1. What is the best way to choose TCM proprietary medicine?

There are 3 factors to consider; quality of herbs, effectiveness of the formula and dosage. The first 2 means you must choose a reputable source and it is important that the chosen medicine is suitable for your particular health need. The dosage requires that you should always read the label carefully. The best way is to seek advice from medical professionals or the manufacturers of the medicine before taking the medicine.

2. Can Chinese and western herbs be used together?

We recommend that you should first consult a medical practitioner before taking any medicine. Both TCM doctors and western medical doctors do NOT recommend that western drugs and Chinese medicines should not be taken simultaneously. The reason is that some chemical elements in Chinese medicines may react with western drugs. Always inform both doctors if you are taking both, especially before surgery. Using the two together also may affect the efficacy of both medicines and their interaction may produce toxic effects which would endanger health. One should leave around a 3-hour gap between taking these different kinds of medication.

3. How do you take the pills or store them?

If TCM medicines are not stored properly, their effectiveness could be lost. This can be shown by certain physical changes, like changes in color. Mold can also occur if the medicine has been stored in a place with a relatively high room temperature and humidity (>70%). In order to keep your Chinese medicine from deteriorating, place it in a dry, well-ventilated and dark place. Ideally, storage in a cool place will lessen the likelihood of mold occurring.

4. What are the four natures?

Chinese herbs have 4 different energies: hot, cold, cool and warm. They are also called the four natures or four Xing. Cold-cool and warm-hot are two completely different categories of natures, cold-cool belonging to yin and warm-hot to yang. Cold and cool or hot and warm are only different to some degrees, in their variance.

5. Herbs with cold-cool nature can clear away heat, purge fire and eliminate toxic materials, which are mainly used for heat-syndrome; Warm–hot nature have the actions of expelling cold and restoring yang, which are mainly used for cold-syndrome. Does TCM need a long time to work?

Just as with any treatment there are many variables that affect the healing time. Such as how old is the patient, how long has the condition existed, is it severe or mild? All these factors can affect the time factor. TCM has a good track record for treating both acute and chronic conditions. Acupuncture used in conjunction with herbs can bring relief and speed recovery. You will see results if you follow all the rules and stay with it. It does not mask the symptoms like western medicines do so the treatment will appear unique.

6. Does Chinese medicine always have a bitter taste?

No, while it is true some do taste bitter, some can actually taste quite good. TCM is classified into 5 tastes:

  • Pungent or Hot (peppermint, tangerine peel)
  • Sweet (kadzu root, liquorice)
  • Sour (raspberry fruit, smoked plum)
  • Bitter (dandelion, chrysanthemum)
  • Salty (clam shell, seaweed)

7. Is there a close connection between the herbs effectiveness and flavor?

  • Pungent or hot disperses and enhances Qi flow and blood.
  • Sweet alleviates acute conditions and terrifies.
  • Sour possesses a strong astringent, which can stop profuse sweating and incontinence.
  • Bitter will cause cooling and purging. Most teas for fever are bitter.
  • Salty can release congestion in a downward direction. It is used for tumors, fluid retention, and abdominal masses and will soften hardness and disperse.

8. Do TCM herbs cause nasal bleeding?

The goal of TCM is to return balance to the body and spirit. This axiom applies “when deficient, tonify - if excessive then release/reduce it.”Tonification only applies to a deficient state. In an excessive state like an acute stage of infection, you can tonify but cautiously. There are four types of tonifying:

  • Benefiting Qi
  • Nourishing Yin
  • Supplementing the blood
  • Replenishing Yang

The proper method for each condition must be applied. If sweet herbs are cold are used then yin nourishing is given to clear the heat and replenish the yin and all will be fine. If by mistake spicy, warm, yang herbs are taken it will flare up the heat and that can lead to five-evils that irritate the blood and cause nosebleeds.

9. What is a Sub-health State?

This is a special category where the body isn’t healthy but has not contracted an illness yet. A patient can have a variety of condition that may not appear to be any particular disease or severe in nature. For example the patient could have a headache, upset stomach, dizziness, or fatigue. TCM will see this as an imbalance that will be investigated to reveal the underlying yin/yang imbalance.

