How Much Do We Know About Traditional Chinese Medicine?
The approaches that make up traditional Chinese medicine (such as acupuncture, tai chi, and herbal products) have been the subjects of many clinical studies and scientific reviews.
What Do We Know About the Effectiveness of Traditional Chinese Medicine?
Some psychological and/or physical approaches used in traditional Chinese medicine practices, such as acupuncture and tai chi, may help improve quality of life and certain pain conditions. Studies of Chinese herbal products used in traditional Chinese medicine for a range of medical conditions have had results.
Herbs used in Chinese medicine
Chinese herbal medicines are mainly plant based, but some preparations include minerals or animal products. They can be packaged as powders, pastes, lotions or tablets, depending on the herb and its intended use. Different herbs have different properties and can balance particular parts of the body. Prescribing a particular herb or concoction of herbs means the practitioner’s diagnosis has to take into account the state of the patient’s Yin and Yang, and the elements that are governing the affected organs.
Additional treatment and advice
Your practitioner might advise you to make specific changes in your diet, such as avoiding spicy foods or alcohol. Foods are believed to either ‘heat’ or ‘cool’ the constitution, making dietary changes an important part of the healing process. Acupuncture might also be used to treat disrupted Qi.
Chinese herbal medicine has been used to treat a wide variety of neurological disorders including stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease. However, its mechanism behind the effectiveness remains unclear. Recently, molecular imaging technology has been applied for this purpose, since it can assess the cellular or molecular function in a living subject by using specific imaging probes and/or radioactive tracers, which enable efficient analysis and monitoring the therapeutic response repetitively. This chapter reviews the in vivo functional and metabolic changes after administration of Chinese herbal medicine in various neurological disorders and provides perspectives on the future evaluations of therapeutic response of Chinese herbal medicine.
What is the history of TCM?
The first writings about TCM date back to 200 BCE. Herbal medicine and acupuncture, including theory, practice, diagnosis, and treatment, were recorded in classical Chinese texts and refined over many centuries.
The practice of TCM stayed in Asia for centuries. Chinese immigrants had been practicing TCM in the United States since the mid-19th century, but its existence was unknown to most Americans before 1971. That year, New York Times reporter James Reston, who was in China covering former President Nixon’s trip, had to have an emergency appendix operation. After the operation he received acupuncture for pain, and his stories about this experience with TCM fascinated the public. Since then, TCM has gone on to become a mainstream alternative medicine practiced all over the world.
How does TCM work?
Disease, alterations in the normal flow of qi such that yin and yang are imbalanced, is thought to have three major causes: external or environmental factors, your internal emotions, and lifestyle factors, such as diet. Through the use of its therapeutic modalities, TCM stimulates the body’s own healing mechanisms. Practices used in TCM include:
Acupuncture and acupressure
Moxibustion, burning an herb near the skin
Chinese massage, called tui na
Exercise, such as tai chi and qi gong which combine movement with meditation
In TCM, the body’s internal organs are thought of not only as individual structures but also as complex networks. According to TCM, qi flows through organ systems, the kidneys, heart, spleen, liver, lung, gallbladder, small intestine, and large intestine, by way of meridians. Despite their specific names, these 5 systems correspond to more than individual body parts. The kidney, for example, represents the entire urinary system along with the adrenal glands, located on top of the kidneys. The heart, meanwhile, represents both the heart and the brain.
What should I expect on my first visit?
The TCM practitioner will ask you questions about your medical history and do a physical exam to look for signs of imbalance. The TCM practitioner will examine your skin, tongue, and hair, as well as other parts of your body, from the brightness of your eyes to the color of your nails, and check 6 pulses on each of your wrists. The practitioner will also listen to your voice to assess your shen (spirit), and will work to determine if one or more of your organ networks are affected. The practitioner then tries to correct imbalances in your body by providing a combination of the therapies discussed above.
What is TCM good for?
Over the centuries, TCM has been used to treat countless conditions. Western scientists are still studying its effectiveness for various diseases. For serious conditions, make sure you are working with a conventional doctor along with a TCM practitioner. Always let everyone on your health care team know about any medicines, herbs, or supplements you are taking. Some of the conditions for which TCM is known to be helpful include:
Diabetes and its complications, such as retinopathy (damage to the retina located in the back of the eye)
Male and female fertility disorders
Digestive disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome
Recurrent cystitis, inflammation of the bladder
Nausea and vomiting
TCM may also be an effective treatment for the following ailments:
Cancer, especially colorectal cancer
Pain, including childbirth and abdominal
Infections (respiratory, bladder, vaginal)
Top Traditional Chinese Medicine Herbs List
Here you’ll find our most trusted list of 10 all-natural herbs commonly used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to boost overall health and wellness. Each has a unique story and delivers its own remarkable benefits, known for millennia and more recently explored by modern science.
