Chinese Herbal Medicine at Kurrajong Natural Medicine Centre
Chinese Herbal Medicine forms a major part of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and together with Acupuncture makes up 90% of the treatment options available to TCM. Herbal medicine is as old as man and evidence of its use can be traced back to graves of Neanderthal.
Herbal medicine is used by almost all cultures throughout the world, but the most well-known are Chinese herbal medicine, Ayurvedic medicine and Western herbal medicine.
Chinese herbal medicine, however, does not just employ botanical sources of medicinal substances, but also uses animal and mineral products as well as plant-based substances. If you have ever walked into Chinese herbal shop in China town, you no doubt will have seen seahorses, and other barely identifiable ‘things’ on the shelves behind the Herbalist’s counter.
In Australia this is slowly changing as the health department is restricting the use of some of these ‘things’ and are implementing strict guidelines and laws that prohibit some traditionally used products. This is a good thing as it prevents the unnecessary slaughter and suffering of animals and reduces (to some extent) the pressure on rare and endangered animal and plant species.
Many doctors of Chinese herbal medicine have, including us here at Kurrajong Natural Medicine Centre, restricted their choices of ingredients to plants only and only make use of plants that are not listed as endangered or threatened species. They still utilise mineral substances such as calcium and others, but are becoming increasingly more selective in their choice of ingredients.
That said Chinese herbal medicine is an invaluable and highly effective form of treatment used the world over. It is heavily researched in many western countries as well as China and scientist are demonstrating their effectiveness on many diseases.
Chinese herbal medicines comes in many different forms including pills, capsules, powders and teas. Most commonly, in Australia, you will probably be prescribed pills, capsules or powders as many patients will not tolerate the taste of the teas nor will they take the time to brew them. It is far easier and quicker to swallow a pill or capsule than to spend half an hour brewing up a traditionally made concoction. In either case, the prescription you will be given will be specifically designed for you and your health problem.
As with Acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine relies on its own unique way of diagnosing a health issue. Chinese medicine is not like orthodox medicine and does not diagnose diseases in the same way. Presenting at a Chinese medicine clinic with a diagnosis of Asthma, for example, means little in terms of Chinese medicine. The TCM doctor will ask you many, seemingly unrelated questions, in order to make a TCM diagnosis. He or she will then formulate a prescription that is specifically for your condition and would not be the same as that of another patient also presenting with Asthma.
The prescription you would be given would need to be taken 2 or more times a day. You would also need to go back for several follow up visits at which time your prescription would probably be changed in accordance with the changing of your symptoms. It is highly unlikely that you would be prescribed the same formula for several months without some changes being made.
For example, lets imagine a woman who is suffering from severe abdominal pain at the time of her period. She is passing several large clots in her period blood, which is also very dark. In addition, prior to her period she is also suffering from PMS with symptoms such as abdominal pain, which is strong and stabbing in nature, tender swollen breast and gets very irritable as well as depressed. Between periods she feels tired, lacks appetite and has a sallow complexion. She also complains of perspiring easily without doing any exercise.
A TCM doctor would probably diagnose this to be a condition known as Liver Blood and Qi stagnation. This woman would be given herbs that would aim to break up this stagnation and promote the normal flow of Qi and Blood.
Over time, the PMS reduces in intensity and severity. The pain experienced is more of a dull-cramping and the mood swings have lessened but are still present. The period also changes and the stabbing pains are now no longer stabbing in nature, but are dull and cramp-like; the clots are no longer present, but there is still dull pain during the period. The TCM diagnosis would now be changed and would most likely be Liver Qi stagnation (note the Blood stagnation part has been removed). Consequently, the formulation of the prescription would also have to change and would now focus on resolving the stagnation of Liver Qi. Once this has been achieved, the woman would no longer suffer from any symptoms prior to her period, and her period would be of normal duration with no pain or clotting.
However, this is not the end of her treatment, as there is still an underlying issue to be resolved. This woman still has a sallow complexion and tiers easily. Her appetite is still poor and she continues to perspire easily without doing any physical work. This would probably be referred to as a Spleen Qi deficiency. Again, the Chinese herbal prescription would change to address this condition, but, once this condition was resolved, the woman would have successfully completed her treatment. Her appetite and energy would be back to normal, her excessive perspiration would have resolved and the period problems would not return.
The above demonstrates the concept in Chinese medicine that with a change of symptoms, the condition/diagnosis changes and therefore the treatment also needs to be adapted to accommodate this change.
Chinese herbal medicine is a safe and effective form of treatment when prescribed by a qualified doctor of Chinese medicine. Yes, there is a possibility of side effects, especially in the initial stage of treatment. Usually however, side effects resolve after a few days and will not be experienced again for the remainder of treatment. Sometimes, a prescription may need to be changed if the side effects do continue, however, this is not usually an on going or lasting problem.
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Page last updated: 14th Feb. 2021
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