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Lifting the Veil on Chinese Herbology

by Laura Mignosa, NCCH

Traditional Chinese Medicine has been practiced for over 4000 years and uses a highly developed theoretical system which determines the appropriate application of herbs based on an individual’s unique symptoms and not just on a named disease. In this way TCM treats the causes of disease and not just the disease itself. The World Health Organization indicates it is the most widely used system of health care in the world.

Today, it appears there are bridges between Herbal Medicine and all other healing practices that work hand in hand to benefit the patient. The use of Chinese herbs to counter the side effects of Western medications is where the greatest benefits may be found. Major hospitals across the country are doing clinical studies to evaluate the use of herbs in various treatment protocols with very good results.

Chinese vs Western Medicine

It has been said that Western Medicine is based on Instrumentation (a test), while Chinese Medicine is based on Observation (how do you feel). Chinese Medicine Practitioners utilize something called the Eight Principle Theory (Yin/Yang, Cold/Hot, Interior/Exterior and Deficiency/Excess) as well as Tongue and Pulse diagnosis to determine disharmonies or weaknesses in the body. Suggestions of foods, herbs and life style changes are discussed with each person, while always maintaining the age old quest of First Do No Harm.

TCM always looks at the whole person and not just the symptoms, peeling the onion, so to speak, to expose the root cause of a disharmony. Emotions are always included in a differential diagnosis since the belief is that how a person feels cannot be separated from how the body will express it. The idea that one treatment protocol will be effective for all people with the same symptoms is alien to Chinese Medical philosophy.

Chinese vs Western Herbalism

Western Herbalism uses herbs grown in the west, as opposed to China, for their medicine. Additionally, the Western practitioner may use only one herb at a time to treat a client and, by doing so, can judge the effect of that particular herb on a person more accurately in case of a reaction. Growing your own herbs to make a preparation for health is something that appeals to many people.

Chinese Herbologists, however, use groups of herbs that are grown in China and have been enhanced according to century old traditions. To balance a person, they identify patterns of disharmonies and assign an "energetic" Chinese organ to it. An Imbalance can be observed in the color and texture of an individual’s complexion and skin, their attitude, manner of speaking and sometimes even their smell. Western Medicine derived disease names are taken into account, but the ancient Chinese Medicine method of diagnosis is always used to ensure that the "root "as well as the "branch" is treated in all diseases.

In China there is no question as to how to treat a patient. If there is a need for BIG medicine, they do not hesitate to use it, but will also use Chinese herbs to lessen the impact of a particular medication on an organ. TCM and Western medicine comprise a seamless system of health employed in all hospitals throughout China.

Herbs vs Pharmaceuticals

Many of our western medications have actually come from active ingredients found in herbs. Studies have indicated that there may be one major reason keeping Chinese Herbal Formulations from greater popularity in the West: larger concentrations of herbs are needed to produce the same effects that a pharmaceutical may offer. A person using Chinese Herbal Therapy must take more tablets or drink more tea than is our custom in the West. Additionally, the instant gratification of symptom relief that comes from taking a small pill daily is different than the slow and steady rise to vitality that is most often seen in TCM. However, Chinese Herbals usually work without producing all of the side effects of prescription drugs, making TCM the preferred way of staying well.

Herbs are Food

It is important for us to remember that herbs are food and can be taken with nutritional supplements and medications quite safely under proper supervision.There are various ways of incorporating food/herbs into a treatment protocol. Raw herb teas or decoctions which are brewed daily, is the traditional method of ingestion, however, many people find the smell of these herbs cooking to be bad and the taste worse. Compliance is all important, so if a person will not drink a certain tea, concentrated tea tablets can be used. All professional formulas are made with hospital grade material that has been tested against heavy metals, pesticides and contaminants of all kinds.

The Preparation of an Herbal Formula

Chinese herbal formulations usually contain four groups of herbs that when combined, are the most effective for treating the disharmony.

The structure of the formula contains the Emperor, which is the main ingredient producing the healing action. Then there are Deputy Herbs that will help the Emperor herbs do their job more effectively. The next group of herbs, called the Assistants, are mixed in to counter potential side effects of any of the herbs in that particular formula. The last component is called the Harmonizer, which is usually Licorice or Red Date, and this allows the herbs to get to the organ it was intended for.

Due to the number of herbs in a properly formulated Tea, one can expect far less side-effects than with a Western Medication. Also, formulas can be modified based on the individual’s need and body makeup. It is in this way that no one person will be seen or treated in exactly the same manner as another.

As the body begins its process of healing, one may feel some reaction to taking an herbal formula, like feeling warmer or cooler or have some slight digestive issues, but modifications to an herbal prescription can often help with these issues and sometimes they simply resolve on their own as the body becomes accustomed to a particular formula.

Always be sure to tell your TCM practitioner about any other medications or supplements you may be currently taking and do not attempt to diagnose or treat yourself with TCM. Seek the advice of a trained, licensed TCM professional.

Laura Mignosa, NCCH, is a Nationally Certified Chinese Herbologist, director of the Ct Institute for Herbal Studies since 1992 and is both Western and China trained. She travels yearly to Beijing hospitals and allows others to view the culture from a holistic perspective. She uses only safe hospital-grade herbs which are certified against contaminates, pesticides or heavy metals. Laura is also a local & national lecturer, designs Chinese Herbal formulas for Pets and works as a consultant on Chinese Herbal Formulas. Her private practice is maintained at the CT Institute for Herbal Studies, 900 Wells Road (Route 175), Wethersfield, CT 06109, and at Grant Chiropractic Health Center in Milldale, CT. (860) 666-5064, laurachina@aol.com

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