Chinese Herbal Medicine is the method of combining plants and minerals to help restore health. The remedy comes in many forms, some being powdered, capsules or herbal tea, and it’s often used in conjunction with acupuncture to help relieve acute or chronic conditions.
The two most common applications of Chinese Herbal therapies in US are:
(1) A decoction from mostly dried plants and roots in a form of strong tea that resulted from simmering for about an hour and a half.
(2) A powdered formula in which the ingredients have been extracted from the plants and roots for convenient usage and its mobility; thus to avoid the long cooking process.
The former and more traditional “tea” is generally deemed pungent and requires a special palette to justify its popular use. Thus, the latter and more modern form has been developed for more recent applications. In both instances it is strongly recommended to drink with lukewarm or hot water to maximize its effectiveness.
In US the (extract-) powdered formula most likely replaces the standard Chinese preparations. It can be packed into smooth, easy-to-swallow tablets or capsules with additional cost. Despite the convenience, one must take a substantial quantity of these prepared forms (compared to the amount of drugs one takes). For example, doses of the dried extracts range from 2-3 teaspoons two times per day, and the capsules range from about 5-8 units each time, two times per day.
The herbal materials used in all these preparations are gathered from wild supplies or cultivated, usually in China (or elsewhere). A typical herbal pharmacy contains a minimum of 400 different types of “herbs“, in which they’re then 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 combined in a formulation with the ingredients and doses prescribed depending on the nature in which the condition is being treated.
A practitioner of Chinese medicine designs a specific formulation for an individual patient, which may be changed frequently over a course of their treatment. In other cases, one or more formulas already prepared for ingestion without modification are selected for use. The outcome is monitored and then a 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) are treated for a period of 1-30 days. Chronic or temporary issues like insomnia, menstruation irregularity, sinuses, digestive, or pain management can benefit from ingestion of a suitable formula within a few weeks. The treatment time is often dependent on the dosage used and the ability of the individual to undertake all necessary steps to overcome the issues; especially changes in diet, lowering stress and increasing exercise. Chronic ailments such as autoimmune disorders and degenerative diseases associated with aging can prolong the treatment period. In general a typical herbal treatment is prescribed every other week and is evaluated and modified. In most cases, herbs are taken daily, for a period of six weeks, just as some drugs are taken daily. During the first three weeks, the situation typically improves.
The main reason that more Westerners are turning to Chinese herbs 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 are 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.
American practitioners are usually trained at any one of about 45 colleges in the U.S., with a three- or four-year series of courses that include basic Oriental Medical Theory, Acupuncture, and Herbal Medicine. Certification is offered at the national level with licensing or registration is known well throughout the United States. Chinese herbs are provided in the U.S. as food supplements, not as drugs. Thus, they are not strictly regulated by the FDA except for monitoring cleanliness.
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