There are hundreds of medicinal herbs grown and used all over the world, but consider this list of Chinese herbs our guide to the greatest hits. These plant-based remedies, developed by practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine, can help improve your overall health and well-being in a multitude of ways. We’ll walk you through a little background information on each herb, where it comes from, and what it does, plus easy ways to make these natural wonders a part of your everyday routine.
1. Ren Shen (Red Ginseng Root)
Red Ginseng is a leafy plant, native to Asia, whose root has long been known in Traditional Chinese Medicine as a powerful adaptogen – that’s a natural substance that helps the body adapt to stress – with a multitude of health benefits.
And Western holistic medicine agrees. For example, research has shown that ginseng can help improve the body’s ability to process alcohol (which makes it a potent addition to our Indulgence Relief formula). Other interesting studies have demonstrated ginseng’s potential as a “beauty food,” with a covetable ability to help boost levels of collagen in the skin, reducing the visible effects of aging like wrinkles and discoloration, or dark spots.
WTHN’s Daily Glow formula harnesses red ginseng root, along with other ingredients like pearl powder and rose hips, for these sought-after properties. This herb is naturally invigorating, with both anti-inflammatory and antioxidant qualities that make it one of the most famous Chinese herbs in use.
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2. Dang Shen (Codonopsis Root)
Codonopsis root, though less well-known in the West than ginseng, is one of the most commonly used herbs in the practice of Traditional Chinese Medicine. It promotes whole-body health by supporting digestion and overall energy levels. It is used to improve vitality and a general feeling of brightness and well-being.
One of the many reasons it is so widely used, in addition to the many ailments it treats, is its mildness and gentle effectiveness. You’ll find organic codonopsis root in our Daily Digestion blend, which targets metabolism, gas, and bloating, as well as our Fast Forward blend, which helps you power through without letting the illness drag on.
3. Huang Qi (Astragalus Root)
Astragalus is another Asian root that remains largely unfamiliar to Western consumers, but has been used successfully for thousands of years in herbal treatments developed by Traditional Chinese Medicine. This herb in particular is known as an excellent immune system booster. Chemical compounds found in astragalus, studies have shown, can work to alleviate oxidative stress on the body while decreasing inflammation and regulating the immune response at a cellular level.
Astragalus root is thought to work at its highest potential when taken preventatively, and regularly, by those who are in overall good health. That’s why we’ve included this herb in WTHN’s In the Clear and Daily Immune Support blends, for fighting off year-round symptoms of allergies and illnesses before they become debilitating.
4. Bai Shao (White Peony Root)
You may already know the peony plant for its colorful petals, especially popular as garden-grown beauties and wedding decor, but the peony’s root is where its medicinal properties and health benefits can be found. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, peony root is often used to aid blood circulation, increase energy, and balance mood.
In particular, this herb has historically been used to help with anxiety and depression by inhibiting the reuptake of serotonin (one of the nervous system’s neurotransmitters, or “happy hormones”) in the brain. Improved focus and mental stability are both expected outcomes of a regular regimen of peony root supplementation. In both our Head to Toe Relief and Daily Calm formulas, peony root relieves tension and promotes a feeling of comfort.
5. Suan Zao Ren (Jujube Seed)
The jujube fruit, also known as a red date or Chinese date, is a small fruit with a pit at the center. Its seeds have been used medicinally for at least 3,000 years as a remedy for insomnia, and modern studies confirm that this herb works as a natural sedative, helping you to feel like resting when your mind, body, or both can’t seem to slow down on their own.
This fruit, modern science now understands, is rich in compounds called saponins, which have a soothing effect on the nervous system, which regulates the body’s ability to relax (and ultimately drift into slumber). We’ve incorporated jujube seed in WTHN’s Sleep Well blend, which provides support for deeper relaxation and better, longer sleep.
6. Wu Wei Zi (Schisandra Berry)
Also known as the “five-flavor fruit” because its berries are said to contain an entire spectrum of salty, sweet, sour, spicy, and bitter tastes, this Asian plant is widely respected in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Schisandra is part of a family of herbs called adaptogens, which help the body to adapt to stressors and ultimately weather life’s physical and emotional challenges.
