Why turn to Chinese Medicine when we have a highly developed western medical system in place, with a strong regulatory agency, the Food and Drug Administration; numerous facilities, hospitals, clinics, and private offices; and insurance coverage available privately, through employment, or public assistance that covers the major part of expenses? Why turn to Chinese medicine as an alternative, when we already have nutritional supplements, Western herbs, massage, chiropractic, homeopathy, and a dozen other health care options that were primarily developed in the U.S. and Europe?
It is because no one health care system has a one hundred percent perfect tract record in treating all ailments. All the modern health care aids mentioned above are only approximately 250 years old. Chinese medicine is around for 2,500 years old. Despite the progress made in modern western and alternative medicine, there are substantial deficiencies in the treatment of cancer, heart disease, AIDS, arthritis and other auto-immune diseases, as well as diabetes and other metabolic diseases. That is, there exists a deficiency compared to what is believed to be the ultimate possible outcome – namely to cure most people with the disease, or at least reduce the manifestation of the disease to a relatively mild problem. Modern medicine and the alternatives that developed here make a contribution to this goal, but additional assistance is sometimes needed.
WHAT IS CHINESE MEDICINE?
The term “Chinese Medicine” makes reference to a number of practices, especially the use of acupuncture and herbal formulas and their theoretical basis that has developed in China during a period of about 2,500 years. In China, a theory of nature, health and disease gradually developed. Some of these basic concepts of two essential forces—yin and yang; the three essences; the five elements; the six climatic influences; the seven emotional factors; eight principles of therapy; the fourteen meridians and other notions are named and numbered as an aid to memorizing the information. These concepts have continued to evolve in relative isolation until in the nineteenth century, then a collision of Chinese and Western culture ensued. Today, Chinese medicine represents a growing amalgam of the traditional Chinese ideas and methods combining with modern western traditions research methods, chemical analysis, pharmacological testing and clinical trials. This amalgam is the major health care system for the People’s Republic of China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand, and Indonesia. Its apparent success in these regions has led to a gradual adoption by western countries.
WHAT CAN CHINESE MEDICINE DO FOR ME?
At the very least it can make you feel more energetic, yet more relaxed, and it can alleviate some disease symptoms; at its best Chinese medicine can improve the symptoms of chronic and incurable conditions. Sometimes treating these symptoms with fewer side effects than western medicine. As in most medical protocols the benefits of Chinese medicine depends on several factors, including the nature of the problem being
addressed, the competence of the practitioner, and the willingness of the individual to follow through with various aspect of the proposed treatment plan.
FOR WHICH CONDITIONS DOES ACUPUNCTURE WORK BEST?
Acupuncture therapy has various applications, but its use might best be summarized as treating conditions of discomfort. These conditions include pain and muscle spasm, difficulty breathing, emotional stress and distress from chemotherapy. The World Health Organization has publicly announced that acupuncture is suitable for treating the following:
a. Ear, nose and throat disorders
b. Toothaches, pain after tooth extraction, gingivitis, acute or chronic otitis, sinusitis, acute rhinitis, nasal catarrh, and acute tonsillitis;
c. Respiratory disorders; bronchial asthma in children or adults when the cases are uncomplicated;
d. Gastrointestinal disorders, esophageal and cardio spasm, hiccup, gastroptosis, acute or chronic gastritis, sour stomach, chronic duodenal ulcers, constipation, diarrhea, and paralyticileus;
e. Neurological and Muscular Disorders, headaches, migraines, trigeminal neuralgia, facial paralysis(within the first 3-6 months), post stroke paralysis, peripheral neuritis, neurological bladder dysfunction, bed wetting, intercostal neuralgia, cervical syndrome, frozen shoulder, tennis elbow, sciatica, low back pain, and osteoarthritis.
It is not uncommon for a high degree of relief to be achieved immediately upon treatment. The persistence of the relief is variable. In some cases, one or a few treatments can alleviate the discomfort that has been a nagging problem for many months. In some cases, the relief may last a day, though the results may persist over a
longer period of time upon receipt of repeated treatments. Like most medical
procedures it is difficult to know the response until it has been tried.
HOW DEEP DO THE NEEDLES GO?
That depends upon the nature of the problem, the underlying anatomy of the points selected, the patient’s size, age, and constitution, and upon the style of the Acupuncturist’s training. In general, needles are inserted from ¼ to 1 inch in depth.
DOES IT HURT?
In Chinese, acupuncture is bu tong, painless. However, if the correct stimulus of the needle has been obtained, the patient should feel some cramping, heaviness, distention, tingling, or electric sensations either around the needle or traveling up or down the meridian pathway. These sensations may be categorized by some people as types of pain. If there is any discomfort, it is usually mild.
