An Inside Look at Chinese Herbal Therapy

« A doctor explains how it complements the remedies you might be accustomed to.

www.usnews.comHerbs can aid the body’s recovery from the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation.

« For six months, a patient battled recurring chest pains. We suspected heartburn, but both over-the-counter and prescription strength medications did nothing. Then we found the cure. After several weeks on Chinese herbs, the symptoms disappeared.

Another patient was seen for a baffling nerve pain. A battery of tests ruled out everything from diabetes to thyroid disease. After several months on herbal therapy, the pain was gone and quality of life was restored.

You might imagine how rewarding it is for me, a champion of wellness, to see Eastern medicine truly complementing my Western remedies. It has been 18 months since we launched the first-ever Chinese herbal clinic at a major medical center. Our herbalists, Galina Roofenor and Yanming Huang, have seen more than 550 patients (and appointments are only scheduled one day per week), and the results have been overwhelmingly positive.

I have referred many patients with a variety of conditions – either because of patient preference, or because my Western training could not cure their ailments.
One of the experiences I enjoy most at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute is seeing how our providers bridge the best of both Western and Eastern medicines. Our patients have myriad treatment options for most, if not all, of the chronic diseases that afflict Americans.

My philosophy is to partner with each patient, rather than tell them what to do. Some prefer traditional Western medicine, which consists of both lifestyle recommendations and medication. Others desire lifestyle adjustments along with Eastern medicine modalities, such as acupuncture, medical massage and Chinese herbs.

Chinese herbal medicine is a major thrust of traditional Chinese medicine. It has been used for centuries in the Far East, where herbs are considered fundamental therapy for many acute and chronic conditions. Herbalists in our Chinese Herbal Therapy Clinic draw from « Materia Medica, » a traditional Chinese medicine text that covers thousands of herbs, minerals and other extracts. Like acupuncture, Chinese herbs can address unhealthy body patterns that manifest in a variety of symptoms and complaints. Chinese herbal therapy aims to help regain homeostasis, or balance, in one’s body and to strengthen the body’s resistance to disease.

When will our herbalists recommend Chinese herbs, you ask? Herbs may be used to increase energy, improve breathing, improve digestion and deepen sleep. They can also be used to treat many chronic pain conditions, as noted in my example above. One aspect of women’s health where herbs can be extremely beneficial is both for infertility and annoying symptoms related to menopause (such as dryness and hot flashes).

One additional way we are using Chinese herbal therapy is to augment western medicine following cancer treatment. Herbs can aid the body’s recovery from the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation.

A consult with our herbalists will typically last one hour. A detailed medical history is obtained. A physical exam, which focuses on the tongue (color and texture) and pulse is used to determine the body’s overall health status. Then the herbalist makes recommendations for a custom formula of herbs that fit the patient. The herbs are prepared in Arizona, encapsulated and shipped directly to the patient’s home.

One common question regarding herbs is their potential interaction with both prescribed and over-the-counter Western medications. Our clinic’s herbalists are overseen by physicians and trained to recognize how herbal therapy can interact with other medications.

Chinese herbs can be incredibly useful when a patient has multiple symptoms that are hard to pinpoint, when we have exhausted traditional medical options or when we need herbal therapy to counteract side effects of prescribed medications. Keep in mind that herbs can also be a useful tool for prevention of disease. If you have a strong family history of a chronic disease, Chinese herbs may be used to prevent that disease from striking you.

Having the opportunity to blend Eastern and Western medicine has been a rewarding addition to my more than 20 years of family medicine. This blend has re-energized both me and my patients, many of whom prefer complementary treatments over pharmaceuticals. By being open to new ways of thinking, I am able to help patients in ways I did not think possible. This proves that you can indeed teach an old dog like me new tricks. Until next time, be well.”

Daniel Neides, MD

Medical Director and Chief Operating Officer of the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute. He is also the Associate Director of Clinical Education for The Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine.

He oversees all clinical activities during years three through five of the medical school. His medical interests include the primary care approach to treating behavioral disorders, medical student education and preventive medicine.

Dr. Neides is board-certified in family medicine. He earned both his undergraduate and medical degrees from Ohio State University, followed by a residency in family medicine at Riverside Methodist Hospital in Columbus.

He was awarded the 1999-2000 Educator of the Year award by Cleveland Clinic and The Ohio State University College of Medicine, and was inducted into the Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Society in 2002 for his dedication to medical student education. In 2006, he was named a Harvard-Macy Scholar and spent one month in Boston developing curricula for CCLCM. In 2007, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine awarded him the Kaiser Permanente Award for Excellence in Teaching. He is coauthor of The Resident’s Guide to Ambulatory Care, with the 6th edition due out in 2008. »

Article by Daniel Neides

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