Chinese Herbal Medicine
Chinese Herbal Medicine is another branch of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). In fact, approximately 80% of all traditional Chinese medical patients are treated with herbs, while only the remaining 20% are treated with acupuncture or other manual therapies. Chinese Herbal Medicine has ancient roots in China. An archeological dig in 1973 near Changsha, China revealed silk scrolls dating back to 168BC containing 170 different medicinal prescriptions to treat over 52 diseases. An ancient text dated 220AD, Jin Gui Yao Lue (Prescriptions of the Golden Cabinet) contains the formulation of a Chinese herbal prescription called Rehmannia 8 that is still commonly used in the West today.
Chinese herbal formulas are typically composed of 8-12 substances, ranging from plants and minerals to animal parts and insects. Federal law prohibits the inclusion of endangered species or pharmaceutical drugs in any formula. These herbal formulas are specifically created in a balanced manner with each herb or substance providing either a direct therapeutic action or a balancing effect. For example, ginger is commonly added to a formula to make it more easily digestible. This technique creates a product that produces fewer side effects when compared to pharmaceutical drugs. By contrast, pharmaceutical drugs are highly refined down to a specific chemical that produces the desired result of the medication. Unfortunately, this also leads to that long list of the potential side effects heard on the television advertisements.
Conditions Treated with Herbal Medicine
Herbal medicine is used in China to treat almost any condition which would be treated with Western pharmaceutical drugs. Commonly, herbal medicines are combined with acupuncture, food therapies, and lifestyle changes to promote healing. (A truly holistic approach to healing!) For animals herbal medicine is used primarily for arthritis, pain/trauma, digestive problems, heart problems, kidney problems, and to control the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
Length of Use
Chinese herbal formulas are typically classified into two categories: tonic herbal formulas and clearing herbal formulas. Tonic herbal formulas tonify, or build up the body, much as food is used to nourish and heal the body. Tonic herbal formulas, such as those used for kidney, heart, or arthritis problems, can be used for long periods of time, assuming the condition still exists. On the other hand, clearing formulas, ones that are used to treat infections, traumas, or digestive concerns, are often used for a short period of time, possibly only a few days to weeks.
Herbal medicines are typically quite inexpensive when compared to pharmaceutical drugs, although if tonic formulas are employed for a long period of time the price can add up. For a 50 pound dog, a typical tonic herbal formula will cost approximately $20/month. However, this is a small price to pay for the relief of symptoms and the strengthening of the body! Chinese herbal formulas come in a variety of forms including raw herbs, powdered herbs, liquids, capsules, and teapills. Teapills, small pea sized pills with a tough outer coating, are most often used for small animals, along with capsules and liquids, due to their ease of administration. Powders can also be mixed into foods, but cats are usually too suspicious to fall for that! Fortunately, most formulas come in a variety of forms so many options exist to accommodate both owner and pet.
Although herbal medicines are not without any side effects, in general the side effects are mild and quickly resolve when the herb is withdrawn. These side effects may include vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, inappetence and elevated liver enzymes. It is recommended to owners that the herbal formula be started slowly to monitor for any type of reaction. Typically a reaction just means the wrong herbal formula was chosen or the animal has an intolerance to a specific ingredient in the formula. Occasionally, a reaction will be seen after the animal has been on the formula for many months. This typically indicates that the formula is no longer needed and that the body is able to keep itself in balance without the herbs. Tonic herbal formulas should be discontinued during a cold or flu, as the formula acts to strengthen the virus much as it would strengthen the body. In addition, herbal medicines should be used with caution during pregnancy. Herbal formulas not sold under the Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) should not be used, as these commonly are contaminated with heavy metals, pesticides, or pharmaceutical drugs. Occasionally, they will even contain endangered species. Most herbal formulas sold to herbal practitioners follow the GMP. However, products found in local Chinatown pharmacies are of questionable purity.