It’s been used for millennia to fight the symptoms of stress and fatigue, and newer research suggests that schisandra berry may improve endurance in particular by preventing a buildup of acid in the lungs. With the power to ease breathing in this way, schisandra berry may help you exercise longer and even feel physically calmer in the face of anxiety or panic. Its energy-balancing properties make this herb a key component of WTHN’s Daily Energizer, Daily Calm, and Sleep Well formulas.
7. Jin Yin Hua (Honeysuckle Flower)
Honeysuckle is a beautifully vibrant flowering plant, growing widely across East Asia. It also has a delightfully warm, sweet scent that’s sometimes used in relaxing aromatherapy treatments (or even pleasantly scented cleaning products). But in Traditional Chinese Medicine, its most coveted characteristic is its ability to support the immune system with anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and antiviral effects.
It’s understood to help the body fight off certain ailments, like fevers, sore throats, and even skin rashes. As part of our Fast Forward herbal blend, this unique Chinese herb helps the whole immune system fight back against illness so you can feel better, sooner, and get back to your regular routine.
8. Bai Zhu (Atractylodes Root)
The root of the atractylodes plant, which is part of the sunflower family that grows abundantly in the southeastern part of China, has a long history as one of the most important herbs in Traditional Chinese Medicine. With many medical uses, it’s especially well known for its ability to support metabolism and improve the function of the digestive tract, which is why atractylodes root is a cornerstone of both our Daily Digestion and Indulgence Relief blends.
This herb also helps the body to process the therapeutic benefits of other herbs, making it a helpful addition to WTHN’s Daily Immune Support formula. Atractylodes root is an invigorating herb that supports overall mood and well-being by targeting the flow of Qi, TCM’s concept of essential energy.
- Medicinal Garden
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9. Bai Zhi (Fragrant Angelica Root)
This herb is one with quite a range of powers, and as such, has long been used in Chinese herbal medicine – as well as traditional European, particularly Russian, medicine – to tackle multiple symptoms at the same time. To many TCM practitioners, fragrant angelica root’s core use is working to open up the nasal passages. This in turn helps alleviate the discomfort of congestion, cold symptoms, and headaches.
In addition, many patients find that fragrant angelica root reduces related tension in the head, neck, and shoulders, along with all over body aches. We’ve tapped fragrant angelica root for WTHN’s In the Clear blend to target breathing and sinus issues sometimes caused by seasonal triggers like pollen and dust.
Interestingly, fragrant angelica root is known to have a synergistic effect with another traditional Chinese herb called corydalis. When used together, they magnify each other’s healing effects, and so both can be found in Head to Toe Relief, which we’ve formulated to naturally promote body, head, and joint comfort.
10. He Huan Pi (Mimosa Tree Bark)
With a nickname like “happy bark,” it shouldn’t come as a surprise that this particular Chinese herb works wonders for mood. The mimosa tree, also called the Chinese silk tree or pink silk tree for its delicate, wispy flower petals. For thousands of years, holistic practitioners have known that mimosa tree bark helps with feelings of overwhelm and restlessness. We now know that the herb does this by regulating the body’s hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, which is the nervous system’s central hub of stress response.
Mimosa tree bark is thought to help the nervous system balance the way it taps into both sympathetic and parasympathetic functions, which control active, danger-response reactions and restful, return-to-calm processes, respectively. WTHN’s Daily Calm formula harnesses the power of mimosa tree bark to help with overall stress relief and a feeling of emotional ease.
Tips for Using Chinese Herbs
Herbal remedies are one of the most important modalities in the ancient Chinese tradition of treating illness – and proactively promoting wellness. The simplest way to use these herbs is as supplements, swallowed with a glass of water like your daily vitamin.
Many of them can also be consumed dried, ground, or whole, depending on which part of the plant is used medicinally, but only products like WTHN’s that have been developed by a board certified Chinese herbalist and rigorously tested for safety get our stamp of approval. Incorporating Chinese herbs in your routine can be a great experience with the right expert guidance.
Consult your professional wellness team. The use of TCM herbs is both art and science, and a licensed practitioner of Chinese medicine can examine symptoms, diagnose conditions, and prescribe the herbs recommended for your needs. You can find a TCM herbal specialist at many acupuncture studios and holistic medicine practices.
For the best results, combine herbal remedies with hands-on traditional medicine techniques like acupuncture (in which tiny, painless needles target specific points channeling the body’s energy), acupressure (similar, but sans needles), and cupping (like a reverse massage using gentle suction). For thousands of years, these modalities have been used together to optimize healing.
Make it a habit. You’ll notice the most improvement when you take herbal supplements regularly and consistently.
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