What Is Chinese Herbal Medicine?

Chinese herbal medicine is a component of a medical system known as Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).

Traditional Chinese medicine includes Acupuncture, Cupping, Moxibustion, Massage, exercise and dietary therapy.

The underlying principles of TCM are quite different from those of modern medicine. Whereas modern or western medicine focuses on treating symptoms to resolve complaints, TCM focuses on understanding syndromes to manage symptoms and resolve complaints.

Although this may sound quite similar, the implications are significant: one Chinese herbal formulation may be used to treat very different symptoms at the same time. Using a TCM approach, there may be multiple symptoms that relate to the one syndrome. E.g. a patient that claims they are ‘Stressed’ (a syndrome) may be understood to be suffering from a TCM-defined liver qi stagnation and therefore, there are both headache and digestive complaints associated with the stress syndrome.

Using a TCM approach, one herbal formulation is employed to treat the stress syndrome in this case, liver qi stagnation and resolve both the headache and digestive complaints simultaneously.

In contrast, a modern medical approach to this same situation might be to prescribe a medication to treat the headache and another medication to resolve the digestive complaint. If there are adverse events from either of these medications, this will complicate progress.

How Does Chinese Herbal Medicine Work?

As mentioned above, Chinese herbal medicine adopts TCM principles to understand how the body works and implement changes. TCM principles state that for health to flourish, everything must be in balance:

  • There must not be too much heat or cold;
  • There must be movement throughout the body without being excessive;
  • There should be both sleep and waking periods

This theme of balance aligns with modern medical objective examinations such as blood pressure (it must not be too high or low) and blood/urine tests – for some measures, values should in balance, and other measures, should not be present at all.

Additionally, our regular measurements will vary through the seasons, across genders and throughout our lives. This observation is common among both TCM and modern medical objective measures.

Without balance in observations/measurements, our health also suffers.

Today, TCM has evolved to include modern medical examination techniques and accordingly, so have Chinese herbal medicines. Both contemporary medical objective measures and TCM observations are considered when it comes to preparing herbal medicines.

What Is Chinese Herbal Medicine Used For?

Chinese Herbal Medicine is a comprehensive system of medicine used to treat almost any medical problem:

  • Aches and pains: arthritis, fractures, sprains/strains, sporting injuries and headaches/migraines
  • Metabolic Issues: allergies, sinusitis, constipation/diarrhoea/IBS/Ulcers, Weight gain/loss, Diabetes, Hypertension/Hypotension, Auto-immune disorders and skin conditions
  • Hormonal Imbalances: Pre-menstrual stress (PMS), menstrual cycle irregularities, menopause (early-onset, prolonged, hot flushes/anxiety etc.), pre-conception care, Thyroid imbalances and Chronic Fatigue
  • General Health Complaints: Asthma, Bronchitis, Pneumonia, Common Colds, Depression, Anxiety, Insomnia, Stress, Degenerative eye diseases

An Individual Approach

Once a practitioner has assessed all relevant signs and symptoms and diagnosed the exact syndrome the health complaint relates to, herbal medications are prescribed in formulations of anywhere from 2-30 different ingredients.

The rationale behind this tailored approach is simple: every presentation is unique and different. Therefore medications need to be adapted to the individual to achieve results fast and avoid any side effects.