The herbal therapy tradition of China is valued scientifically, as well as being a fascinating and popular tradition. Scientists working in China and Japan during the past four decades have demonstrated that the herb materials contain active components that can explain many of their claimed actions. Modern drugs have been developed from the herbs, such as treatments for asthma and hay fever from Chinese ephedra, hepatitis remedies from schizandra fruits and licorice roots, and a number of anticancer agents from trees and shrubs.
More than three hundred herbs that are commonly used today have a history of use that goes back at least 2,000 years. Over that time, a vast amount of experience has been gained that has gone towards perfecting their clinical applications. According to Chinese clinical studies, these herbs, and others that have been added to the list of useful items over the centuries, can greatly increase the effectiveness of modern drug treatments, reduce their side-effects, and sometimes replace them completely.
In our clinic, the two most common methods of applying herbal therapy is through a mixture of concentrated herbal powders that are made up specifically for the individual and can be made into a tea or put in capsules depending on the patients request. Depending on the patients needs the formula will be made up specifically for them.
The herb materials used in all these powders are gathered from wild supplies or cultivated, usually in China (some come from India, the Mid-East, or elsewhere). There are an estimated 6,000 species in use, including nearly 1,000 materials derived from animal sources and over 100 minerals, all of them categorized under the general heading “herbs.” Herbs are processed in various ways, such as cleaning, soaking, slicing, and drying, according to the methods that have been reported to be most useful. These materials are then powdered and made into individual herb powders which are used to combine to make the formulas.
Dr. Mallory will design a specific formulation for an individual patient, which might be changed frequently over a course of treatment. In other cases, one or more formulas already prepared for ingestion without modification are selected for use. The outcome is monitored, and the determination of whether to continue the current formula, change to another, or discontinue use is made on the basis of actual versus desired outcomes and the obvious or subtle effects of using the herbs.
As a general rule, acute ailments (those that arise suddenly and are to be treated right away) are treated for a period of 1-30 days. If an outbreak of influenza or eruption of herpes virus is caught early enough, a one or two day treatment will prevent further development of the disease. In the case of acute active hepatitis causing jaundice, a treatment of 15-30 days may be necessary. For chronic diseases (those that have persisted for several months or years), the treatment time is often dependent on the dosage used and the ability of the individual to undertake all necessary steps to overcome the disease (perhaps changing diet, lowering stress, and increasing exercise). When a high-dosage therapy is applied, most chronic ailments can come under control (and some are cured) by a treatment of about three months duration. If the daily dosage is lowered (because of inability to take the higher doses), the treatment time increases-perhaps to 6-12 months. Examples of chronic ailments are autoimmune disorders and degenerative diseases associated with aging. In some cases, herbs are taken daily, for an indefinite period, just as some drugs are taken daily. This is typically the situation when there are genetic disorders or permanent damage that cannot be entirely reversed, problems of aging, and ailments that have been left for too long without effective treatment.
The main reason that more Westerners are turning to Chinese herbal therapy rather than local herbs is because of the vast scope of experience in using the Chinese materials. In every province of China, there are large schools of traditional Chinese medicine, research institutes, and teaching hospitals, where thousands of practitioners each year gain training in the use of herbs. The written heritage of Chinese medicine is quite rich. Ancient books are retained, with increasing numbers of commentaries. New books are written by practitioners who have had several decades of personal experience or by compilers who scan the vast diverse modern literature and arrange the results of clinical trials into neat categories.
Adverse responses to Chinese herbs are monitored at the Institute for Traditional Medicine through its contacts with numerous practitioners around the country and subscriptions to technical journals published in China and Japan. Negative interactions with Western drugs have not been noted for any of the common herb materials when used in the normal dosage range. A few people experience allergic reaction to individual herbs, a problem that often cannot be predicted in advance since these are idiosyncratic responses. A more common reaction is a gastro-intestinal response, which might include constipation or diarrhea, nausea or bloating. Such reactions may occur if the individual has poor digestive functions, or if the herbal formula is not quite right for the needs of the individual. Taking the herbs at a different time in relation to meals may be helpful in resolving some of the gastro-intestinal reactions. In a few cases, use of Chinese herb formulas may cause dizziness, headache, agitation, sleepiness, hungry feeling, lowered appetite, sensation of heat or cold, or other sensory reactions. If such responses persist after about three days of using the herbs, it may be necessary to change formulas.
Following are some examples of common ingredients of Chinese formulas that have become widely used because of their reliable action, the quick results usually experienced, and the diversity of therapeutic activities that can be obtained from each. These reviews serve as examples of what Chinese doctors must know. It will be noted that the dosage range is often very large, reflecting various uses and different methods of application.
- Astragalus (huangqi)
- Atractylodes (baizhu)
- Bupleurum (chaihu)
- Cinnamon (guizhi and rougi)
- Coptis (huanglian)
- Ginger (jiang)
- Ginseng (renshen)
- Hoelen (fuling)
- Licorice (gancao)
- Ma-huang (mahuang)
These are just a few of the 360 Chinese herbs that Dr. Mallory uses in his herbal formulas. With his pulse diagnosis skills and in depth knowledge of the Dong Han Daoist method, he is able to formulate a specific herbal therapy combination for each individual.