Posts Tagged ‘Chinese Herbs’
May 16, 2013
The itch in atopic dermatitis can take over your life. It is so intense, those with atopic eczema of wake up scratching. And after your scratch, the skin becomes more inflamed, itchy, dry, and lichenified.
Most people with atopic eczema have a family history eczema, hay fever, and asthma. Allergies to foods, mold, or irritant substances may cause a flare in the condition (1). Atopic eczema is increasing rapidly in industrialized countries. Atopic eczema is treated most often with topical steroids that suppress the inflammatory response. Unfortunately, steroids also have many side effects.
Acupuncture and Chinese medicine can help reduce eczema naturally.
Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine approach to Atopic Eczema
Traditionally, Chinese medicine called eczema the “wind of four crooks” referring to the eczema rashes on the inside of the elbows and knees which are the common locations of the condition (2).
Chinese medicine treats eczema not by suppressing the immune response, but rather correcting the imbalances that are causing the eczema. By correcting or removing these imbalances your body is able to heal on its own.
In eczema, the most common underlying imbalances are dry heat or dampness. To determine the imbalance, I will observe how the skin looks. If the skin is dry, cracked, and irritated, then too much dry heat may be the most significant factor in the eczema. If there is more swelling, crusting, and vesicles, then dampness may be the most significant factor.
Because Chinese medicine is holistic, we also consider how digestion, allergies, sleep, and emotional health play a role. Acupuncture points and herbs are selected specifically for their ability to correct that specific imbalance.
Acupuncture and Chinese medicine treatment of Atopic Eczema
The therapy may combine acupuncture, Chinese herbs, and topical herbal creams.
Chinese herbal medicine focuses on correcting the imbalance. If heat is the cause of the eczema, we will use herbs that traditionally are used to “clear heat” from the body, such as sheng di huang (rehmannia) and jin yin hua (honey suckle). Many of the heat reducing herbs are also potent anti-inflammatory and immunoregulatory properties.
If dampness is causing the eczema, herbs that drain dampness such as ku shen (sophroa) can be used. There are also herbs specifically for the symptoms. For example, di fu zi (broom cypress) is very effective in reducing itch.
External herbal creams are very effective at decreasing inflammation and stopping itching. For some people, reduction in inflammation and itching happens after the first visit.
Acupuncture is very effective to control the itching in eczema. I find that auricular and body acupuncture combination to be the most effective. After the acupuncture, I often will use magnet stickers in ear acupuncture points that correspond to the specific area of the body the itch is found. It is possible that the same physiological mechanisms which acupuncture uses to reduce pain are effective for stopping itch in eczema (3).
For many patients, acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine leads to long term reduction of symptoms. This is because Chinese medicine focuses on correcting the root imbalance causing the condition, not just masking the symptoms. The long term benefit of the herbs may be due to immunoregulatory mechanisms of Chinese medicine.
1. PubMed Health. Atoptic Eczema. Accessed 5/14/2013.
2. Mazin Al-Khafaji. Atopic Eczema “Wind of the four crooks.” Journal of Chinese Medicine. Number 77: p5-8. February 2005.
3. Pfab F, Huss-Marp J, Gatti A., et al. Influence of acupuncture on type I hypersensitivity itch and the wheal and flare response in adults with atopic eczema – a blinded, randomized, placebo-controlled, crossover trial.Allergy. 2010 Jul;65(7):903-10. Epub 2009 Dec 11.
Nov 27, 2012
Yesterday, an acupressure student of mine asked “What is Chinese Herbal Medicine?”. This is a good question that deserves a proper explanation.
Chinese herbal therapies have been used for centuries for improving health and treating disease. Chinese herbs work to bring the body’s systems back into balance so the body can heal itself, naturally.
The Chinese herbal pharmacy consists of over 500 herbs. Herbs are taken as combinations of 5-15 medicinal substances, which is called an herbal formula. Each formula is tailored to correct the specific imbalance that is the cause of the illness.
