Chinese herbal medicine - benefits and safety
On this page
- How do they work?
- What are the health benefits?
- Are herbs safe?
- Are there any side effects?
- Pregnancy and breastfeeding
- Acupuncture of herbs?
- Online consultations
- Common questions
Chinese herbal medicine is a system of health care that originates from traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and has been used for thousands of years to prevent disease and cure illnesses.
It is the most popular form of herbal therapy used in the world today. TCM practitioners use yin and yang theory together with signs and symptoms to formulate herbal products that contain medicinal substances to treat a wide range of chronic health problems. Endangered species are not used in Chinese medicine in Europe and the UK. Instead individual herbs are selected for their healing properties and herbal therapy.
Chinese herbs has a long history in East Asia and the UK. The use of plants probably originated not long after fire was invented and people started cooking. This knowledge later developed into one of the most sophisticated and unbroken herbal medical traditions of the world.
What's unique about Chinese herbal medicine is that it is one of the most developed and advanced forms of traditional medicines, with an unbroken tradition dating back to the 3rd century BC. In the UK, herbs were still the medicine of choice up until the start of the 20th century. Before that, herbs were used in Great Britian for thousands of years and were protected into law by King Henry VIII.
The earliest known herbal textbook is a list of prescriptions for specific ailments, found in the Mawangdui tombs in China, which was sealed in 168 BC. Traditionally the oldest Materia Medica is Shénnóng Ben Cao Jing (Shennong's Materia Medica). It classifies 365 species of roots, grass, woods, furs, animals and stones into three categories of herbal medicine: The famous medical textbook the Neijing Suwen - The Yellow Emperor's Classic of Medicine is thousands of years old and outlines the theories of traditional Chinese medicine.
People are often unaware that many western pharmaceutical drugs actually originate from herbs, for example aspirin comes from the bark of the willow tree. The bark of the willow tree has been used for centuries as a herbal formula for pain. Only a few hundred years ago, before there were concentrated drugs, doctors in the UK and Europe would prescribe herbs such as willow tree bark to their patients.
Today, food is still used as the first line of medicine in East Asia where different herbs are added to cuisine for their health benefits. If this first line of medicine fails, then people seek a herbalist for a herbal medical prescription.
3. How Chinese herbs work
According to TCM treatment, each herb has an action, a flavour and enters certain internal organs. A herbal prescription will often contain between 6-12 different plants that work with each other to treat the health problem. Herbs can work to boost the body's vital energy, balance the mind and body and can be anti-inflammatory.
Chinese herbs work differently to western medicine drugs as they are holistic. Chinese herbs are natural so take time to work but then have less side effects.
There is a growing body of research that proves Chinese herbs work. Watch my animated video below which explains how herbs work.
4. Health benefits
The use of plants can greatly benefit both male and female health. Whereas acupuncture helps to regulate energy (flow of qi) and blood flow, it can't give you what you don't have. Herbs however, can give you what you don't have, for example energy, energy and yin.
Herbs are more effective at regulating digestion, reducing anxiety, clearing heat, etc.
As herbs are natural and holistic upon the human body. The effects of the medicinal herbs takes time, usually around 2-3 weeks. They build up strength within the body. As they are natural they don't have side effects. Pharmaceutical drugs are quick as they are concentrated, but because they are quick they tend to have more side effects.
Some of the improvements seen after taking them can be subtle whilst others more noticeable. It depends on what is being treated.
Herbs treat the whole body, mopping up other problems that people have, so they get a greater sense of overall health and well-being. People tend to feel more energy, sleep better, their digestion improves, they either feel less cold or less hot and are emotionally more stable. The longer a person takes them the better the effects.
Yes, Chinese herbs are safe to take for most health care needs. The Chinese Materia Medica lists most therapeutic benefits and adverse reactions known of thousands of years of use. Like most exported products from China, exported products have a higher quality than domestic products. The herbs are also tested for toxicity and quality control purposes when they arrive into the UK, United States and Europe.
Herbalists use a yellow card system to alert the Herbal Medicines Advisory Committee (HMAC) of any problems with a possible herb. Researchers are actively looking at herbs and their reactions in humans and with other substances.
I use the highest quality herbs available from Taiwan, called Sun Ten.
Herbal medicine has a long history of use in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). Over the last 3-5 thousand years people have worked out which herbs are good for health and which ones aren't.
Clinical trials have proven the safety of Chinese herbs for use in the human body. The MHRA has put in place the Herbal Medicines Advisory Committee (HMAC). This new body has the same ranking as the Committee of the Safety of Medicines. If any question concerning a herbal product arises or adverse effects or allergic reactions, the HMAC will determine whether dry herbs are safe or not, based on current evidence and testing for aristolochic acids and heavy metals. The HMAC committee is made up of people from Ayurveda, TCM, Western herbal medicine and pharmacologists.
Herbs are safe for to take for fertility if they are prescribed by a herbalist who knows you are trying for a baby. Men and women can both benefit from taking herbs. They can help with various fertility problems including male sperm count and blocked fallopian tubes.
Make sure you tell your TCM practitioner that you are trying for a baby. Research has shown that they can enhance your fertility and increase your success rate of having a baby.
Chinese herbs are even safe to take during in-vitro fertilization (IVF) and intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI).
6. Side effects
There are seldom any side effects, just the bad taste. A herbal formula can only make your problem worse if the herbalist gets the formula completely wrong, which seldom happens.
Other possible side effects include an upset stomach if you take the herbs on an empty stomach. You should always take herbs an hour after food.
Each herbal formula is tailor-made to the patient's needs, unlike western pharmaceutical drugs where one size fits all (actually the majority not all).
Everyone is different and so every Chinese herbal formula is different. As it's more suited to the individual's body and their needs they are less likely to cause any side effects.
Pharmaceutical drugs are concentrated, so are fast acting but the down side is they cause side effects.
7. Pregnancy and breastfeeding
Yes, Chinese herbs are safe to take during pregnancy if prescribed by a herbalist who knows that you are pregnant. Taking Chinese herbs during pregnancy is perfectly safe and has been used in East Asia for thousands of years.
If you are self-prescribing using herbs bought over the counter, then you may inadvertently harm your baby as not all herbs are safe to take during pregnancy. They may upset the hormonal balance of the foetus, causing problems. Pregnant women should always consult a qualified herbalist before taking any herbs.
If the herbs are prescribed by a qualified herbalist who knows you are pregnant, then the herbs shouldn't harm your unborn baby and should be safe to take. They can actually support a growing baby and help it thrive during pregnancy making sure it grows according to schedule. Herbs can also help with various pregnancy related problems.
I have helped several women whose baby is not growing enough with Chinese herbs. In just 2 weeks the baby bounces back to its correct size. I have also prevented many miscarriages by using Chinese herbs during pregnancy.
8. What's better, acupuncture or herbs?
In Asian countries, people tend to use traditional herbal medicines first and acupuncture treatment second
The difference between acupuncture and herbs is that stimulating acupuncture points helps the body to help itself, but can't give the body what it is lacking. Herbs however, give the body what it's lacking. For this reason, they are considered in East Asia to be stronger and more effective than acupuncture.
A combination of acupuncture with herbs, dietary therapy and lifestyle advice is the most effective form of treatment to combat a variety of health problems. Unlike western medicine drugs which have adverse effects, you are a lot less likely to have side effects or allergic reactions with herbs.