Before the pharmaceutical culture began, herbs were used to heal the body according to their individual needs. Today, western culture relies on pills that are filled with man-made chemicals, create side effects, and are marketed as a “one-size-fits-all” solution. For many, especially those with chronic pain and illness, these pills fall short of providing the healing and relief the body needs. At 1st Choice Acupuncture and Integrative Medicine in Bellevue, WA, our Chinese herbal medicine addresses the body needs for each individual person. This can result in fast results, even for chronic conditions.
What Is Chinese Herbal Medicine?
Herbal medicine fits under the larger umbrella of Traditional Chinese Medicine or TCM. Traditional Chinese medicine is based on different ideas and principles than Western medicine. TCM believes in a balance in the body and the energy of the body, specifically in five elements of the body. When these are out of balance, the body experiences pain or illness. Traditional Chinese Medicine includes herbal medicine, acupuncture, Tai Chi, and more.
Because of this philosophy, herbal medicine takes your whole body into account. It separates your body into five different elements: earth, metal, fire, wood, and water. Herbs are also separated to address these different groups. These herbs help to balance, nourish, and restore the body, encouraging it to heal itself from the inside. There are many different types of herbs used in herbal medicine. Some practitioners may use up to 20 herbs in one prescription. The herbs work together to address all the issues of your body.
The Difference Between Chinese Herbal Medicine and Pharmaceuticals
Chinese medicine has been in practice for at least 5,000 years, making it much older than pharmaceuticals. In fact, it is one of the oldest health care systems that still works today. There is also a huge difference in philosophy. Western medicine and pharmaceuticals focus on treating diseases by the symptoms. These are often treated with a pill that is supposed to work for everyone who has the disease, despite the fact that all bodies react to medicine differently.
Chinese herbal medicine focuses on the whole person as an individual. Practitioners consider symptoms but more what the symptom is telling the body about how it is out of balance. They will use this information to then prescribe a group of herbs specific to you and your body.
If you are dealing with back pain, a Western medical practitioner may prescribe a pill to mask the pain which may or may not be effective. With an herbal practitioner, they will prescribe a group of herbs to address the actual reason for your back pain, eventually allowing your back to heal. This is why many people find herbal medicine to be more effective than Western pharmaceuticals.
The History of Herbal Medicine
Traditional Chinese medicine dates back to before the Shang Dynasty in China. The concepts of therapeutic activities as a form of healing were in practice before the term “medicine” was separated from other fields. Written texts began to be compiled around the Han Dynasty to create the consistent form of TCM we are familiar with today. During the 1950s and later, traditional medicine began to combine with the knowledge of current anatomy and physiology to create an even better form of Traditional Chinese Medicine.
Today the philosophy and practices remain the same, but practitioners are able to practice with even greater efficiency and success with access to modern information. It has spread across the world due to its effective nature, and people from all cultures can use herbal medicine. Even Western studies have shown that Chinese herbal medicine is effective in treating a wide range of ailments, especially gastrointestinal and gynecological disorders.
How Are Herbs Prescribed?
Before herbs can be prescribed, you must meet with an herbal practitioner who can assess your needs. They may use hearing, smell, touch, pulse, and even voice vibration to create their diagnosis. They will also consider the five elements of your body and the ways they are visibly and invisibly out of balance. Your symptoms will also be accounted for. All of these factors will add up to create a diagnosis. The practitioner will then take the diagnosis and create a specialized herbal concoction for you.
One important thing about herbal practitioners is they prescribe a group of at least four herbs, adhering to the four herb group principles. Herbal medicine is not as effective when not using a singular herb unless needed for a single benefit. Herbs should be grouped to get the maximum benefit. A qualified herbalist will prescribe herbs correctly.
The Four Herb Group Principle
The four herb group principle is the way experienced herbalists make sure the herbs they prescribe are effective and safe for your body. The herbs can be as few as four or as many as twenty. Each herb or herb group has a special role to play.
The first group will target the main need of the body. The secondary group of herbs assists the main group and increases their effectiveness. The third group of herbs addresses other problems that stem from the main problem. The last group of herbs helps all the herbs work together and minimizes any side-effects you may have.
A common example of this principle going into effect is when a patient comes in with back pain. The herbalist would examine them and decide what their back pain stems from. The primary herbs would focus on moving the blood stasis. The secondary herbs help assist the primary herb group to move the blood stasis. The tertiary group would be used to address sleeping problems by calming the nerves and easing pain. The final group would blend the group together into harmony.
