What is Chinese Herbal Medicine (CHM)?
CHM is one discipline within a broad tradition which also includes acupuncture, massage (tuina), dietary therapy, and exercise (qi gong).
It is one of the great herbal traditions of the world, with a recorded history of more than two thousand years.
CHM has retained a strong presence in health provision in China today, where it is practised alongside western medicine in state hospitals throughout the country in the treatment of a wide range of conditions.
More recently it has become increasingly popular in the West, and has expanded rapidly in the UK since the 1980s.
Like the other Chinese medicine disciplines, CHM is based on the principle that god health depends on achieving optimum vitality and balance – a balance described in the terms of the polarity of Yin and Yang.
CHM has a great deal to offer in supporting that vitality and balance.
What does CHM treatment involve?
Treatment with CHM involves the use of combinations of herbs which are designed to correct the particular disharmony of the individual.
The Chinese materia medica contains several hundred commonly used ingredients, including roots, stems, flowers, leaves and barks, together with some non-plant materials.
The principle is that a balance of ingredients with certain properties is matched to the individual patient’s pattern, allowing the practitioner to adapt to the changing needs of the patient.
CHM may be administered in a variety of ways. Most commonly it is prescribed either as a tea, to be made up from raw herbs or from concentrated powders, or as a ready-made formula in tablet form. External preparations are also used, including creams, ointments and washes for skin conditions, and compresses for traumatised tissue.
Chinese herbal teas tend to be bitter, but most people get accustomed to them quickly.
What can Chinese herbal medicine help?
The possible uses of CHM are very wide, and people of any age or constitution can benefit from it. The following conditions are commonly treated:
- Skin disease, including eczema, psoriasis, acne, rosacea
- Respiratory conditions, including asthma, bronchitis, and chronic coughs; allergic and perennial rhinitis and sinusitis
- Digestive complaints, including irritable bowel syndrome, indigestion, ulcerative colitis
- Gynaecological problems, including pre-menstrual syndrome, painful periods, menopausal syndromes, endometriosis, some forms of infertility
- Urinary conditions, including chronic cystitis
- Rheumatological conditions, including rheumatoid and osteo-arthritis
- Headaches and migraines
- Chronic fatigue syndromes
- Anxiety and depression
- Hepatitis and HIV: some promising results have been obtained for Hepatitis C, and supportive treatment may be beneficial for HIV
- Some metabolic disorders, including diabetes and thyroid conditions, may benefit from supportive treatment
Are Chinese herbs safe?
Serious adverse effects from CHM are very rare, and it has a very good safety record.
However, ‘natural’ does not in itself mean safe. It is therefore essential that you are treated by a practitioner who is trained to a high standard, who complies with UK laws (which have banned the use of certain toxic herbal ingredients), who monitors each case carefully to ensure that the patient has no unusual reactions to treatment and who uses suppliers with a proven record of reliability.
It is also important that your practitioner takes note of any drug treatment that you may be receiving. This is in order to ensure that there is no incompatibility between such treatment and particular ingredients in the CHM prescription.
The RCHM demands high standards for admission, imposes stringent rules on its members, and is actively engaged in initiatives to ensure quality control of herbs and herbal products.
The public is therefore well-advised to seek help from RCHM members.
What about endangered species?
The RCHM has always condemned the illegal trade in endangered plant and animal species, and its members are subject to strict rules which prohibit the use of any such material.
About the RCHM
The RCHM was set up in 1987 to regulate the practice of Chinese herbal medicine. It now represents over 450 fully qualified practitioners. The majority have graduated from a UK educational institution affiliated to the RCHM. Most are also qualified acupuncturists and members of the British Acupuncture Council. Those who have trained outside the UK must demonstrate the necessary qualifications and competence and are admitted on interview. RCHM members are subject to a Code of Practice, a Dispensary Code and a scheme for Continuing Professional Development, and are fully insured.