Chinese Medicine

Chinese Herbal Medicine

History of Chinese herbal medicine

The rich history of Chinese Herbal Medicine (CHM) dates back over 6,000 years to when the first authoritative documentation of CHM was produced by Shen Nong.

Shen Nong was born in the 28th century BCE.  His interest in health and benefitting his people was well known. Shen Nong supposedly invented the plow, taught farming and, most importantly, spent many years locating and testing plants to determine their curative or poisonous qualities. Recognized worldwide as the Father of Chinese Medicine, Shen Nong meticulously ate, sat with, and recorded the various tastes, temperatures, toxicities, dosages, and medical actions of 365 various herbs. These records were used to produce the Shen Nong Ben Cao (the Divine Farmer’s Material Medica). This book is considered to be one of three foundational books of Chinese medicine, and it laid the groundwork for all the future knowledge in Chinese herbalism.

Today, the understandings produced by Shen Nong have since been added to, expanded upon, and further researched to produce a text called the Chinese Materia Medica. Utilizing an array of naturally occurring products (such as flowers, barks, minerals, etc…) the Materia Medica today is composed of over 1,800 distinct herbs and more than 10,000 formulas. It is required reading for all Chinese herbalists to become proficient at Western medical perspectives, and to understand the sources, production, and quality control of Chinese herbal medicine.

How Chinese herbal medicine works

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) uses various herbs and herbal mixtures to improve organ function and maintain, or return someone to, good health.  The general premise of TCM is that the best use of TCM is to prevent illness and maintain optimal health.  In the event that someone already is ill, the reasoning is that their energy or Qi (pronounced “Chi”) is no longer in balance and by returning the Qi to balance will allow the body to heal itself.  A TCM practitioner with a thorough understanding of Qi and how herbs and herbal medicines affect Qi, allows that TCM practitioner to provide a result that goes far beyond the actual benefits of the herbs themselves.   The TCM practitioner will choose herbs and herbal formulas that benefit the Qi of the patient as well as providing the benefits of the herbs themselves. 

Traditional Chinese Medicine formulas, some of which have been used for more than 2000 years, are designed with the idea that all of the ingredients are meant to function in harmony with each other.  It is an integrative medicine practice. Western medicine is built on the concept that a medication is to treat a specific ailment and achieve a specific effect.  This is why it is important that all of your doctors have a list of all of the medications that you take.   Western doctors need to try to account for the possibility of dangerous interactions between the drugs that are being prescribed. In TCM, while there may be a number of herbs combined to achieve a beneficial result, they are done in harmony.  While each herb will be chosen for a singular purpose, the combination is designed to promote wellness and balance.  

What are the differences between the approaches used by Eastern and Western medicine?

  • Diagnosis: TCM focuses on both the physical and energetic health of the entire person. They include incorporating the person’s emotional and environmental state, not just isolated symptoms resulting from a specific disease or ailment.

  • Treatment: TCM is focused on bringing a body’s Qi back into balance to allow a body to heal itself. Western medicine treats each individual symptom or illness often putting different doctors and results in conflict because Western medicine is not a holistic approach.

  • Methods: TCM uses multiple approaches to come up with a holistic way to treat a person’s mind, body and spirit. Western medicine focuses on specific systems, or individual diseases or ailments, to come up with a specific solution for those systems.

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Do all acupuncturists use Chinese herbal medicine?

Most acupuncture schools offer two different degrees: a 3-year Acupuncture degree and a 4-year Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine degree. All of the acupuncturists in our clinic have completed the full 4-year herbal program and have extensive training in prescribing Chinese herbal medicine to our patient base. While acupuncture alone is amazing at helping to balance our patients, Chinese herbal medicine is often essential for creating profound effects. When appropriate, we will always recommend custom herbal formulas to our patients to enhance the effect of the treatment and/or help support the patient between regular acupuncture maintenance treatments.

Chinese Herbal Medicine

How is Chinese herbal medicine used?

Chinese herbal medicine can be used both internally and externally, depending on what is most appropriate for each patient. Often, topicals are recommended to accommodate pain management presentations, whereas herbal formulas taken internally are particularly useful in adjusting bodily functions. The overwhelming majority of herbal formulas are only used on a short-term or on an as-needed (PRN) basis. The goal with any herbal formula is to help balance out any symptomatic issues while also addressing the root cause of the issue. Think of Chinese herbal formulas less like vitamin supplements that usually are taken long-term, and more like short-term mechanisms that help your body find its balance until it can sustain that homeostasis on its own.

Benefits of Chinese herbal medicine

  • Fewer side effects: More than 66 percent of adults in the United States use prescription drugs, and about 46% have used them in the last 30 days. Prescription drug statistics 2023 ( Prescription drugs can be very strong and have side effects ranging from minimal to extreme. Chinese herbal medicine generally has a benign effect on the body. If a patient follows the recommended dosage, they usually have fewer side effects and those they do have are much milder. In addition, the body tends to build a tolerance for conventional medications, requiring more and more to have the same beneficial effect. This is not an issue with TCM since herbal medications are generally short term, used only until the balance is achieved.
  • Accessible: Healthcare costs in the United States go up every year. Up to 10% of US adults are uninsured and 12% more are underinsured. Without the appropriate insurance, the cost of seeing a general practitioner and paying for the associated medications can be an exorbitant amount. Chinese herbal medicine comes from natural, organic resources and are not at the mercy of the pharmaceutical industry. They are generally more affordable and more readily available.
  • Holistic Approach: Unlike conventional medicine which is mostly focused on symptoms and trying to heal specific ailments, TCM is about holistic approaches and maintaining or creating balance in the body so it can heal. This means that our practitioners will work with you to interpret what your body is trying to tell you and then create a treatment plan specifically matched to your physical condition and needs.

