Chinese Medicine

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: March 2023

Chinese herbal medicine is a type of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). Other types of TCM include tai chi and acupuncture. The practice of TCM and Chinese herbal medicine dates back thousands of years.

Chinese herbal medicine uses hundreds of herbs from many sources. Some are common pantry staples, including ginger or cinnamon. Others are more rare, such as astragalus (huangqi) or bupleurum (chaihu). People who practice Chinese herbal medicine believe that in the right combinations and amounts, these herbs can prevent or treat conditions including digestive issues, infertility, joint pain, endometriosis, anxiety, and more.1-4

Understanding Chinese medicine

The Materia Medica is a Chinese reference book that informs the practice of Chinese herbal medicine. It describes all the substances used and where they come from. It also helps practitioners make specific combinations of herbs. Typically, when an individual utilizes Chinese herbal medicine, they will receive a combination of 10 to 20 herbs. These herbs can come in loose form or in powder form to be made into tea. However, some Chinese herbs come in capsule or tablet form.

If you see a Chinese herbal medicine practitioner, they can tailor a specific combination of herbs and amounts just for you and what you are seeking treatment for. Many practitioners of TCM and Chinese herbal medicine are certified and receive years of training in their craft. Chinese herbal medicine is often practiced along with acupuncture.1-4

What the research says

There is limited research on the effect of Chinese herbal medicine on endometriosis. However, some studies have suggested that specific combinations of Chinese herbal medicines may decrease pelvic pain or dysmenorrhea (pain that accompanies a person's period). Others have suggested that specific combinations may help those with infertility. Some models have shown that certain herbs may reduce estrogen levels in the body. Endometriosis lesions depend on estrogen for development, growth, and breakdown. However, more research is needed to better understand this possible link.5-7

Things to note about Chinese herbal medicine

Chinese herbal medicine is not meant to replace traditional treatment options. It is important to talk with your doctor before trying Chinese herbal medicine. Many of the herbs used can interact with medicines and other supplements. Some herbs can also produce unwanted side effects. Your doctor will help you determine if Chinese herbal medicine is right for you. They may even recommend a practitioner in your area. Some large hospital systems have departments dedicated to complementary and alternative medicine that may have someone who practices Chinese herbal medicine on staff. Many acupuncturists are also trained in Chinese herbal medicine. If you visit a Chinese herbal medicine practitioner, let them know about any medicines you are taking and any other conditions you may have.1

Some Chinese herbal medicines can be found online or in grocery or vitamin stores. Supplements are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This means no agency confirms the ingredients. For example, a fish oil supplement may have more or less fish oil than listed on the label. A supplement may also contain ingredients that are not labeled correctly or at all. This can be dangerous. It can lead to taking too much or taking unwanted ingredients.

The FDA created good manufacturing practices (GMPs) to help this situation. GMPs are guidelines for companies to follow when making supplements. The FDA rarely inspects facilities making supplements in the United States. Companies outside the United States do not have these inspections. But, many more supplements are sold than are tested. Your doctor can help you decide if a supplement is safe.1

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