Chinese medicine offers an alternative to many types of medication used in the Western world and it has been used to growing effect in the last forty years or so. Traditional Chinese medicine is divided into five branches which are acupuncture, Chinese herbs, Chinese dietary therapy, Tuina therapeutic massage, and Qigong healing. Herbs are considered to be drugs in China, whereas in the West herbs are consumed as nutritional or food supplements and are sold without any proprietary warnings on the packaging. In fact, the World Health Organisation estimates that about 80% of the world’s population uses herbal medicine in some form or other. Western research into Chinese herbs has been undertaken and it has to be said that some concerns have been raised. One of these is that in China there are very few regulations over herb producing areas or the herbal plants themselves, and that furthermore some merchants take no notice of such regulations as there are, which results in quality control issues.
It is also the case that the benefits of Chinese herbs have been exaggerated in some cases, and the herbs have also been misused. For instance, in China the herb ma huang has been used for centuries to treat asthma. Researchers later abstracted from it the alkaloid ephedrine. In the West, ephedrine has been illegally processed into the drug ecstasy with ma huang as a main ingredient. Ecstasy when mixed with alcohol or heroin has caused deaths. In the West, and particularly in America, many manufacturers and distributors of Chinese herbal preparations put no warnings or cautions on labels in order to avoid government regulation. For instance, ginseng is known to have cardiovascular benefits but indiscriminate use has resulted in people suffering from ginseng abuse syndrome which results in diarrhea, skin lesions, and interference with the body’s natural balance. Ginseng should also not be consumed with aspirin and NSAID’s. Siberian ginseng may cause high blood pressure with long term use. Gingko biloba is often combined with ma huang for use as a cough medicine. Gingko biloba on its own is known to be slightly toxic in China and should not be used long term or in large quantities. However, there is no such labelling on these products in the West. It can react badly with warfarin and narcotic analgesics which leads to hypertension. Another herb used in China for pain and women’s problems is dong quai which can also interfere with warfarin. In addition it may cause skin cancers, and raise blood glucose levels. It should not be taken by people who have heart problems or are diabetic. In China it is well known that herbs should not be taken continuously, and also that certain foods should not be combined with certain herbs and taken together. Many herbs that are sold in the West are not produced in the same way that they are in China. There the herbs are often combined with other compounds or they are processed in certain ways, whereas in the West they are often simply harvested from the plant and ground into a powder form on their own. Such products could be toxic if they are not treated with processing or preparation in order to reduce or remove any such toxicity. In traditional Chinese herbal medicine several processing methods are used in order to obtain the desired medicinal properties from herbs and remove toxicity. For instance, sheng di huang is cooling in nature and it can be cooked in wine and then dried for use as a tonic. Other methods of preparing herbs include steaming, boiling, frying with vinegar or honey, dry frying, roasting, baking, and browning. Heating and boiling often reduce or remove any toxicity. The increasing use of herbs as supplements in the West is a problem because consumers do not understand exactly how they work or what other things should not be consumed at the same time. Nor for that matter, it has to be said, do many doctors and pharmacists. If you are considering the use of any form of Chinese herbs London you really do need to consult a specialist who understands the many aspects involved.