Chinese Medicine

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 utilizes hundreds of herbs from a variety of sources. Some are common pantry staples, including ginger or cinnamon, while others are uncommon to Westerners such as astragalus (huangqi) or bupleurum (chaihu). Practitioners of Chinese herbal medicine believe that in the correct 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 of 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 their amounts just for you and what you're 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 in combination 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 woman’s period). Others have theorized that specific combinations may help those with infertility. Some models have shown that certain herbs may reduce estrogen levels in the body, a hormone that endometriosis lesions depend on for development, growth, and breakdown. However, more research is needed to investigate these potential relationships and mechanisms.5-7

Things to note about Chinese herbal medicine

Chinese herbal medicine is a complementary therapy that is not intended to replace traditional treatment options. It is important to talk with your healthcare provider before trying Chinese herbal medicine, as many of the herbs can interact with medications and other supplements. Some herbs can also produce unwanted side effects. Your provider will help you determine if Chinese herbal medicine is appropriate for you. They may even recommend a practitioner in your area to visit. Some large hospital systems have departments dedicated to complementary and alternative medicine, and may have someone who practices Chinese herbal medicine on staff. Additionally, many acupuncturists are also trained in Chinese herbal medicine, and can be found at reputable TCM practices in your area. If you visit a Chinese herbal medicine practitioner, let them know about any medications 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. While this may be a convenient way to try this type of therapy, it's important to note that the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not monitor and approve supplements and herbs like these in the same manner that they regulate medications. This means, what manufacturers claim is in a Chinese herbal supplement or product may not be exactly what is in the product. For example, if a medication label claims to have 500mg of a substance, it is required by the FDA to contain this amount. In contrast, over the counter herbal supplements do not need to follow these requirements and may contain different amounts of ingredients, or other ingredients not disclosed on the label. This is why it is a good idea to check in with your provider and, if applicable, your Chinese herbal medicine practitioner before you try a self-purchased Chinese herbal medicine.1

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Written by: Casey Hribar | Last reviewed: February 2021