How Are the Herbs Taken?
Herbal remedies can be consumed in many different forms from pills to tinctures. It partly depends upon your herbal practitioner how they will prescribe the herbs to you as there are advantages and disadvantages to each way. Some herbs can be eaten raw or cooked into a decoction. Some are ground into a powder or given in pill form. Herbs can also be prepared into a tincture. The method of using the herbs may depend upon your diagnosis as well as the actual herbs prescribed.
Pills are a very convenient form of herbal remedies, but they often come pre-prepared and not to the specific needs of the patient. Your digestive system may also have trouble absorbing the healing powers of the herbs in pill form. In powder form, herbs are typically added to warm water. Tinctures will usually be dropped under the tongue. The most common form of herb consumption is through a cooked decoction such as an herbal tea. Herbal remedies are usually taken a few times each day according to your prescription.
One of the best ways to extract the active ingredients in herbs is to cook them in boiling water. You should always prepare your herbs the way your practitioner prescribes you to. One way is to prepare your concoction as you need it. You can combine boiling water with your dosage and drink it as a tea when it is ready. This is not as convenient for those that may not have access to boiling water in the middle of the day due to work.
Another way is to prepare a couple of days worth of your concoctions beforehand and drink them as needed. This may not be ideal either as older tea may not have as fresh of ingredients for your body to use. Whatever way you make your herbal tea, you should try to consume it at least 20 minutes before eating. Herbal tea may not taste very good at first. However, the more often you drink it, the more your body will get used to the flavor.
How Long Does Chinese Herbal Medicine Take to Work?
The length of time before you see results depends on a number of factors. For some conditions, people see results within a few minutes of the first treatment. For chronic conditions, it may take a few weeks or longer to see noticeable results. Treatment is also dependent on whether or not you consistently take your herbal medicine when and the way you are supposed to. The herbs cannot help you if you don’t take them.
Some practitioners may prescribe an herbal medicine mixture to be taken over a long period of time for a chronic condition. This does not mean you will have to wait that long to begin seeing results. Most often, people with chronic conditions can begin seeing results in just two weeks. However, if you are not consistent and disciplined about your herb usage, you may find chronic conditions that were getting better due to herbal medicine begin to return.
Is It Safe?
Compared to pharmaceuticals, Chinese herbal medicine has almost no side-effects. This is due to the four herb group principles and the individuality of the prescription. Each prescription of herbs is designed specifically with your body in mind and how your body will react to different things.
Another way herbal medicine is safe is because of the many rounds of testing it goes through before it can be declared safe to consume. At quality manufacturers, herbal products must go through 15 tests and pass before they can be bottled. Some of these tests include bacteria, mold, pesticide, E.coli, and even heavy metals.
It can be very dangerous to take herbal medicines that have not gone through these safeguards, as they may contain toxins and even carcinogens in large amounts. For this reason, you should always seek treatment from a licensed and respected professional like those at 1st Choice Acupuncture and Integrative Medicine rather than buying herbs online or visiting unlicensed private practitioners.
Who Can Take Chinese Herbs?
Many people can take Chinese herbs and benefit from them, including groups of people who are unable to take normal pharmaceuticals due to safety. People of any age or health can take herbs to begin healing their bodies from the inside out. People with many conditions can use Chinese herbs, including those suffering from pain, mental illness, gastrointestinal disorders, infertility, insomnia, and more. Chinese herbs are also safe for pregnant women and children.
Most western medication cannot be given to pregnant women or children for fear of safety. However, as long as the dosage is adjusted properly, Chinese herbs can be safely given to both of these groups. For many women, pregnancy creates many difficult symptoms that herbal medicine can address without any harm to the fetus. Children can also take herbs for a variety of ailments, including colic, earaches, cough, fever, gastrointestinal issues, and even teething discomfort. Herbal medicine should always be prescribed by a licensed practitioner.
Learn More Today
Herbal remedies have been around and helping people for thousands of years. Practitioners prescribe them individually to your body and almost everyone can take them safely. Herbal medicine also begins showing results quickly from as fast as a few minutes to a few weeks.
Whatever disorder you have, you can start your road to recovery by rebalancing your body with herbal medicine. Contact 1st Choice Acupuncture and Integrative Medicine in Bellevue, WA to set up your free consultation today and get you on your way to a healthier, balanced body.