ARE ACUPUNCTURE NEEDLES FREE OF GERMS
There are two types of needles in use today: one type is packed sterile, and completely disposable; these will be used once and disposed of in a medical sharps container to be destroyed. The other is reusable and is sterilized before each use by autoclave; a high temperature, high-pressure treatment that destroys all organisms. In both cases, the needles are germ-free. It is unlikely that the patient can get a disease via insertion of acupuncture needles.
HOW DOES ACUPUNCTURE WORK?
That’s a big question. Traditionally, acupuncture is based on ancient Chinese theories of the flow of Qi (energy) and Xue (blood) through discrete channels or meridians which traverse the body similar but not identical to the nervous and blood circulatory systems.
According to this theory, acupuncture regulates this flow of Qi shunting it to those areas where it is Deficient and draining it from areas where it is Excess. The goal of acupuncture is to regulate and restore the harmonious energetic balance of the pain. When the energy flows freely there is no pain or distress in the organs; if the energy is blocked then there will be pain or metabolic dysfunction.
FOR WHICH CONDITIONS DOES HERB THERAPY WORK BEST?
Herbal therapies are best for functional disorders, hormonal imbalances, and “organic problems” which are changes in the tissue structures. Herbal therapy can be applied for weak digestive disorders, estrogen deficiency, cysts and tumors. The effects of herbs are usually, but not always, seen within a several days of regular use. The herb’s concentration must build up in the system before it will work. Once the herb has become concentrated enough in the system their effects often persist for long periods of time. Combining acupuncture and/or other physical therapies with herbal therapies often produces dramatic results.
CAN MODERN AND CHINESE MEDICINE BE COMBINED?
The combination of Chinese medicine and modern Western medical techniques can be very symbiotic; one enhances the effects of the other. Sometimes properly administered Chinese herbs can help lower the dosages of western medical pharmaceuticals. Sometimes Chinese herbs can be used to reduce the side effects of western pharmaceuticals. Modern western pharmaceuticals can often be used to treat emergency or serious conditions. Chinese herbal medicine can be used for long term chronic conditions with fewer side effects. It is advised that if the patient is taking western pharmaceuticals as well as Chinese herbs that the two should be taken at different times. The preferred time is of separation should be no closer than one hour apart. This timing reduces the chances of an adverse drug interaction. Acupuncture is compatible with virtually all modern medical techniques.
ARE CHINESE HERBS CONTAMINATED WITH CHEMICALS?
The vast majority of Chinese herbs are collected from the wild or cultivated with little or no pesticides. However, there are a few herbs that are grown with pesticides. Due to care taken at the applications and harvest of these few herbs, the pesticide residue in the finished herbal product is undetectable by laboratory testing run by the major U.S. importers.
In general Chinese herbs are not fumigated at the ports where they arrive in the United States because of the cleanliness of the shipment. Deer antlers are irradiated after arrival in order to assure no transference of germs to the local deer population or other local animal populations. Some deer antlers are steamed with sulfur to keep them moist and preserve their color and freshness. This does leave a small residue of sulfur. The FDA has issued some warnings about heavy metal contamination in some products from the Far East. Generally, these are patent herbs manufactured at unlicensed herb factories and contained banned herbs such as cinnabar, or a batch of patent herbs made at a licensed factory that got contaminated. There are some Chinese companies that have combined Chinese herbs and Western medications. These combinations tend to be illegal since the new combinations have not gone through efficacy FDA testing. Some of these combinations have been proven to be dangerous. It is advisable to avoid these products, or to look for American produced herbal and drug combinations as their production will have been FDA supervised and tested.
ARE ENDANGERED SPECIES USED IN MODERN HERBAL FORMULAS?
The use of materials from endangered species for health impact is well publicized. Although rhino horn is mistakenly described as being used primarily an aphrodisiac, it has mainly been used to treat high fevers, paralysis, and convulsions. It is true such materials had been in Chinese medicine in the past; however, today they are banned in most countries. Substitute materials are generally used. If you are concerned about the use of such products you may check the ingredients on the box or bottle.
WHAT ARE THE POTENTIAL DANGERS?
