Herbal therapy has been used since the dawn of time by every culture on the planet. There is a lot of information available about the pharmacology, efficacy, actions and indications of herbs. In fact, many drug companies are actively mining this information to find new and better drugs.
However, creating drugs from herbs misses the point. The beauty of using herbs is that they are whole foods. They have many, many active ingredients that we don’t fully understand and all of these components work together to create the desired clinical response which is often equal to or better than conventional drug therapy.
The reasons for this are simple:it is much easier to keep the side effects of herbs to a minimum, and you can change formulations as conditions in the body change.
Chinese Herbal Therapy Is Flexible
Chinese herbs have been part of Chinese medicine for over 4,000 years. The first known Materia Medica, the Shennong Bencao Jing (Shennong Emperor’s Classic of Materia Medica), lists some 365 medicines of which 252 of them are herbs, and dates back to the 1st century C.E., during the Han dynasty. Earlier literature included lists of prescriptions for specific ailments, these were found in a manuscript “Recipes for 52 Ailments”, found in the MaWangDui tomb, sealed in 168 B.C.E.
The strength of Chinese herbal medicine is that herbal therapies are always designed with one thing in mind: balance. Treatment seeks to restore balance to the body, this is a natural process called “homeostasis”, which refers to the body’s natural tendency to self-regulate. Herbs are used to help facilitate this.
Side effects are kept to a minimum because formulas are frequently monitored and modified based on the patients’ present symptoms and reactions. If an adverse reaction occurs, the formula is changed. Change is constant in the body, so this is an absolutely essential part of good care. Anything given for a prolonged period of time will cause some type of undesirable and often toxic response.
Western Drugs Do Not Change With The Body
This is the biggest problem with conventional Western drug therapies. They are designed to do one thing and the treatment never deviates. Often side effects will occur and other drugs will be given until the patient becomes a living pharmacy. It is not uncommon to see elderly patients who take 8 to 10 medications daily.
In fact, we have heard physicians say to patients that you should be on one drug for every decade you have lived. If you live like this, the chances are, your remaining decades will have an ever deteriorating quality of life and you will be paying ever increasing costs for medication. Good for the drug companies, lousy for the rest of us.
Chinese herbal formulas themselves are designed with potential side effects in mind. Formulas are based on a hierarchy of what you want to achieve. The names of court officials are used to indicate the “duties” of each ingredient. There are “emperor” herbs that are used to accomplish the principle clinical effect.There are “ministers” that are used to assist this clinical effect, directly or indirectly. (For example, herbs that move the bowels are sometimes used in formulas that treat skin conditions because proper elimination can often remove toxins from the body.)
“Guiding” herbs are used to direct the formula to a particular part of the anatomy and “assistant” herbs are used to treat the potential side effects of the “emperor” herbs. For example, formulas that are very nourishing to the kidneys include herbs that promote urination because these herbs tend to be quite mucous producing and one must prevent moisture from building up in the body.
There Is A Better Way
One of the most interesting things about the discussion of herbal versus drug therapy is where each one is viewed in the equation.
In the integrative medicine model, the most conservative thing to do is to try diet, herbs and drug free therapies first. All too often, these are tried too late in the game. People in Western cultures often come to therapies like Chinese medicine after they have exhausted everything else. The chances of anything working at that point are often slim to none.
If you want to get better, you need to change your mind set and try conservative care first. And, obviously, your results will be better if you do this sooner than later.
Diet Is The Foundation of Good Health
The first thing to consider is your diet. There is an old adage in Chinese medicine which states “Diet is the mountain and herbs are the thunder.” This is a poetic reference to the fact that diet is the foundation of our health. Most of the diseases that we suffer in this culture are the result of dietary excesses. Heart disease, obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol, hypertension, kidney disease, the list goes on and on.
We recommend a simple diet high in fruits, vegetables and whole grains. To determine the diet that is appropriate for your unique health situation we offer blood chemistry analysis, Blood Chemistry Analysis
Herbs Should Be Used to Keep You In Balance
Herbs are food, but like drugs they can be over used or abused. They should be used for a finite period of time and not taken forever. And you need to change them based on what happens.
In order to do this you need to have some knowledge of what they do and how they behave in the body and you need to bein touch with your own body enough to observe what is happening.
The principles and ideas of Chinese herbal therapies can be applied to all kinds of herbs and many western herbscan be organized in this way as well. The Chinese materia medica is based on an in depth understanding of biochemistry and the pharmacology of the herbs.
Look Before You Leap
Finally, don’t take herbs based on sales copy you read from an herbal manufacturer or multi-level marketing company. Learn about what you are doing first. Herbs can be effective medicine, but they can also hurt you.
Case in point; goldenseal. Many people take this herb alone or with echinacea to prevent colds and flus. This herb does have potent anti-viral and anti-bacterial proprties, but it can also damage your intestinal flora in much the same way an anti-biotic can.If you damage your intestinal flora, then you damage your immune system because the good bacteria in our intestines is a very important part of our immune system. However, this herb has been marketed as a great herb for preventing colds and flus. It can be great when used correctly, but you need to know when, how and why you are taking it.
Our suggestion? Come to Green Health Acupuncture, consult with our licensed herbalists and consider having your blood chemistry analysis done. This way you can know exactly what you need and why.