The herbal formula can be taken in a number of forms: raw herbs, pills, tinctures, or granules. “Raw herbs” are dried herbs which are then cooked together to make a strong tea or soup called a decoction. Tinctures are herbs which are extracted in an alcohol base. Granules are made by extracting the herbs and condensing the cooked formula to make a powder. To take the herbs, you can reconstituted them as a tea.
How do Chinese herbs work?
The basic idea of Chinese medicine is that the Chinese herbs and acupuncture work by correcting imbalances in the body. For example, if you have eczema which is caused by damp heat and toxins, the herbal formula will contain herbs that rid the body of damp heat such as long dan cao and huang qin.
Of course, herbs also affect the body physiologically. For eczema, many of the herbs that are used are known to have immunoregulatory properties that help to regulate the inflammatory process causing the eczema. Other herbs have immune boosting properties or anti-bacterial and antiviral capabilities.
Chinese herbal therapies are very safe when taken under the care of a Chinese medicine practitioner.
Jul 11, 2012
Acupressure is the massage of acupressure points and channels. I often use acupressure and tui na (Chinese medical massage) combined with with acupuncture in my NYC acupuncture clinic.
Acupressure in context
To really understand how acupressure works, we have to see it as part of the whole of Traditional Chinese Medicine.
Chinese medicine dates back thousands of years. The first book of Chinese medicine is called the Huang di nei jing, or the Yellow Emperor’s Inner Cannon.
The book is a conversation between the Yellow Emperor and his doctor, named Qi Bo. Qi bo explains that health comes from a state of balance within the body, and between the body and the environment. To prevent illness, people should live a balanced life. It is a very simple idea.
Chinese medicine uses many therapies, including acupuncture, acupressure, and Chinese herbs to bring balance to the body by regulating the nervous system, decreasing inflammation, and improving circulation. Once the body is in balance, it can work to heal itself.
Acupuncture channels, called the jing lou in Chinese, connect the body. These channels provide a pathway for the circulation. Qi flows through the channels, warming the body and protecting it from disease.
Acupressure and acupuncture manipulates these channels to bring you back to a healthy state.
May 22, 2012
Itching is an annoying and curious phenomenon. Your body feels an annoying sensation so you irritate the skin by scratching. It makes you feel extremely uncomfortable.
This causes pain. The pain trumps the itching sensation and you no longer feel the annoyance. But the scratching causes inflammation and irritation in the area. The scratch causes more itch and the cycle continues.
Pain trumps itch because the sensations are felt through many of the same nerve endings. Although researchers looking at itch specifically are finding more itch specific pathways in the spinal cord and brain.
Itching takes a toll on people’s lives. This annoying symptom keeps people awake at night, distracts from daily activities, and leads to habitual irritation of the skin.
The causes of itching
Itching can be caused by several conditions. Sometimes you know what causes the itch such as a mosquito bite. Or it may occur from inflammatory skin diseases like eczema. It may occur in other conditions such as psoriasis and even acne sometimes. In lichen simplex for example, itching is caused by anxiety or being nervous. Elderly patients may have pruritus which from unknown causes. Some serious diseases such as cancer, liver disease, and HIV can cause itching.
But even seeing another person scratch or thinking about itching can cause an itch sensation.
Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine Causes of Itch
Acupuncture and TCM discusses has long discussed the many causes of itching. Chinese medicine imagines a complex interaction between the environment and the body.
Imbalances in the body or the environment cause the itch. Common causes of itching are heat, dampness, and wind. These are descriptions of different presentations of the disease.
Each herb or acupuncture point is chosen to correct that specific imbalance. If the skin is red and dry, then heat may be predominating. If there is swelling and weeping, then it may be caused by dampness.
Acupuncture can be used for treating acute itching in atopic dermatitis as well as other conditions. I like to use auricular acupuncture and magnets which help to reduce itch in between sessions. Acupuncture may work to stop itch through similar mechanisms as pain relief.
photo: Tambako the Jaguar
Dec 27, 2011
Here are a few articles explaining how acupuncture and Chinese herbs work for eczema.
- What is Eczema?
