Modern pharmacology was derived in large part from herbal history. Even today the basis of many medicines is plants. Aspirin came from willow trees, morphine from poppy seeds, penicillin from fungus, digitalis from foxglove. Approximately ¾ of the world’s people still rely on traditional herbal medicines. In this country, we are turning back to this, as the extent of side-effects of pharmaceutical drugs are more widely revealed.
Chinese herbal medicine is a highly sophisticated, time-tested science that has survived for over 2,000 years. Chinese herbs number over 6000 in their raw forms - plant, animal, and mineral. These herbs are used, not singly, as western herbalists tend to do, but in complex formulas developed and written in many books over the millennia. When a formula was effective, that was noted. When it did harm, that was noted. The individual herb properties were documented, and the complex properties of herbs working in formulas were also noted. Herbs with harmful effects were booked. Herbs that didn’t work well together were listed. This all became part of the medical system that was handed down from one generation to the next. Today, this has been translated and made available to US practitioners for better patient care.
The formulas are very specific for the patient being treated, not for the western diagnosed disease. For instance, if 5 people came to me with headache, they might well receive 5 different formulas. It would depend on their Chinese diagnosis of imbalance and what is needed to correct that. The same holds true for all conditions. We base treatment on the person, not the problem. This is also why it is crucial to rely on the expertise of a trained Chinese herbalist. Taking the incorrect formula will throw the body more out of balance. (Western herbs also will do this.) Herbs should not be used lightly. As you would not stop off in the pharmacy and choose your own prescriptions, neither should you choose your own herbs without proper knowledge.
Eastern medicine uses the whole herb in these formulas, not concerned with finding the ‘active ingredient’ as western med might be. The thinking is that what nature put in the substance for its balance to thrive and grow must ALL be important. Therefore, to maintain that healthy balance, it all needs to be part of the formula. This means Chinese herbal medicines are more bulky than western pharmaceuticals, so you need to take more. This also means little or no side effects. Another factor that alleviates unwanted side effects is the combinations used in Chinese medicine. Some herbs are added to the formulas to balance other herbs. Western medicine looks for that active ingredient, then disregards the other parts as ‘inert’ and tosses them. Then, the active ingredient is condensed and you get much more than nature intended without any balancing factors. So with Western medications, you get many more side effects. To say the ‘inert’ ingredients are not necessary is like saying minerals in the body are not needed because they come in such tiny amounts compared to total body makeup. Yet with either too much or not enough of these vital minerals, the body cannot survive. Nature lives and thrives on its balances – yin & yang.
This knowledge has only come over great amounts of time and use. Up to 5000 years. Western medicine has been around only several hundred years. Its like ancient Chinese medicine is the wise old grandfather, and Western is the teenager – knows everything and knows the grandfather knows nothing. After a few more years, the teenager turned young adult realizes the wisdom and experience of the grandfather and humbly seeks advice. This is beginning to happen with eastern and western medicine. There is a place for both, for technology and society go forward, not back. The young keep life moving forward and onward. Age imports wisdom and attempts to pass that on. We can do much with Western medication that is critical. Yet Eastern medicine has the weight of experience and wisdom of time, and we need to give proper respect to that. Much of the problems in understanding come solely from lack of information. As Traditional Chinese Practitioners educate and inform, as the NIH (National Institutes of Health) as well as others reveal the results of ongoing studies, as we learn and experience more and more, we will come to see the best uses for both. Hopefully, we will come soon to a point when the two work side by side for the best patient care available.