With a history that exceeds 2,000 years, Chinese herbal medicine continues to gain popularity today. Chinese herbal medicine is one of the main modalities used in Traditional Chinese medicine, along with acupuncture, tuina and Chinese nutrition.
According to Chinese clinical studies, the more than 300 herbs that are commonly used can greatly increase the effectiveness of modern drug treatments and reduce side effects. In some cases, herbs have been used to replace modern drugs completely.
Steamboat Springs acupuncturist Kelley McDaneld, L.Ac., Dipl. O.M., said Chinese herbal medicine works very well in conjunction with acupuncture.
"In my practice, I definitely see patients improve more quickly when they are receiving regular acupuncture treatments and taking Chinese herbs simultaneously. These modalities definitely complement each other," McDaneld added.
McDaneld provides acupuncture treatments as well as Chinese herbs for patients in Yampa Valley Medical Center's Pain Management program.
"Chinese herbal medicine is unique in that Chinese herbal formulas can be specifically tailored for each patient, depending on his or her overall Chinese medical diagnosis," she said. "In other words, certain herbs can be added or omitted from an herbal formula depending on the patient's pattern and symptoms."
This factor is what sets Chinese herbal medicine apart from Western herbalism, which tends to focus on treating symptoms with single herbs or small groups of herbs, McDaneld said.
Chinese herbal medicine treats a full range of human diseases such as intestinal flu, the common cold, allergies, autoimmune diseases, degenerative diseases due to aging and migraine headaches.
"Chinese herbs are prescribed according to Chinese medical theory and TCM diagnosis," McDaneld said. The most common methods of administration include brewing tea from raw herbs, taking granular herbs or taking Chinese herbs in pill form.
In most cases, a certified Chinese herbalist will design a specific formula for an individual patient, based on the patient's main symptoms as well as their "whole being." Jenica Walker, a Steamboat Springs teacher, mother and migraine sufferer, currently is taking Chinese herbs prescribed by McDaneld for her migraines.
She has experienced significant improvement based on the specific formula created for her. "The herbs are like magic," Walker said. "When I take them, I don't have the headaches, but if I forget, they come back. It's that simple."
Results often are felt in a matter of hours after taking Chinese herbs, although chronic conditions may require taking Chinese herbal medicine for months at a time.
Most Chinese herbs have a very low toxicity compared to common, over-the-counter Western drugs. When herbs are prescribed according to a correct TCM pattern diagnosis, they should have virtually no side effects.
Although Chinese herbs are safe when professionally prescribed by a trained, knowledgeable practitioner, they are a strong medicine. It is very important a practitioner be adequately trained and experienced in their use.
The National Commission for the Certification of Acupuncturists and Oriental Medicine has created a certification process for Chinese herbal medicine. Practitioners who have passed that certification process are entitled to add the abbreviation Dipl. C.H. for Diplomate of Chinese Herbs after their name. If they have been certified in both acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine, they may have the abbreviation Dipl. O.M. after their name. Any prospective patient should feel free to ask about training and credentials of a potential practitioner.
"We are excited that the Pain Management program has expanded," McDaneld said. "We are one of only a very few hospital-based services in Colorado to offer both acupuncture and Chinese herbs."
Mindy Fontaine is public relations coordinator at Yampa Valley Medical Center.