We have found that in the fast-paced world we live in today, easy to digest capsules or tea pills are typically the preferred form by our patients when taking internal formulas. Having the convenience of having a pill form mitigates or lessens the “earthy taste” of the formulas and adds a level of convenience over raw teas or granular formulas. For adolescents and for patients that do not take pills well, we usually carry tinctures that are usually mixed with glycerin to provide a simple and easy to use form that is easier to ingest. All of our formulas are from United States based companies that use certified Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) factories, and laboratory test each herbal formula for microbiological contaminants, heavy metals, and pesticides.

Unlike that of Western medicine, Chinese herbal medicine doesn’t treat disease – it treats the patterns and the patients as a whole. When a person comes in, we do a thorough intake, including health history, to understand the person holistically, determine and differentiate the root pattern of their ailment, and treat the imbalances from there. Five different patients may come into our clinic with a cold, and yet all five may need a different formula based on the unique symptoms and constitution of the patient themselves. This is where the beauty of Chinese herbal medicine truly shines. We are able to customize a formula that not only addresses the symptoms, but also addresses the root cause of the symptoms and the human body as a whole. This will oftentimes result in patients reporting improvement in other areas of their overall health.

Prior to starting a formula, the practitioner will discuss with you the actions, dosage, and time frame to take the formula. As mentioned before, unlike that of Western prescriptions, the formulas prescribed are frequently for short term use and modified specifically for each individual. This prescription model not only adds an additional level of safety, it allows us to adjust formulas as frequently as needed if the condition or symptoms begin to change.

Negative side effects are very rare when taking Chinese herbal formulas. The most common side effect that we will encounter is some mild stomach discomfort when taking particular formulas. We usually encourage patients to take the majority of herbal formulas on an empty stomach because we want your body to absorb as much of the formula as possible. However, if we know that a particular formula will be easier on the stomach with food, we will instruct you of that at the time of your treatment. Toxicity in Chinese herbal formulas is VERY rare and is usually only found when unusually large doses of herbs are taken long-term. Rest assured that these toxic levels will not be attained as long as you take the formulas under the dosing guidelines that we provide you.

We stock herbal formulas from various companies, but these are the formulas that are most popular amongst our patient base (in no particular order):

  • Spirit Pearls by Clinical Pearls – this is our favorite sleep formula. Patients who take this report the best sleep that they have ever had in their lives – they fall asleep quickly and wake up in the morning feeling well rested to start their day. 
  • Adaptocrine by Apex Energetics – This formulated is comprised of adaptogenic herbs that counter the metabolic effect of stress and support the body through hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal adaptation. In short, it helps your body deal with daily stress and helps balance your energy levels. 
  • Cold Nip by Six Persimmons– This is our top selling cold formula. Developed by an herbal pharmacy in Boulder (CO), this formula combines three of Chinese medicine’s top cold formulas, along with an array of amazing anti-viral herbs. This formula helps you get over colds FAST! 
  • Lion Trauma Liniment by Shuhari Herbs – this is our top external topical formula developed by an herbalist here in Colorado. It is a combination of two of Chinese medicine’s top herbal formulas: one is a martial artist formula that helps heal ailments in the muscles/tendons and the other a formula that gets deeper into the bone and cartilage level to help patients recover after more serious injuries. 
  • Xiao Yao San – nicknamed the “Chill the F’ Out” formula in our clinic, this formula helps ease daily stress, supports your digestive system, and can also help to balance the menstrual cycle for women. 
  • Cold Snap by The OHCO Company – this formula is made here in Lafayette (CO). You will often recognize it from the shelves of any natural food grocery store. It is comprised of twenty herbs that help strengthen your immune system during cold and flu season (instead of stimulating your body to induce a response). This is a must-have for parents with children in school or for those who travel frequently on planes. 
  • OHCO Motion – made by the OHCO company, this formula helps with blood flow, circulation, and healing in the lower half of the body (lower back, hips, knees, and feet) after injury or can be taken regularly with general aches/pains with overuse. 
  • OHCO Flow – similar to the OHCO Motion formula listed above, this formula instead caters to ailments in the upper body (neck, jaw, shoulders, elbows, wrists, and hands).

Why The Root Acupuncture?

If you are considering Chinese traditional medicine for whatever ails you, or just to keep yourself healthy and prevent getting sick, you want a certified TCM practitioner.  The Root Acupuncture practitioners are all graduates of federally recognized Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (ACAOM) accredited schools. 

We understand that Eastern medicine is not an “alternative” medicine but a complementary practice which needs to work alongside, and together with, mainstream conventional medical practice.  Thinking of TCM as an “alternative” medicine sets up and “us vs. them” perspective with is counterproductive to overall health.  TCM, when used in conjunction with mainstream Western medicine, can provide the best results, as TCM supports and enhances the benefits of Western medicine and/or helps to mitigate the negative side effects of certain treatments.

Do you live in Lakewood or Wheat Ridge or one of the cities nearby?  If you are considering TCM as a complementary treatment to other conventional medical treatments, or would like to explore how TCM can benefit you, contact us for a consultation today.