WHAT IS CHINESE HERBAL MEDICINE?
Chinese Herbal Medicine is one of the great herbal systems of the world, with an unbroken tradition going back to the 3rd century BC. Yet throughout its history it has continually developed in response to changing clinical conditions, and has been sustained by research into every aspect of its use. This process continues today with the development of modern medical diagnostic techniques and knowledge. Because of its systematic approach and clinical effectiveness it has for centuries had a very great influence on the theory and practice of medicine in the East, and more recently has grown rapidly in popularity in the West. It still forms a major part of healthcare provision in China, and is provided in state hospitals alongside western medicine. Chinese medicine includes all oriental traditions emerging from Southeast Asia that have their origins in China.
Practitioners may work within a tradition that comes from Japan, Vietnam, Taiwan or Korea. It is a complete medical system that is capable of treating a very wide range of conditions. It includes herbal therapy, acupuncture, dietary therapy, and exercises in breathing and movement (tai chi and qi gong). Some or several of these may be employed in the course of treatment.
Chinese Herbal Medicine, along with the other components of Chinese medicine, is based on the concepts of Yin and Yang. It aims to understand and treat the many ways in which the fundamental balance and harmony between the two may be undermined and the ways in which a person's Qi or vitality may be depleted or blocked. Clinical strategies are based upon diagnosis of patterns of signs and symptoms that reflect an imbalance.
However, the tradition as a whole places great emphasis on lifestyle management in order to prevent disease before it occurs. Chinese medicine recognises that health is more than just the absence of disease and it has a unique capacity to maintain and enhance our capacity for well being and happiness.
What does the RCHM believe that Chinese Medicine can treat?
NB The RCHM's Code of Ethics, to which all RCHM members must adhere states that: "Herbal practitioners must always be aware of the necessity to communicate with other healthcare professionals, directly or indirectly, when the expertise of such professionals fits more properly the needs of a particular patient."
RCHM members will therefore not discourage essential medical treatment for conditions where western medical supervision or advice should be sought. They will always advise patients, in the case of serious illnesses or uncertain diagnosis, to seek advice and treatment from their GP/consultant. RCHM members will also, with the patient's consent, liaise with that patient's other health professionals, where appropriate, when offering complementary treatment.
The RCHM believes that Chinese herbal medicine has a role to play in the treatment of the following conditions:
- Skin disease, including eczema, psoriasis, acne, rosacea, urticaria - Gastro-intestinal disorders, including irritable bowel syndrome, chronic constipation, ulcerative colitis - Gynaecological conditions, including pre-menstrual syndrome and dysmenorrhoea, endometriosis, infertility - Hepatitis and HIV: some promising results have been obtained for treatment of Hepatitis C, and supportive treatment may be beneficial in the case of HIV - Chronic fatigue syndromes, whether with a background of viral infection or in other situations - Respiratory conditions, including asthma, bronchitis, and chronic coughs, allergic and perennial rhinitis and sinusitis - Rheumatological conditions (e.g. osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis) - Urinary conditions including chronic cystitis -Psychological problems (e.g. depression, anxiety).
Many of these conditions, especially in their chronic forms, create great difficulty for conventional medicine, whilst Chinese Herbal Medicine has a great deal to offer. The results that can be expected and how long a patient will have to take the herbs for will depend on the severity of the condition, its duration, and the general health of the patient. Any RCHM member will be happy to discuss their experience of treating your type of problem with you before you commit yourself to taking Chinese herbal medicine.
Who can take Chinese Herbal medicine?
Chinese medicine can be used by people of any age or constitution. Your practitioner will take any previous or current illness or medication into account before prescribing herbs to you.. With suitable adjustments for dosage and with some provisos which will be determined by your practitioner, children and pregnant women can very well be treated by Chinese medicine.
What are the herbs like and how much will they cost?
Herbs are now available in a number of formats, both traditional and modern. The traditional method is to boil a mixture of dried herbs to make a tea or to use pills. The herbs are also now commonly prescribed as freeze dried powders or tinctures. The herbs will at first taste unusual and often bitter to anyone who has not tried them before, but the vast majority of people get used to the taste very quickly.
There are no standard prices for consultations or for herbs. This will depend on the individual practitioner and the part of the country you are in. You should enquire about charges when making your appointment.
Many private health insurance companies are now covering acupuncture and a few will also pay for herbal treatment. You should contact your insurance company to check.
Are Herbs Safe?
Chinese herbs are very safe when prescribed correctly by a properly trained practitioner. Over the centuries doctors have compiled detailed information about the pharmacopoiea and placed great emphasis on the protection of the patient. Adverse reactions can occur with any form of medicine. In the case of Chinese herbal medicine these are rare. RCHM members give guidance on this to all patients.
The RCHM also works with the Bristol Chinese Herb Garden and with the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in building botanical knowledge of high quality herbal medicines.
The RCHM is greatly concerned about the threat to wild animals and plants that have come as a result of the growth in demand for traditional medicines. We strongly condemn the illegal trade in endangered species and have a strict policy prohibiting the use of any type of endangered species by any of our Members. For more information please read the statement on our Media responses page.
The RCHM uses information supplied by Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), the Wildlife Liaison Office of the Metropolitan Police and the Department of the Environment, all of whom work to stop the trade in illegal substances wherever it is found.
Herbal Medicine and Modern Pharmacology
There is a growing body of research which indicates that traditional uses of plant remedies and the known pharmacological activity of plant constituents often coincide. However, herbal medicine is distinct from medicine based on pharmaceutical drugs. Firstly, because of the complexity of plant materials it is far more balanced than medicine based on isolated active ingredients and is far less likely to cause side-effects. Secondly, because herbs are typically prescribed in combination, the different components of a formulae balance each other, and they undergo a mutual synergy which increases efficacy and enhances safety. Thirdly, herbal medicine seeks primarily to correct internal imbalances rather than to treat symptoms alone, and therapeutic intervention is designed to encourage this self-healing process.