Herbal based medicine has been a major part of just about every culture throughout history. Our modern society has moved away from it and instead has turned to pharmaceutical based medicine. Yet we sometimes forget that pharmaceutical medicine had it’s start in herbal medicine. As technology and our understanding of chemistry grew we started to isolate compounds found naturally and manufactured them into pills. In our technology obsessed culture many look down on herbal medicine as just being old fashioned old fashioned.
There is also a lot of distrust surrounding herbal medicine, and understandably so. In the past there was no regulation about what people could sell as medicine. They could sell you a bottle and tell you it had all sorts of stuff in it that could treat “anything that ails you”. It could be plain water, but there was no regulation stopping them. Even today there is a lot of dishonest behavior in the supplement industry, and herbal medicine is regulated as dietary supplements. So it is understandable why people distrust herbal medicine.
However, it is important to understand how Chinese herbal medicine is different from other forms of herbal medicine and other segments of the supplement industry. First and foremost Chinese herbal medicine is based on a cohesive medical theory and has a couple thousand years of experience behind it. Other forms of herbalism lack a cohesive theory and instead is a compilation of knowledge from disparate sources. Non-Chinese herbal medicine is often a one-to-one treatment. If you have symptom X, take herb Y. Chinese medicine has a much more individualized approach, and we use formulas (combinations of multiple ingredients) rather than single substance. Combining multiple ingredients gives up more flexibility in what we prescribe, more individualization, and when done properly can help reduce any potential side effects that any single herb might have.
As mentioned before, the supplement industry does not have the best regulation (though the FDA has been increasing regulations in recent years). As such we’ve seen much abuse by companies putting out ineffective products that may not contain what they say it does and possibly even contain heavy metals or other dangerous compounds. It is also a bit of a free-for-all in that you can go to stores like GNC or health food stores and buy anything you want. To protect the integrity of our medicine manufacturers and wholesalers of Chinese herbal medicine do not sell to the public. That way only qualified medical practitioners can obtain them and then prescribe them to their patients. This is important because taking the wrong formula for one’s condition can cause harm.
So why use herbal medicine at all? Herbal medicine can be a great alternative to using pharmaceuticals. For those that are afraid of needles it can be a way of using the knowledge and advantages of Chinese medicine without having to do acupuncture. It can be used to treat a wide variety of issues – depression, insomnia, hot flashes/night sweats, allergies, even acne – to name just a few. When combined with acupuncture results can be even better. If you’re currently an acupuncture patient we can add herbal medicine into your treatment at any time. If you’re not currently a patient we offer herbal consultations separate from acupuncture visits.