- Acupuncture and Chinese Herbs or Atopic Eczema
- Traditional Chinese Medicine for Dyshidrotic Eczema
- Acupuncture Calms Eczema Itch
Nov 9, 2011
Acupuncture is very effective at treating chronic migraines, tension headaches, and sinus headaches. Acupuncture therapy has been used for over 2000 years to treat chronic headaches.
How does acupuncture treat headaches?
Acupuncture and Chinese medicine scholars theorize that health is based upon balance in the body. Imbalances can cause long term illnesses and pain. Acupuncture and Chinese medicine work by correcting these imbalances in the body. Once the imbalance is corrected, the body can then works to heal itself.
Physiological, acupuncture works to reduce pain and inflammation through regulating neural pain pathways, stimulating the release of natural pain relievers in the body, such as opioids, as well as regulating pain relieving opioid receptors. Many studies have also shown acupuncture to have a anti-inflammatory effect, reducing the circulating inflammatory hormones in the blood (1).
Chronic headaches and migraines there is often a terrible cycle of tension and pain. The muscles tense up in reaction to the pain and then the pain causes the muscles to tense up more. Some believe this cycle of pain further exasperates the decreased blood flow to and from the skull, which may be one of the causes of migraines. Acupuncture cuts off this cycle of tension and pain by relaxing the muscles and relieving tension.
Acupuncture is also very relaxing. Most people feel very calm during the treatment and this lasts for a period of time afterwards. Over time, treatment helps influence you to be calm and increase your ability to deal with stress. This is because acupuncture does not separate the body and the mind. The mind influences the body, and the body influences the mind. So in treating the body we also relax the mind.
What are the most common imbalances that cause headaches?
When comes to headaches, the imbalance is often rooted in the circulation or production of the body’s energy called qi (pronounced chee). Qi needs to be abundant and circulate through channels in the body or else illness occurs.
In Chinese medicine, it is said “When the qi flows there is no pain, when qi stops, there is pain and illness.” When there is stress, trauma, or other illness, the qi circulation can slow down and become stagnated. Someone with qi stagnation will have headaches that are intense, worse with stress, neck pain, ribside pain, possible insomnia, and digestive problems.
Another imbalance can be too little energy, or what is called qi deficiency. If there is too little energy, then people will feel tired, get bloated after they eat, and have a weak pulse.
Acupuncture, Chinese herbs, and acupressure all help to build more qi and smooth the flow of qi.
What is acupuncture treatment like?
An effective acupuncture treatment is based upon a specific and accurate diagnosis. The root imbalance of the condition and by asking in depth questions, taking your pulse, and examining your body. By targeting the exact root of the condition leads to the most successful treatment.
I combine acupressure, Chinese medicine massage, with the acupuncture to create greater results and a stronger sense of relaxation. Usually people will feel some relief after only a few weekly visits.
Research on Acupuncture for Headaches
A recent metanalysis of 31 studies, showed that acupuncture was more effective than both medication and placebo acupuncture (2). For those who do not know, a metanalysis is a more definitive study which examines many many previously performed studies. The studies showed that acupuncture was stronger than placebo acupuncture for reducing headaches, and even stronger than medication for reducing headache frequency, intensity, and overall physical function.
1. Napadow V, Ahn A, Longhurst J, et.al. The Status and Future of Acupuncture Mechanism Research. J Altern Complement Med. 2008 September; 14(7): 861–869.
2. Sun Y, Gan TJ. Acupuncture for the management of chronic headache: a systematic review. Anesth Analg. 2008 Dec;107(6):2038-47.
written by Joseph Alban
edited: November 7, 2011
Nov 3, 2011
“The Heartbreak of Psoriasis” is a phase the author John Updike, a sufferer of psoriasis himself, used to describe his experience with the condition. While psoriasis is a skin condition, it impacts people’s daily lives in social situations and has a significant emotional impact. In addition, psoriasis may cause itching, physical discomfort, and is often associated with arthritic joint pain. Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine has been extensively used to treat psoriasis.
What Causes Psoriasis?
In both acupuncture theory and western medicine, psoriasis is more than skin deep. Psoriasis is caused by dysfunction and dysregulation of the immune system, leading to an auto immune reaction. In acupuncture, this dysfunction is described as imbalances which disrupt the body and keep it from healing. Once the imbalances are corrected, your body can work to heal itself and stay healthy.
