John Aguilar, Jr, DAOM, EAMP, Dipl OM (NCCAOM)
Doctor of Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine
Practitioner, Bastyr Center for Natural Health, Seattle, WA
Adjunct Faculty/Lecturer, Northwestern Health Sciences University
Adjunct/Clinical Faculty, Bastyr University
Chinese herbal medicine has a rich and extensive history. Its high rate of efficacy and the low rate of side effects is grounded in complex theories of nature and the human being and verified through billions of patient interactions.
The clinical practice of Chinese herbal medicine (CHM) is the giving of herbal 'formulas', a collection of Chinese herbs specifically created for a given patient's condition, to the patient and their cooking and ingesting them. Typically, the herbs are cooked once a week, and taken in two daily doses of one cup each.
Side effects may occur in the first couple weeks of treatment as the practitioner fine tunes the specific ingredients of the formula for the unique state of the patient and their illness. These side effects are most commonly related to the digestive system and may include, mild nausea, digestive discomfort, bloating, and loose bowel movements. These side effects clear up as the formula is tailored for the patient.
Though there is always the possibility of unpredictable, individual negative reactions to an herb or a formula, these are quite rare and most times therapeutic equivalents can be used as replacements for the offending herbs.
Side effects, in general, are not expected nor tolerated in professional Chinese herbal medicine. They are considered the result of poor medical practice due to inaccurate diagnosis, treatment strategy, or formula writing ability.
For many conditions, effectiveness is seen immediately, such as with many types of pain and in the 'hot flashes' associated with menopause, for example. In other cases, such as where there is prolonged illness complicated by deterioration of physiological resources and weakened functioning of internal organs, up to several weeks or even months of treatment may be required for significant symptom alleviation.
In contrast to Western pharmaceutical therapy, herbal formulas can be taken for years with expectation of continued improvement in overall health. In fact, in Chinese Taoist tradition, herbs are taken on a daily basis for basic health just as water and food are ingested.