health concerns. Read on for advice from the Cleveland Clinic and learn what recent research has to say about herbalism.
According to Galina Roofener, LAc, of the Cleveland Clinic, you should treat Chinese herbs just as you would a prescription, i.e. get an evaluation from a qualified practitioner before taking anything. Your acupuncturist will conduct a complete health history with you before your first examination to determine what your health concerns are and how herbs might best be used, along with traditional acupuncture treatments.
Roofener also points out an important distinction between Western medicine and Chinese herbalism. She says that herbalists don’t just treat symptoms but rather they treat the entire human being, including the pattern of symptoms. Acupuncturists believe in “qi” or the flow of energy throughout the body. When something exists to disrupt that flow, they don’t just treat the resulting symptoms, rather they treat the underlying cause of the issue to restore complete health.
Roofener says that at the Cleveland Clinic they “use traditional formulas that consist of a few herbs that have strictly designated roles. Some of them are the main active ingredients that address the primary complaint. Others may address secondary complaints or symptoms. That’s why we customize the majority of herbal formulas to each person.” And Chinese herbs come in a variety of forms. You might receive them as capsules or granules, but they also might be teas, liquids, or powders.
What the Research Says
There are some exciting recent research studies about herbal medicine but one of the most promising investigated the use of Chinese herbs and acupuncture to improve cognitive function in Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers for this study, published in 2021, ultimately proposed “that these two approaches be integrated to improve outcomes for AD patients.”
The abstract outlined it best, saying, “Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a neurodegenerative disease with a variety of causes. Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), which includes the two main approaches of acupuncture and herbal medication, views the human body as a self-controlled system network. Fundamental theories, including “qi,” the five elements, and the theory of viscera, form the basis for classification. Diseases in humans are considered to be caused by an imbalance of “yang qi” and “yin qi” that lead to the non-homeostasis of organs. Acupuncture is derived from 12 main meridians and 365 acupuncture points characterized by “blood and qi.” Needling of different positions corresponds to specific disease treatments to increase qi. Treatment with Chinese herbal medicines is based on syndrome differentiation characterized as “Zheng” which differs from the cause orientation approach of Western medicine.” This goes back to the theory mentioned by Roofener that herbalists don’t just treat symptoms but the whole body.
What can Herbs Treat?
Chinese herbal medicine, combined with acupuncture, can treat a variety of health concerns including seasonal allergies, the side effects of cancer treatments, autoimmune disorders, digestive issues, infertility, menopause, and sleep disorders.
As for the safety of taking herbs, Roofener has done extensive research on the safety of herbs and notes that, “over a 7-year study, we did not have a single lab result show kidney or liver problems. And out of 333 patients, we had just five very mild cases of itching or shortness of breath due to allergic reactions.”
What to Expect
At your first appointment, your acupuncturist will go over a detailed health history, including current and past health issues. They will discuss any medications you are currently taking because some herbs and drugs may not interact well together. Your whole health team, doctor and acupuncturist, should be checking your progress regularly to ensure everything is progressing normally.
If you are curious what herbal therapy might do for you, talk to your acupuncturist today to see what options are available to you. It just might be the natural solution you’ve been looking for.