Chinese Herbal Medicine FAQ
Acupuncture | Chinese Herbal Medicine | Therapeutic Massage | Community Clinic | N.A.E.T. | Qualifications
Single herbs are rarely given in Chinese Medicine. Instead herbs are cooked together into a formula. They are combined in a special way to enhance each other’s therapeutic effect and to decrease the chance of side effects.
Instead of only treating symptoms, Chinese herbs change the pattern in your body that lets those symptoms happen. Chinese herbs heal by both dealing with symptoms and bringing your body into balance.
With Chinese herbs, your formula changes as your condition changes. For example, if you have migraine headaches, you will be given a certain formula. As the headaches change, the formula changes. Some of the herbs will remain the same, and others will be added or removed (from the formula) as the symptoms change. Formulas in Chinese medicine match your state of being at any given time. When the migraines are under control, you can be take a maintenance formula which doesn’t change.
A Chinese formula has two parts to it. It contains herbs that address the problem you are having. nd it contains herbs that address why you personally are having this problem. For example, two people with insomnia who come for treatment may receive two different formulas. Their make-ups are different, and their bodies will react differently to illness or stress. The reasons they have insomnia may be different. Some of the herbs in their formulas, the ones affecting insomnia, will be the same. The second part of their formulas will be different. These herbs will match the reasons that they in particular are having trouble sleeping. This is how Chinese Medicine gives more than just symptomatic relief for diseases. For this reason you should never give your herbs to someone else without consulting your herbalist first.
How long does it take for the herbs to work?
For most chronic conditions you will notice results within one to two months. Relief for acute conditions can be more immediate.
For a chronic condition such as arthritis, you may need to take a maintenance formula after your pain diminishes. With issues like insomnia and anxiety, you may keep a formula with you to take if you need it. Sometimes you will need to take a formula seasonally, for instance with allergies in spring and fall. For menstrual problems or PMS, you may need to take something each month once your cycle becomes normal. Other times you may only need herbs for a few days, such as when you feel a cold coming on or have a stomach virus. Chinese herbs can be used on a one-time basis in certain situations, such as for sports injuries.
Where do I get my Chinese herbs?
Mystic River Acupuncture is proud to have a complete Herbal Apothecary on out premises.
You can go home with your formula. We can give you herbs to decoct or grind them into powder for you. We also keep and extensive inventory of granules and patent remedies in pill or tablet form.
If you choose to go to another herbal pharmacy we will be happy to provide you with your prescription. Full pharmacies are found in Chinatowns in larger cities. Most acupuncture offices carry at least a limited assortment of the more common Chinese or Asian herbs. Just make sure your source is reputable.
Should I stop taking my medicine when I use Chinese herbs or acupuncture?
NO. You should never discontinue medication prescribed by your doctors without their permission.
Both acupuncture and Chinese herbs work very well with most western medicines. Be sure that your practitioner knows you are taking pharmaceutical drugs, and let your doctors know that you are using Chinese herbs or receiving acupuncture.
How do I take my herbs?
There are a number of ways you can take your herbs. Below are some commonly used methods. Most herbal formulas can be taken using any of these ways.
You can make a decoction. Traditionally, you would receive a packet of herbs to decoct or simmer into tea. Using this method you can make a week’s worth of herbs at once and refrigerate them. Typically you drink one portion twice a day. You can mix the decoction with apple juice or add sweetener to make it taste better. Many formulas taste good on their own.
Another method is to grind the herbs into powders. For each dose you simmer a tablespoon of powder in water for 5-10 minutes, let it settle and then drink the tea. You can either prepare each dose individually or make a day’s worth at a time. Powders are easier to prepare and cook. If you prefer powders, we can grind your formula for you in our pharmacy.
Granules are also available. These dissolve into water. To take a dose you dissolve a teaspoon of granules into liquid and drink it. Or you can mix the granules with some food such as applesauce, yogurt, or oatmeal. With granules the usual dose is one teaspoon three times a day. If you wish to take granules in capsule form we can provide you with gel caps to fill. Granules are an easy way to take herbs while traveling. Our pharmacy maintains an extensive inventory of herbal granules.
Most herbal formulas also come in tablet form. This may be the easiest way to take herbs. Since herbs in tablet form can’t be customized for the person, these are most often given for maintenance. Both standard Chinese formulas and modern formulations of Asian herbs come in tablet form.
The term patent herbs refers to standard formulas that are made into little pills. Typically you take eight pills per dose, three times a day. Chinese patents are popular because they are simple and inexpensive. Patent formulas are ancient traditional Chinese prescriptions.
You can combine different methods. Many patients take decoctions or powders, but switch to granules or tablets while traveling. Some prefer decoctions at home and keep a bottle of granules handy at work. Patents or tablets can be kept in a brief case or purse to be taken when needed. Some patients like to keep patents in their medicine cabinet or first aid kit for seasonal and recurring problems.
Will you fill a prescription I got from somewhere else? Do I have to be a patient of yours to buy herbs from you?
Yes, as long as we know that you got your prescription from a qualified herbalist, we will be happy to fill it for you.
If you aren’t a patient and know what formula you have been taking, just call or stop by to find out if we can be of help. We stock a variety of Chinese herbs in pill or tablet form and carry a number of ointments and liniments. While some of these do require a prescription, others can be dispensed after a short conversation with you.
If you need a bulk or granule prescription filled, we will need the formula with exact dosages from your herbalist. You an have her or him fax or email it it us.
What kinds of side effects are there with Chinese herbs?
Because these herbs can have a strong effect, you need to be in touch with your herbalist when starting a new formula.
Sometimes the herbs are hard to digest. You may notice a difference in your sleep. Your level of fatigue may change, and sometimes symptoms may seem to fluctuate or be on a different schedule. If you have any uncomfortable side effects or any of your symptoms increase in severity, you should contact your practitioner. If this happens, most of the time you will need a small adjustment to your formula or a different schedule of taking it. Sometimes your herbalist will give you a different prescription.
You should not give herbs prescribed for you to a friend. Always call first to see if your formula is safe for another person to take, even if they have the same symptoms you have.
Are Chinese herbs safe?
At Mystic River Acupuncture we purchase our herbs from reputable distributors who inspect their products.
What about news reports of unsafe herbs?
Most of the time the herbs in these reports have been misused.
Either they are used for the wrong purpose, used in the wrong dosage, or used alone when they should be combined in a formula. It is important to go to a qualified, trained herbalist who can prescribe for you individually.
An example is the herb ephedra, which was in the news when it was included in weight loss supplements, and again when athletes used it to enhance their performance. A Chinese herbalist would never have used ephedra in these ways. It is not a weight loss herb, and is not intended to increase stamina or enhance athletic performance.
Ephedra is an herb that is mostly used in respiratory conditions such as asthma, chronic respiratory problems, or common colds. It “opens the lungs” so people can breathe better. It helps create a sweat in “externally contracted” illnesses. Ephedra is used in very specific small amounts, and is skillfully combined with other herbs that enhance its healing properties and reduce any toxic tendencies it may have. Ephedra is not an herb that is given alone. To use ephedra improperly can be dangerous. Used properly it is invaluable and has no substitute.