Three things you must know about Chinese “herbal” medicine

Posted Tue, 06/30/2009 - 21:08 by admin

1. True herbal medicine includes more than just plants.

It’s no secret in China that traditional medicine uses more than just plants to heal and treat disease. Unfortunately for us in America, we assume that herbal medicine is just that: herbal, or plant based, which excludes a whole treasure trove of natural healing substances.

Many exotic foods and useful healing materials have been discovered after centuries of experimentation with all things found in nature, only to be excluded by the health supplement industry because they don’t seem to fit the definition of “herbal” medicine.

At Physician Perfected Medicinals we hope to break the Western habit of ignoring important aspects of traditional healing practices and introduce a whole new spectrum of powerful natural supplements that are supported by modern scientific evidence.

A visit to a traditional doctor and pharmacy in China is one way to become familiar with a whole spectrum of natural medicines that are largely unknown in the West, including minerals, sea creatures, insects and even animal parts.

While our products do not involve animals, we offer some remarkably safe and effective natural health supplements that are isolated and compounded from some very exotic materials. Our research trips to China are just one step in our process of re-discovering ancient and traditional health and healing practices and making them available in the West.

2. Many natural medicines require special processing to be effective

While some herbs and natural medicines can be used as they are found in nature, most require some type of processing or extraction to be a safe and effective health supplement.

Historical evidence shows that even ancient healers used sophisticated techniques to concentrate, extract or otherwise process raw natural substances into medicines. If fact, many of the early techniques discovered for pharmaceutical processing are still practiced in today's Chinese pharmacy. 

For example, a decoction (tea) may be prepared from a natural medicine prescription to purify or chemically alter active ingredients, thereby enhancing therapeutic value or reducing side effects. Larger Chinese pharmacies have automated machinery to prepare and package prescriptive ingredients to be administered as medicinal teas.

The earliest known text to address the processing and preparation of medical materials is Shen Nong’s Classical Herbalism, from the first century A.D., which stressed the importance of handling medicinal ingredients properly to preserve and enhance efficacy. Pharmacological processing reached a high level of sophistication by the fifth century. Lord Lei’s Essay on Drug Processing summarized the standards of the time, many of which are still in use today for the preparation of traditional Chinese medicines.

Traditional methods of processing raw medicinals might involve:

  • Boiling one or more medicinal substances in water, salt water, alcohol, milk, oil, vinegar, or other liquids
  • Stir-baking raw substances under varying time and temperature conditions, sometimes with liquid adjuvants like salt water, honey, alcohol, oil or vinegar
  • Wet-coated roasting of raw materials in paper or dough
  • Steaming substances in liquid
  • Calcining (a high-heat process) or water grinding (pulverizing insoluble material into a fine powder for suspension in liquid), both useful for medicinals derived from minerals

And these methods address only the heating part of the process! Traditional Chinese pharmacology, even in its most ancient incarnations, has always involved sound laboratory techniques and awareness of chemical processes.

3. Diet, lifestyle and emotional well-being are a crucial part of any treatment.

Western science is just beginning to appreciate what traditional practitioners in China have known all for thousands of years: that lifestyle matters. A lot.

A visit to a traditional healer that we witnessed in rural Guangxi Province, near Bama County in Southern China, highlights the holistic nature of traditional Chinese medicine. The doctor asked the patient how often she laughed, how harmonious her family life was, how active she was when not working, and to describe her diet (almost all natural). The physician then suggested that she drink a little more of her homemade ant wine to relieve her symptoms. The doctor explained to us later that the body produces substances that help it to heal, and that laughter and harmony with life replenishes these substances. Inactivity, bad diet and hostility create bad humors that make pain worse and can actually prevent a medicine from working.

To rephrase this wisdom in more familiar scientific terms, Western medicine has recently become acutely aware of the direct, causative and disastrous effects on health of poor diet, sedentary lifestyles and chronically high levels of stress hormones such as cortisol. And Western research has officially confirmed the demonstrated positive effect on health and immune function associated with healthy and balanced lifestyles.

East and West are finally in agreement on this essential truth: emotional well-being, diet and lifestyle are the baseline for good health, and for any course of treatment for disease.

Chinese perscription ready for making into a tea