Psoriasis causes auto-immune reactions which make skin cells overgrow, leading to the development of plaques and scales. The environment also influences the development of the condition including drugs, trauma, infection, and stress.
What are Psoriasis symptoms?
Psoriasis causes the formation of round and oval raised lesions. Often there is silvery white scale over these lesions. If removed it may bleed easily, which is called an Auspitz’s sign. Itching is common, and can be severe in certain cases, but it is very variable. In those with psoriasis, the lesion may appear at a site of physical trauma, which is called a Koebner phenomenon. Many people with psoriasis also suffer from chronic joint pain and arthritis.
Psoriasis tends to affect the outside of the arms and legs more than the inside. Common areas that are most effected from psoriasis are the back, elbows, scalp, groin area, fingernails, and toenails. Some medications and drugs may exacerbate the development of this condition.
There are many types of psoriasis, the most common type being chronic plaque psoriasis. This chronic form is the most common and the lesions may last for months, even years when they develop. This form reacts well to acupuncture and Chinese medicine treatment.
There are some acute inflammatory forms of psoriasis, which must be treated immediately by a physician or in the emergency department.
Psoriasis in Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine
In acupuncture and Chinese medicine, psoriasis is caused by imbalances in the body. For autoimmune conditions like psoriasis, the concept of imbalances really makes sense. The immune system is overactive and the body attacks itself.
The diagnosis of the specific imbalance is based upon your symptoms, such as itch, pain, or irritation, the appearance of the skin lesions. The most common imbalances, which cause psoriasis, are blood heat, dryness, and blood stagnation. Damp heat can also be a factor, particularly in pustular psoriasis.
Chinese medicine and acupuncture doctors have long said that removing these imbalances is like hitting the reset switch. In this case, resetting the immune system.
The Most Common Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine Imbalances
Blood Heat- Blood heat is characterized by the acute onset of psoriasis with possible severe itching. The lesions are often bright red irregular patterns of plaque. The size and extent of the lesions suggest the amount of heat. The greater number and larger the lesions, the greater amount of heat. The bleeding upon scratching is easy to elicit (1).
Blood Dryness- Blood dryness occurs with chronic cases of psoriasis. Itching may or may not be present. The lesions can appear pale red or dull red in color. The scales may appear to be dryer with blood dryness.
Blood Stagnation- Blood stagnation also occurs when there is long term chronic psoriasis. It often is characterized by remission and relapses. The plaques are irregular, hard, and thick and may be purplish and dry in color. Bleeding may be difficult to elicit but itching is still present.
Damp heat occurs in pustular psoriasis. This is when there is a large amount of inflammation, swelling, fissures, and exudate. The lesions may be moist and swollen and there may be pus.
Psoriasis Treatment with Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine
Chinese herbal therapy works by correcting the specific imbalance causing underlying psoraisis. The prescription is tailored to your symptoms and imbalance specifically.
The treatment usually combines both acupuncture and Chinese herbal therapy. Acupuncture can help to reduce itch and, if there is pain associated with the condition, help to kill the pain. Acupuncture points such as LI 11 and LI 4 help to clear heat. GB 34 and GB 31 can help relieve the itching. Ear acupuncture and ear magnet therapy I find helps to relieve itching very quickly.
In addition to acupuncture, Chinese herbal therapy is necessary for having substantial results with psoriasis. Chinese herbs are given in formulas, which may contain 10-15 herbs. They are most often cooked and drank as teas. The ingredients are chosen specifically for your condition. For example, if there is blood stagnation and blood dryness, the formula would focus on moving the blood stagnation and nourishing the dryness.
The Immunologic Effects of Herbs for Psoriasis
A review of herbs used for psoriasis explored the immunologic effects of commonly used herbs for psoriasis (2). Chinese herbs are complex natural products. Rather than being a single chemical, like most medications, they are combinations of naturally occurring substances. Formulas are even more complex because they can have 10 or more herbs.
