Chinese Herbal Medicine 101 (For Patients)

When it comes to herbs, I find that many of our patients have a basic working knowledge of Western herbal remedies – Ginger for an upset stomach, Lavender for relaxation, Echinacea for cold symptoms etc. However, not many people understand Chinese Herbal Medicine as a system, or what conditions it can help with. Hopefully, this post will give you a more solid knowledge base.

What Sets Chinese Herbal Medicine Apart from Western Herbology?

Meridian Health Centre is one of the few clinics in Edmonton (#YEG) with a full compounding dispensary of Chinese Herbal granules.

Traditionally, Chinese Medicinal Herbs are given in their crude, dried form. The patient takes these dried herbs home and boils them down into a decoction (highly concentrated tea). Granules take this step out of the equation making herbal medicine much more efficient and accessible to our busy patients. The concentrated herbal powders are simply mixed into hot water, and taken as a tea.

One of the biggest differences between Western and Eastern herbal systems is that Chinese Medicine makes use of Herbal FORMULAS rather than using single herbs. These formulas usually consist of anywhere from 4 to 15 herbs, combined together for a single purpose. Certain herbs, when used in combination with one another can have a wider range of effects than if they were used alone. For example, some herbs accentuate each others affects. Whereas other herbs can help direct therapeutic actions to certain areas of the body (eg. to the head for headaches.)

Another factor that sets Chinese Herbology apart is its use of materials other than just plant matter. While roots, stems, flowers etc. make up the bulk of our materia medica, there are also unique ingredients such as minerals (eg. Gypsum), and animal products such as Oyster Shell. This gives us a larger selection of ingredients to choose from.

A Deeper Look at Herbal Theory

Chinese Herbology is a deep system, that categorizes herbs in a number of different ways. Rather than just focusing on single actions (like “calming the mind”), herbs are split up based on Thermal Nature (hot, cold, warm, cool, neutral), the specific meridian affected, and Flavor (bitter, sour, acrid, sweet, salty). All of these factors are considered when crafting the perfect formula for a patient.

Let’s use what we’ve learned in an example. The following is a common formula used for fatigue, and poor digestion called “Si Jun Zi Tang” (Four Gentleman Decoction), or more colloqially “Four Herbs for Qi”

  • Ren Shen (Panax Ginseng) – A sweet, slightly bitter herb. Slightly warm in nature. Affects the Lung and Spleen Meridians. A powerful tonic herb.
  • Bai Zhu (Atractylodes) – A bitter, sweet herb. Warm in nature. Enters the Spleen/Stomach meridians. Tonifies Qi and promotes water metabolism.
  • Fu Ling (Poria) – A sweet, bland herb. Neutral in temperature. Enters the Heart, Spleen, Kidney and Lung Meridians. Works to strengthen the Spleen by leeching out dampness.
  • Gan Cao (Licorice Root) – A sweet herb with a neutral temperature. Works to tonify, but also to harmonize the harsh properties of other herbs.

Together, these four herbs qualities work together to give us a greater affect than if they were used alone. This formula can be used to Tonify Qi, Strengthen the Spleen and Stomach, and Harmonize the Middle Jiao. This makes it useful in the treatment of symptoms like tiredness, heaviness of the limbs, loose stools, fatigue/lethargy, shortness of breath, etc. This is just one example of the countless formulas that exist in Chinese Medicine.

To Sum Up

Given its complex, and far reaching nature – Chinese Herbal Medicine is a perfect addition in the treatment of most disorders. It can be used as a stand alone modality, but I find we get our best results when it is used alongside Acupuncture.

Below is a list of some common ailments we treat with Herbal Medicine:

  • Sleep Issues
  • Pain / Headaches
  • Gynecological Health (Irregular Menstrual Cycle, PMS, etc.)
  • Sexual Health (erectile dysfunction, low libido etc.)
  • Mental Health and Stress
  • Common Cold / Allergies
  • Adrenal Fatigue

Ask your local Acupuncturist/Herbalist for more information today, or shoot us an email at info@meridianhealthcentre.ca

Headaches and the Habits That Cause Them

Headaches are one of the most common complaints we see at Meridian Health Centre. Acupuncturists, Massage Therapists and Herbalists all have their unique approach to headache treatment. The difficult thing for patients is there is often no tangible reason as to WHY they have chronic headaches. Sure, everyone has experienced a headache from lack of sleep, or dehydration – but what about those people who suffer from chronic, often debilitating headaches on a frequent basis? The truth is – you may have some lifestyle habits that are directly causing or aggravating this condition. Sometimes, simply changing one habit can have drastic effects on your health.

We take a holistic approach to health here at our clinic, and we look at a patient not just in terms of their chief complaint – but also at their complex picture of symptoms and lifestyle habits. Today I would like to dive into some of the key lifestyle factors that can contribute to headaches.