Chinese medicine is well known for its lack of side effects. Minor problems can arise:
a) Acupuncture can cause minor and temporary bleeding or bruising at the sit of needle insertion. The only potentially dangerous result of acupuncture would be if a needle is inserted in the area of the chest and penetrates the lung causing loss of lung pressure. This condition is easily treated and resolved, but must be attended to immediately. The event is so rare among well-trained professionals that it does not enter into general consideration.
b) Herbal therapies can cause gastro-intestinal reactions such as nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting. They can also cause skin rashes or anaphylaxis shock. Anaphylaxis shock has been reported in China where herbal injections and much more reactive herbal substances are used. It is very rare. At this time ITM knows of no U.S. cases of this form of severe allergic shock.
c) Medical authorities point out, that in the west, Chinese Medicine is an unproven therapy modality. By choosing Chinese medicine over more conventional western modalities the patient may miss out on a more effective treatment protocol, or they may rely on Chinese medicine until the disease has progressed to an unrecoverable stage. It is therefore important that the patient research the options for modern western and Chinese medicine, so that they have a good understanding of each protocol’s effectiveness.
DOES HERBAL THERAPY REALLY WORK?
With regards to herbal medicine, there are three strong pieces of evidence suggesting that it is a viable treatment:
a) During this past century, modern pharmaceutical drugs derived from crude Chinese herbs have been produced, tested, and put into use as modern western drugs. The best known example ma haung, has given the west ephedrine and pseudoephedrine used originally for the treatment of asthma. Modern studies show that these drugs can effectively treat asthma and sinus congestion. In Europe, an active component of gan cao (licorice) has been made into a drug that treats gastric ulcers. Polysaccharides from the Chinese herbs astragalus and ganoderma have been made into drugs that enhance immune functions. In China, an active component of wu wei zi, schizandra has been pharmaceutically altered to yield a highly effective treatment for hepatitis. For several
decades in China, the yew tree has been used as an anti-cancer plant, it is also used as a source of a drug in the U.S. to treat ovarian cancer. A species of Artemisia widely used in Chinese medicine has yield a drug that cures malaria and is now widely used throughout southeast Asia.
b) Pharmacological testing---giving herb extracts to laboratory animals or applying them to cell cultures—has been carried out on hundreds of Chinese herbs during the last forty years. These test have demonstrated that most of the herbs have significant physiological activity and often this activity correlates well with the traditional use of the herb.
c) In China large scale in hospital clinical studies on both single herb and multiherb formulas have been completed. The initial results of these studies clearly indicate that recalcitrant diseases which have failed to respond to more traditional western treatment protocols; often do respond well to Chinese herbal and acupuncture therapy. More studies are ongoing.
WHAT IF THE TREATMENT I GET HAS NO APPARENT EFFECT?
No medical system, technique, or material is 100% effective. Both patient and practitioner should monitor the progress or lack there of a treatment protocol. If the treatment modality is not working then try another. If it might be improved by combining it with another modality this should be done. If the modality has the same effectiveness as other modalities then the patient should decide.
Where do I find these Practitioners and how much training do they have?
Since Chinese medicine was introduced to in America in late 1972, about 6,000 health care practitioners have been licensed to add acupuncture and oriental herbology to their medical practices. The largest group of practitioners practice acupuncture or acupuncture and oriental herbology alone. They are degreed by schools usually for two to six years and licensed by the state and by national associations. One of the largest associations is the NCCA. Not all states license Acupuncturist; In those states you should look for a person who has completed an acupuncture and oriental medical degree and has received a national certification. In some states the license for acupuncture and herbology are combined; In some states they are separate. A smaller number of acupuncture practitioners are also MD, CD, OCD, NP and DC. These medical professionals take additional training to become proficient in acupuncture or acupuncture and herbs (usually between 100and 300 hours). They too, must take a board or set of boards to add acupuncture or acupuncture and herbs to their degree. You may check the phone book or with your state’s board of health for a listing of professionals in your area.
A listing of practitioners who are familiar with Chinese herbal medicine is available on request from ITM, free of charge. Their address is ITM, S.E. Hawthorne, Portland, Oregon 97214.
A listing of practitioners who are familiar with acupuncture may be obtained from the NCCA, 1424 16th street, NW #501, Washington, D.C. 20036.
HOW MUCH DOES CHINESE MEDICINE COST?
Clearly, the exact cost would depend on the nature of the condition being treated, how extensively the method would be pursued, and what the particular practitioner charges. Recently, a rough cost/benefit analysis was conducted by ITM. It revealed that a typical three-month treatment program for a chronic ailment that employed acupuncture and herbs as the main mode of therapy would have a average cost of about $1,000. This amount is comparable to a one night stay in a metropolitan hospital. It is also comparable to a six month course of standard drug therapy for a serious illness.
SO NOW THAT YOU HAVE MORE INFORMATION, IT IS UP TO YOU TO DECIDE IF CHINESE MEDICINE IS RIGHT FOR YOU.