Three of the most powerful and commonly used herbs for psoriasis are Sheng di huang (Rehmania glutinosa), Dan shen (Salvia miltiorriza), and Zi cao (lithospermum erythrohizon).
Sheng di huang is used to cool the blood and clear heat. It is effective for many types of psoriasis, including psoriasis from blood heat and blood dryness. In the laboratory, sheng di has shown to inhibit histamine release from mast cells and regulate the cytokines TNF-α and IL-1 in astrocytes.
Dan shen is good for blood stagnation and heat type psoriasis. Dan shen was shown to reduce edema, inhibit the secretion of IFN-γ and IL-12, and inhibited the degranulation of mast cells.
Zi cao very strongly cools the blood and is often used with psoriasis. This in combination with other herbs showed a complete suppression of IL-α and TNF-α, which are factors in psoriasis. These anti-inflammatory effects may have a beneficial effect for psoriasis.
Chinese Herbal Formulas
Some of the herbs may not directly correct the immune system, but rather work synergistically with other herbs in the formula to enhance their action, or in some cases, protect from side effects. You can see how complicated the situation is and why it is important to be well trained in Chinese herbal medicine.
Licorice root, or gan cao (Glycyrrhiza uralensis), is widely used in Chinese medicine for psoriasis by boosting qi and harmonizing the effects of other herbs. It has long been know for immunoregulatory abilities. Studies are now showing that it can also reduce possible toxicity and helped to repair damaged liver cells. This is the harmonizing effect Chinese medicine doctors have been talking about for centuries.
How long does acupuncture and Chinese medicine treatment take?
Overall, a treatment course for psoriasis is about 3-6 months. This time period can vary depending on the severity and symptoms you are experiencing.
I want to see psoriasis symptoms such as itching and pain to improve within the first month to 6 weeks of treatment. By the end of the second month, I would like to see a reduction in the amount of redness and size of the plaque, which will continue throughout the treatment course.
One of the phenomenal aspects of acupuncture and Chinese medicine treatment is that it can lead to long term reduction in psoriasis. We describe this as correcting the imbalances in the body rather than masking the psoriasis symptoms.
1. Treatment of psoriasis with traditional Chinese medicine. Lin Li. Hai Feng Publishing, 1990.
2. Tse, T. W. Use of common Chinese herbs in the treatment of psoriasis. Clinical and Experimental Dermatology. 28: 5. 469-475. 2003
Photos: The Wednesday Island of English Wikipedia
Oct 13, 2011
Observing the tongue and taking the pulse are two of the most common diagnostic techniques in Chinese medicine.
Why look at the tongue?
Chinese medicine uses diagnostic approaches, like the tongue and the pulse, because they reflect the imbalances that are causing your health problem.
What are we looking for in the tongue?
When I am looking at the tongue, I am looking at the the color of the tongue, the size and shape of the tongue body, and the coating on top of the tongue.
If the tongue is very red, or very pale that can show there is heat, or qi deficiency. If the tongue body is purplish, it can show stagnation, a lack of circulation in the body’s channels. If the tongue coating is very thick and white, it can be dampness. But if the tongue coating is yellow and sticky, that can signal intense heat. If the tongue is very red and there is very little tongue coating, then the heat has damaged the fluids in the body.
The size of the tongue can differ as well. A common tongue sign is called toothmarked, where the sides of the tongue almost look like they have teeth marks in them. The tongue body can also be cracked, which can show too little yin.
Eczema: A clinical example of the holistic diagnosis
The information from the tongue is not taken in isolation, but rather combined with other techniques, such as the pulse, asking questions, and in the case of eczema, observing the skin.
When it comes to eczema, looking at the skin is very important. If the skin is very red, irritated, dry, and itchy, then it is probably caused by heat. We then look at the tongue. If the tongue is red with a sticky yellow coating, then it is certainly excess heat causing the eczema. The herbs and acupuncture are focused clearing heat.
But if the tongue is pale and large, with a thick white coat, then it may be heat mixed with qi deficiency, or lack of energy. The herbs and acupuncture would have to also address the underlying lack of energy.