Some of the most common factors include:

  • Emotional Stress
  • Overwork
  • Excessive Sexual Activity
  • Irregular Diet

Emotional Stress

It likely isn’t surprising to you that emotional stress can cause headaches. However, “emotional stress” is a rather vague term. Chinese Medicine goes further by breaking down “stress” into 8 specific emotions. These are:

  • Anger
  • Worry
  • Sadness/Grief
  • Fear
  • Shock
  • Pensiveness
  • Guilt
  • Shame

Each negative emotion has its unique imprint on the body. For example, excess anger can cause Liver Yang/Fire to rise to the head. This can lead to a flushed complexion, high blood pressure, and headaches in the temples. Other emotions cause different types of pathology, and therefore different types/locations of headaches.

Overwork

Yin is the cooling, nutritive, moistening energy of the body. Overworking without proper rest can deplete Yin leading to “Yin Deficiency.” Headaches from Yin Deficiency often affect the whole head, and are more dull in nature.

Excessive Sexual Activity

I know a lot of folks will be resistant to me calling this a “negative habit” – but you CAN in fact have too much of a good thing. Everything in life needs to be moderated, even sex. Excessive Sexual Activity depletes the essence of the Kidneys. This Kidney Essence generally has time to replenish naturally, but if you’re getting it on too frequently, your body won’t be able to keep up. This can then lead to headaches in the occipital region (base of the skull), or of the whole head. Dizziness following intercourse is another sign that you might want to cut back on your fun in the bedroom.

Irregular Diet

Diet has a very close relationship/influence on health, especially when it comes to headache pathology. This can be broken down into quite a few different categories. I’ll briefly summarize here, but know you can always contact us at Meridian to get more in depth information.

Not Eating EnoughCan deplete Qi/ Blood leading to mild headaches
OvereatingObstructs the Spleen/Stomach leading to sharp, frontal headaches
Consumption of “Damp” Producing Foods (Dairy, Alcohol, Fried/Greasy foods etc.)Can lead to a dull, heavy, “muzzy,”
feeling in the head. Feeling of a “band” around the head
Overconsumption of Sour FoodsCan negatively affect the Liver leading to headaches in the temples
Eating Too QuicklyLeads to retained food in the stomach. Sharp headaches situated in the forehead
Irregular Meals or Eating Late at NightDepletes Stomach Yin leaidng to dull frontal headaches

As you can see there are a number of ways in which our habits and emotions can lead to Headaches. Luckily, with the advice of a trained practitioner – you’re only an appointment away from getting the relief you’ve been hoping for!

References:

Maciocia, G. (2011). The practice of Chinese medicine the treatment of diseases with acupuncture and Chinese herbs. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone.

Seeking: Naturopathic Doctor

Our wonderful clinic is currently looking for a Naturopathic Doctor to join our team! Do you fit this description? Or know someone who might? Read on!

Meridian Health is a multi-disciplinary complimentary medicine clinic located in the west side of downtown on 124 Street. We have been operating in Edmonton for over 15 years, providing massage, acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine, and homeopathy. Our clinic focuses on reproductive health for both men, women, and non or trans-gendered persons. Currently we are seeking a full time or part time ND to complement our services, as many of our clients see a naturopath concurrent to utilizing our services. Our clinic has resources in place to support the work of an ND, such as lab testing via Rocky Mountain Analytics, as well as carrying Bioclinic supplements, and maintaining a compounding dispensary for Chinese herbal medicine. We offer generous fee splits which increase as your practice increases in patient volume. Visit our website at www.meridianhealthcentre.ca.

Please send resumes to Darren Tellier (darren@meridianhealthcentre.ca) 

Acupuncture Treatments: How Many Will I Need?

Acupuncture has gained a lot of popularity here in the West, but there is still a long way to go when it comes to public education regarding this medicine. Most patients have a very vague understanding of how Acupuncture works, and even less knowledge when it comes to what the treatment process looks like as a whole. I can’t count the number of patients I’ve seen who lose faith after one or two treatments – never to return. I wish we could work magic in one session, but the healing process is rarely that straightforward. Acupuncture is an amazing tool, but it needs to be given a fair shot in order to succeed. Today we will attempt to tackle the question: “How long will it take for me to see results?”

Acupuncture Point Model

Now, let me be clear right from the start – everything I say in this post is intended to be a general guideline. There are a lot of variables at play that can affect the number of Acupuncture treatments a person will need. Often, patients with good lifestyle habits (a balanced whole-food diet, regular exercise, healthy mechanisms to cope with stress etc.) will see results more quickly. Don’t be discouraged if your progress isn’t matching up directly with these guidelines. The healing process is unique to each individual patient.

The General Course of Acupuncture Treatment

As medical interventions go, Acupuncture is relatively slow working. Don’t get me wrong, we can achieve some powerful results with our needles, but it’s rare that you’ll be symptom free overnight. I explain this to my patients as a kind of trade-off. Western Medicine can get results more rapidly, but there is often a higher risk of complications or adverse side effects. Acupuncture on the other hand may take longer to stick, but there are little to no side effects post treatment.

