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TCM Knowledge ~ ~ Terms & Definitions

TCM Knowledge  

4. Introducing Chinese Herbal Treatments 

   There are some important differences between Chinese herbal medicine and prescription or over the counter Western drugs. Since many people in the U.S. are unfamiliar with traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), it is important to point out some of the basic general differences between Chinese herbal medicine and Western drugs:

    No Side Effects -- Unlike Western drugs, Chinese herbal treatments are taken in a whole food form. For example, teas are decocted from whole roots, stems, and leaves and capsules are filled with crushed whole food material. Western medicine is made by locating active chemical compounds and creating medicines from these compounds. When reduced to its chemical fundamentals, pharmaceuticals have side effects. Side effects are inevitable with pharmaceuticals. When used appropriately, Chinese herbal treatments will cause no side effects as long as they are used in their whole food form. Research in China has shown that when reduced to their active chemical compounds, Chinese herbal treatments will also cause side effects. This is one reason why TCM practitioners continue to use whole food forms of treatments. Because TCM treatments have not been reduced to their active compounds, they must be consumed in larger quantities and more frequently than most Western pharmaceuticals.

    Occasionally, Chinese herbal treatments will produce what may seem like a side effect. For certain kinds of health conditions, it is necessary to treat with formulas that work by clearing things from inside the body. For example, when treating certain skin conditions, the symptoms may become worse before improving because internal impurities are being eliminated. Diarrhea is another way that toxins may be cleared from the body. These are not side effects because they are necessary to the healing process. Ask your practitioner if you can expect any such reactions.

    Formulas Rather Than Single Herbs -- Many people familiar with Western herbal medicine think of herbs as they do Western pharmaceuticals _ a single herb is good to treat a single disease. For instance, echinacea is good for colds. In TCM, single herbs are rarely used. Formulas may contain as few as two and as many as 15 or more different herbs. In combinations, the individual herbs have different roles. Some may augment or limit the potency of others. Some may concentrate on one specific area of the body whereas others work on a different area. Through thousands of years of practice and research, TCM practitioners have found formulas to be the most effective, most powerful, and safest way of using herbs. No Treatment Lasts Forever According to TCM principles, no treatment, even herbal treatment, is appropriate for continuous use. With Western drugs, it is not uncommon for individuals to take certain medications indefinitely. For example, a person with thyroid problems may take Synthroid, a thyroid medication, his entire life. A person with chronic back pain may take Tylenol for years and years. In TCM, a person takes a set of formulas for a limited period of time. This is why TCM practitioners will see their patients regularly (every one to four weeks is common practice). When the patient no longer feels improvement or his practitioner no longer finds improvement in his tongue, pulse, and nails, the herbs will be changed. The first set of formulas has done its job and it is time to move on to the next layer of the problem. When the person's underlying condition is treated, she will no longer have symptoms and treatment is completed. At that point, there is no longer a need to take herbs. The purpose of treatment is not to control symptoms, but to restore balance to the body. Once balance is restored, the complaints will disappear and there is no longer any need for treatment. The duration of treatment varies depending on the nature and severity of a person's complaints, how long they've had the complaints, and how quickly their body responds to treatment. Depending on your complaints and condition, you may notice a difference within two to three days. If you feel no changes within ten days, you should make an appointment with your practitioner. This does not indicate that Chinese herbal medicine cannot help you, it simply means a different approach to your conditions must be taken.

    Stop Treatment If You Catch a Cold or Flu -- If you catch cold or flu during your treatment, discontinue your current herb regimen. Herbs that treat chronic problems may actually prolong a cold or flu by allowing them to penetrate the body more deeply. Instead, the cold or flu must be treated first. Keep a cold and flu remedy such as First Defense on hand and use it at onset of any symptoms. If the illness is not dramatically improved within two to three days, see your practitioner for additional treatment. According to TCM theory, it is very important to rid the body of a cold or flu as quickly as possible. Many chronic problems originate with a cold or flu left untreated. Once your symptoms subside, you can resume your previous course of treatment.

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Frequently asked questions:

When do I take my herbs?
    It is best to take herbs at least half-an-hour before or after meals. If you also take Western pharmaceuticals, vitamins, or other herbs, it is best to take these at least two hours apart from your Chinese herbs.

Will Chinese herbs conflict with my Western medicine?
    In most cases, there is no conflict between these two kinds of treatments. It is always best to let your practitioner know what medications you take.

What can I do if I have problems taking all the herbs at one time?
    Most people will be given tablets, capsules, or teas to be taken three times each day. If it is difficult for you to take all the herbs three times each day, you may choose to take them throughout the day instead. Try to do your best to take the total amount prescribed each day.

What is the difference between teas and pills?
    Herbal formulas come in five different forms: boiling teas, granule teas, capsules, tablets, and patent formulas. The fastest acting form is boiling teas. The problem with boiling teas is that they are inconvenient, require time and dedication, and most taste and smell horrible. Granule teas are more convenient since they only require the addition of hot water and do not taste as bad as boiling teas. They are also fast acting. Capsules, tablets, and patent formulas are generally not as fast acting, but can work at a deeper level for some chronic conditions. They are also more convenient than the granule teas as they require no preparation.

How can I make the tea taste better?
    You can add anything you like to the teas (e.g. sugar, lemon, juice). Another method is to let the teas cool to room temperature, hold your nose, and swallow quickly.

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*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.



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