Prevention is the key to health and eliminating the sub-health state before significant symptoms appear is essential. Proper diet, exercise, and rest are the key to a healthy physical, emotional, and mental balanced state. There are several sub-health states:

  • Stagnation of liver-Qi
  • Deficiency in the heart and spleen
  • Deficiency in the lung’s protective Qi
  • Deficiency in the liver and kidney
  • Deficiency in the spleen and kidney

10. What are acupuncture, cupping and moxibation?

There are several types of external treatment procedures used in TCM. They include acupuncture, moxibation and cupping. Acupuncture is inserting fine metal needles at key energy points on the skin. It causes a healing effect using different manipulation techniques. Moxibation uses burning herbal bundles, or moxa cones, above the skin to warm or heat the same energy points. Cupping sometimes involves making tiny incisions and then placing a sterile suction cup over the area to draw a small amount of blood to induce a healing effect. All three techniques use the same accupoints and which to choose depends on the disease or treatment selected. These methods cause the chi to flow and remove blockages restoring the body to the natural yin/yang balance.

Each method has its advantages. Moxibation is used only to fortify or remove blockages using heat and is longer lasting. Acupuncture is quicker to take effect and can fortify weakness or release/reduce an excessive condition. Cupping is a method of treating disease that is caused by local congestion. The amount of dark red or even purple blood drawn to the surface indicates the degree of stagnation. Dark blood is a sign of stagnation, which in many cases in modern terms is the amount of toxins in the blood. Often all three techniques can be used in conjunction or when one technique may be more effective in a certain area.

11. Can TCM herbs be toxic?

There is a mistaken belief that these herbs are mild and cannot harm you if taken for a long time. This is not true. Too often herbs such as ginseng are used in energy drinks and if you have a condition it may adversely affect you. Westerners often see an herb as a panacea and not meant to be used for a specific reason. It is essential that you seek out good medical advice before taking any medications. Often names of herb or their appearance is similar and they may have entirely different effects. This mistaken identity can give a good herb a bad reputation because it was improperly used. That is why expert help is so important.

12. Can a TCM practitioner diagnose every illness through taking the pulse?

A good western or eastern medical diagnosis would not be based on only one tool. There are four parts to a correct scientific analysis of the condition. They are:

  • Inspection – observe everything thoroughly
  • Listen and smell – the voice and odors can yield important clues
  • Questioning – a good diagnosis is both passive observing and asking the right question to narrow down the symptoms to match the disease
  • Palpitation – checking the pulse will yield many additional clues

13. A TCM practitioner can use different formulas of herbs to treat the same disease. Why?

A disease can manifest itself differently in each patient. Some patients are female, some male. Other factors include age, or preexisting conditions. The advantage over other prescriptions is that TCM formulas can be altered to fit each patient’s needs beyond just altering the dosage. TCM treats a syndrome as opposed to a particular disease in that it addresses the root cause instead of just masking the symptoms as some drugs do. A common cold or flu can start as wind-cold, wind-heat or low resistance each calling for a different formula.

14. Chinese herbs have 4 different energies: hot, cold, cool and warm. Does the food we consume have the same properties?

Herbs and food share the same origin and they both can be used as medicine and food shares the same classifications. Most foods are neutral. However some do have strong properties beyond their taste appeal. For example cold foods are bamboo shoots, lettuce, sugar cane and watermelon. Hot foods include ginger, chili peppers and chives. It is important to avoid the foods that may hinder your healing. Check with your practitioner about what dietary adjustments will aid in your healing.

15. I have heard that because TCM herbs are mild and have no side effects and will not hurt you if you use them for long periods of time. Even if they no longer match your symptoms they won’t harm you. Is that right?

This basic concept of TCM is return balance and harmony to the body. Using any herbs that do not correspond to your condition will affect this delicate balance. Medicines will affect the body which is why we use them and each does have a level of toxicity at some point. Used improperly it can lead to extreme energy excess inside the body and disturb the balance.

16. Aren’t these concoctions just a combination of bitter herbs and minerals?

Many modern western drugs are derived from older known herbal recipes used for generations. Aspirin for example is the white powder found in birch bark used first by Native Americans. Now they are synthetically derived for mass production. TCM formulas do take different forms such as pastes, granules, powders, syrups, lotions and tablets/pills. The form used is one that is usually most ideal for treating a particular condition.

17. TCM uses herbs to treat disease but not because of its chemical makeup. So what is the principle used to select the herbs and combinations?

Western medicine has many specialists who focus on one disease. TCM focuses on the entire body or the holistic approach. The holistic approach operates according to a specific set of principles.

TCM herbs act in opposition to the disease that means when the body is out of balance, to say a heat aspect. Cooling herbs are given to bring the body back in balance. First the condition must be accurately determined. Each ingredient targets a certain meridian or accupoint to return the correct balance and restore harmony. For example the Yin/Yang aspects can be described as:

  • Interior/exterior
  • Deficiency/excess
  • Hot/cold
  • Cool/warm

And each medicine also has other aspects like:

  • Spicy
  • Sweet
  • Sour
  • Salty
  • Descending/ascending
  • Floating/sinking

All this information must be considered when selecting the correct herbal remedy.