Read more on Acupuncture for Eczema
- Chinese herbs for Winter Eczema: A Success Story
- TCM Treatment for Dyshidrotic Eczema
- Personalized Acupuncture and Herbs for Eczema
Photo: Mike Burns
Aug 31, 2011
Chinese herbal remedies have been used for centuries for many conditions and to boost overall health. For many conditions the combination of acupuncture and herbs is the most effective approach. I almost always use herbs when treating acne, eczema, psoriasis, and other skin conditions.
The current Chinese pharmacopeia contains more than 5000 herbs and medicinal products. A pharmacy will most often contain 500-1000 of the most commonly used herbs. Some of the herbs are only used in the region they are grown and are not easy to find elsewhere.
Chinese herbs are most often combined into formulas rather than given as a single herb. This approach produces synergy, the combination is more powerful than any one herb. The herbs are combined and specifically tailored to your imbalance.
Chinese herbs are holistic, that is they target the underlying imbalance as well as the symptoms, herbs can address many conditions at the same time.
There are many ways to take Chinese herbs.
Raw Herbs: The most traditional way, and the most potent for certain conditions, are raw herbs. Raw herbs are generally dried herbs.
The are prepared by boiling in water to make a very strong tea. The herbal dregs are discarded and the tea is drank. The herbs should be cooked in a ceramic herb pot or a glass pot. Metal pots, even stainless steel, should be avoided.
Many herbal pharmacies have pressure cooking machines that can prepare the herbs for you. The tea is then vacuum packed into a small bag.
Raw herbs are very potent. I believe they are the strongest form of herbs. I most often use raw herbs for skin conditions like acne, eczema, and psoriasis.
Pills or Capsules
Herbal pills are possibly the most common way to take herbs. This is also a traditional method, as many formulas were designed to be made into honey pills. Honey pills consist of ground herbs which are binded together with honey.
I find prepared herbs very effective for many chronic health concerns such as anxiety, insomnia, and allergies. They are very easy to take and easy to store. They may not be strong enough for certain women’s health or skin conditions.
Tinctures are alcohol extracts of herbal formulas. That is, the herbal formula is boiled down to make a very concentrated tea. A small amount of alcohol is added as a preservative. They are very easy to use, quite effective, and affordable.
Granules or Powders
Granules are concentrated boiled herbs. The herbal formulas are boiled down and the liquid is concentrated. Mix this powder with warm water to reconstitute the herbs. Sometimes the herbs are also encapsulated for pills.
Jun 2, 2011
Anything with the word “revenge” can’t be good. Commonly called Montezuma’s revenge, traveler’s diarrhea is a common illness for adventurers.
Traveler’s diarrhea was a concern of mine when we were trekking in Peru. I’ve always known that I had a sensitive stomach when traveling, and I remember getting sick when in other countries. I wanted to try to avoid it on this trip.
I was still in graduate school during my Peru trip, and I did not have that much experience with treating traveler’s diarrhea. I asked my favorite teacher, Dr. Kejian Xiao, who is a master herbalist about what to take for traveler’s diarrhea.
Herbs for Traveler’s Diarrhea
First, need to observe the intensity and symptoms.
If you have mild upset stomach, mild to moderate diarrhea, possible slight nausea, slight chills, no pain or burning, then you need to use a formula that will warm the stomach. This formula is Huo Xiang Zheng Qi tang.
This formula is aromatic and it helps to warm the stomach and the digestion. Many of these herbs are helpful for killing bacteria in food such as zi su ye, perilla leaf, and ginger. Perilla leaf and ginger are both commonly eaten with sushi. Not only do they add to the taste, but also help to mitigate any possibility of bacteria in the foods.
Huo xiang zheng qi tang is a very safe formula. But in some people it can slow down the digestion.
For more severe symptoms and burning, the huang lian su may be a better choice.
Huang lian su is simply the the herbs huang lian, or copitus. This herb is very strong anti biotic properties as well as immunological regulatory properties. It is very bitter and cold and can easily cause constipation.
Regulating your stomach after getting sick is also important.
The best formula for this is called Curing Pills. Curing pills are a great remedy for digestive issues. They are mild and help to regulate digestion, ease bloating, and constipation to help your stomach recover.