The Dangers of Chinese Herbal Medicine

Debunking Harmful and Dangerous Myths About Chinese Medicine

Chinese herbal medicine is a folk medicine that is very ancient, complex and powerful. If you approach it in a frivolous or random and experimental way you can get yourself and others into serious trouble.

If you don’t have a complete professional training in how to practice Chinese medicine, don’t play around with Chinese herbs and think you’re clever. It’s dangerous and ineffective to fool with Chinese herbs unless you really know what you’re doing.

Here are some guidelines to help you debunk some of the most hazardous myths surrounding Chinese herbal medicine...

The most dangerous thing you can do with Chinese herbs is to try to apply them by using a Western medical diagnosis

This is not only very risky, but it also virtually eliminates the possibility that the herbs will work in a beneficial way.

The only way to know what you’re doing with Chinese herbs is to know Chinese medicine. And the only safe and effective way to use Chinese herbs is to apply them using the diagnostic and treatment perspectives and principles of traditional Chinese medicine. This means that you must have an accurate and detailed Chinese medical diagnosis for your condition before you can begin using Chinese herbs. Without a qualified Chinese medicine practitioner and a sound Chinese medical diagnosis, there is no Chinese medicine. Period.

The second most dangerous and/or ineffective way to use Chinese herbs is for a particular symptom

People who are attempting to heal themselves, some who fancy themselves as Western herbalists and inexperienced practitioners of Chinese medicine do this time and again. It often either does nothing or gets them into trouble. Using Chinese herbs for a specific symptom removed from the context of a full and accurate Chinese medical diagnosis ignores many of the qualities and actions of the herbs. These other qualities and actions can easily cause problems in the form of unintended and undesirable side effects.

Some people think that they are being very specific in their choice of an herb for a symptom they’re thinking of, but it might not be specific enough to use Chinese medicine for that symptom. To do that we need to use the entire system of Chinese medicine, not a list of symptoms, to arrive at the best answer.

For example, people often search for an herb to treat headache. We would need to know exactly where the headache occurs, and when, under what conditions, the history of the headache(s), family history, local environmental conditions, seasonal influences, other medications the patient might be taking and also an in-depth knowledge of her/his constitution among many other factors. Without having all of this information there is no way to get the patient exactly what s/he needs in the most safe and effective way.

The third most dangerous and/or ineffective way to use Chinese herbs is to use a single herb in isolation

Chinese herbs are almost always used in families or groups that help to optimize their positive qualities and minimize their side effects. These groupings are where the better part of the power of Chinese herbs reside, rather in the messianic power of a single herb for a single symptom. Beyond that, these groupings can only take place in the context of an individual’s unique inner environment, which must be thoroughly known and understood by the practitioner for the formula to have beneficial results.

The fourth biggest mistake people make with Chinese herbs, and it’s usually health care professionals who do this, is to try to use Chinese medicine based on modern data from research and analysis

The reason this goes wrong is because the research inevitably begins with the first biggest mistake that people make and the errors multiply from there, escalating the inaccuracy and danger of using the herbs in this way by many times.

This is a good example of our cultural bias, here a belief in ‘science,’ that gets us in trouble. When science proceeds in a blind way without understanding exactly what it is measuring, it comes to false conclusions, and then states those false conclusions with conviction for the whole world to hear, believe in and apply to disastrous effect.

Western research has not measured, described, validated or invalidated Chinese herbal medicine-yet-because so far it hasn’t understood or accounted for so many of the important variables that are at play when we prescribe it.

If we want to do a truly scientific study of Chinese medicine, we can’t simply analyze its components based on what we know. We need to investigate the entire system and forge our way into what we don’t know, beginning with what we don’t know.

The fifth biggest mistake people make with Chinese herbs is that when a formula works for them, then they go and share it with their friends and family

This is extremely dangerous, because what works well for one person could easily harm others.

I run into this problem in an even bigger way with other medical practitioners who see the positive results of my treatments and want to know what I used to create my formulas. Then, without understanding why or how I used the ingredients of the formula for that individual, they copy it-and frequently market it-with a range of mediocre to calamitous outcomes.

Sometimes patients can fall into this same trap as well, especially people who think they know a lot about herbs, Chinese or otherwise. These people ask me for the ingredients of their formula, and then they try to duplicate it for themselves without understanding that their formula is meant for a specific timing and set of conditions. You can imagine the results. I wish they could too.

Chinese medicine does not scale

There is no one size fits all with Chinese medicine. Each person needs to be addressed in her/his own way. This is why there is no way to get safe and effective Chinese medicine in a pill or a bottle. Chinese medicine is not industrial medicine. It is individual medicine.

Side effects of Chinese herbal medicine

If you don’t take a formula that is custom made for you and only you, you are virtually guaranteed to get side effects, unless what you’re taking is so mild and benign that it is only intended to nudge you in the right direction if it does anything at all.

Toxicity of Chinese medicine

Purity is all-important in Chinese herbal medicine. It is critical to know who the suppliers of the herbs are and what their growing, harvesting and processing practices are. There are many forgeries and scams on the supply-side of Chinese medicine, so multiple testing protocols at each step of production, shipping, storage and delivery are key elements in assuring quality.

Chinese herb sensitivities

Some people have been told they are sensitive to Chinese herbs. If that is the case, there’s a strong chance that they also will be sensitive to other medications as well. There’s nothing special or unique about Chinese herbs or any magic quality that they all share that would make a person sensitive to all of them. There are close to a thousand different herbs in the Chinese pharmacopoeia!

If you are sensitive to medications in general, then appropriately prescribed Chinese herbs might be the best thing you could try. A good practitioner will understand and be able to work with your sensitivities to create a perfectly tailored formula specifically and exactly just for you.

There’s no need to further emphasize these points. If you want to work with Chinese medicine, work with somebody who knows Chinese medicine.