The changes Acupuncture has on the body often start off subtly. Rather than telling patients to look for a complete disappearance of their symptoms, I ask them to look at subtle changes. Did your pain go from a 8/10 to a 4/10? Did you go from 24/7 symptoms to having symptoms every other day? Did you get a few good days post treatment before things slowly returned? These are all signs that the body is responding positively to treatment, and we usually find that those initial results begin to snowball once we get a bit of traction. Two days of relief becomes four days of relief. Four days becomes a week. The key is sticking with treatment and seeing it through for at least a few sessions

Treatment of Acute Conditions

Acute conditions are conditions that are sudden in onset and short in course (usually less than 3 months). Some common acute health issues are sprains, strains, acute headaches, sudden abdominal pain, nausea, the common cold, etc.

The severity of the disorder, the location of the issue, and the age / constitution of the patient can all play a role in healing times – but we usually like to see results within 4 to 6 treatments. This doesn’t mean you’ll see no change after the first couple sessions, but it usually takes more than one or two for more long lasting effects. If we’re not seeing results at this point it may mean we need to shift our treatment approach, or look at incorporating more modalities (massage, cupping, herbs etc.)

Treatment of Chronic Conditions

Chronic conditions are long lasting, persistent conditions with slower, more insidious onsets. The general rule in Chinese Medicine is that the longer you’ve had a disease, the longer it will take to treat. That is what makes chronic conditions extremely difficult to deal with. A patient’s family background, medical history, and lifestyle really come into play here.

I tell most patients with chronic conditions that they’ll need to commit to at least 6 to 8 treatments while also preparing them for the fact that it may take more than 10 treatments to see drastic change. This range depends on the severity and duration of a patient’s illness and/or injury.

From the very first treatment, your practitioner will be honest about whether or not Acupuncture is a good fit for you.

Frequency of Treatment

So we’ve outlined the fact that acute conditions generally see results within 4 to 6 treatments, and chronic conditions can take anywhere from 6 to 10+ treatments, but, how OFTEN do you need to be coming in?

Generally, I like to keep treatments close together until we start seeing results that stick. This could be 2 treatments per week (in more serious cases) or treatment once per week. I find that if we leave more than a week between treatments we often find ourselves starting back at square one again. By allowing the patient’s condition to completely regress, we become stuck chasing symptoms rather than addressing the real root of the problem.

Where can I get more information?

The information presented here is extremely general, so if you’d like an answer more tailored to your individual situation – your best bet is to contact your local Acupuncturist. If you’re in Edmonton, or the surrounding area, we’d be happy to address your questions here at Meridian Health Centre. Feel free to contact us at 780-428-8897 or shoot me an email at jon@meridianhealthcentre.ca

Raspberry Leaf: an ally in women’s health

Raspberry leaf (Rubus idaeus) is a herb that’s famous for preparing mothers for childbirth. This herb can shorten labour and decrease the likelihood that complications will arise during pregnancy and in childbirth (Hoffman, D., 2003, pg. 293). It is also used to ease menstrual issues such as reducing cramps and excessive menstrual bleeding (Balch, P. A., 2000, pg. 93).

According to Balch, P. A. (2000),  raspberry leaf has the following benefits:

Reduces excessive menstrual bleeding

Relaxes uterine and intestinal spasms

Strengthens uterus walls

Reduces morning sickness, hot flashes, and menstrual cramps

Promotes healthy nails, bones, teeth and skin (pg. 93)

How does raspberry leaf do all this?

Astringent: As as astringent herb, raspberry leaf constricts the bodies tissues, reducing blood flow and mucous. The astringency will tighten and tonify the body, and act to strengthen the uterine and pelvic muscles and prevent miscarriage. In addition, raspberry leaf tones the mucous membranes throughout the body, soothes the kidneys and urinary tract, and helps prevent hemorrhage in delivery.

Relaxant: The relaxant properties bring about a tonic relaxation of the smooth muscle of the uterus, helping to reduce the pain of uterine contractions with labour. This applies to the uterine contractions experienced with cramping during menses as well. The herb is slightly sedative in that it helps to quell nausea and is useful for morning sickness and hot flashes.

Nutrition: An infusion of raspberry leaf tea contains 200-250 mg of calcium, assisting in the formation of breast milk, and strengthens nails, bones, teeth and skin. Ellagic acid, an antioxidant, alters estrogen metabolism which can reduce the risk of hormonal cancers.

Raspberry leaf, if used before delivery helps to ensure a safe, easy, and speedy childbirth, and after delivery to improve milk production and assist in recovery from birth.

https://optimalfertility.ca/ Visit this website to purchase Harmonic Arts Woman with Child tea blend, which contains raspberry leaf. Although this tea blend is called Woman with Child, it is designed for so much more- from helping with the conditions mentioned above, to general tonification and well-being.

Balch, P. A. (2000) Prescription for Nutritional Healing. New York, NY: Avery.

Hoffman, D. (2003) Medical Herbalism. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press.