When I was offered a chance to write about Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for Alive Magazine, my answer was a resounding, “YES!” If we haven’t met, I’m a huge fan and supporter of TCM, its principles, and its treatments. After all, I’ve been practicing it for over 16 years. The more people who know about TCM and get a chance to try it in some format–TCM consultation, acupuncture, Chinese herbs, TCM food cures, cupping, or simple lifestyle changes based on TCM foundations–the happier I am!
One challenge about sharing information about Traditional Chinese Medicine is that it uses a different language than most of us from the West can comprehend. Yin, Yang, Qi, meridians, Damp-Cold, Liver attacking Spleen–say what?! The thing is, many systems and professionals use their own language, from “lawyerspeak” to medical jargon to tech terms. Understand that this is our way of explaining complex principles and diagnostics, and some of our words are not to be taken literally (for example, your liver is not actually attacking your spleen!).
It’s not easy to encapsulate all I want to say about TCM in just one article, but check out my link to Traditional Chinese Medicine: Deep, Historical Roots Offer New Medical Insights in June 2017’s issue of Alive. You’ll find a basic intro, my description of how TCM has been changing and evolving, and some info about how to find a qualified TCM in Canada.
The Vancouver Sun recently wrote an article titled, “Chinese herbs mixed with medications can be hazardous.” Now, the article doesn’t really say that Chinese herbs themselves are dangerous. It discusses how patients (particularly those from China) often take Chinese herbs, but don’t tell their medical doctors about it. And the onus of blame for health risks from drug-herb interactions always lands on the herbs, not the pharmaceuticals.
Chinese herbs mixed with medications can be hazardous
Using traditional Chinese herbal remedies while also taking prescription medications can cause potentially life-threatening reactions. After a survey of Chinese immigrants in Vancouver found that many use traditional herbs and fail to disclose it to …
The Good Side of Awareness for Drug-Herb Interactions
A group of medical students is working with an emergency medical doctor at Vancouver General Hospital to provide a checklist of common Chinese herbs with a listing of the herbs’ actions. The intent is to provide the list to TCM practitioners, TCM herbalists, and TCM doctors to have them check the box next to any of the herbs they prescribe to each of their patients. The idea is that the patient would then provide this checklist to their MD.
I do agree that dangerous drug-herb interactions need to be avoided.
I do agree that it’s important that patients notify their MDs about any herbs or supplements they are taking. And that they also tell their TCM health professional (and any other health providers) about medications they are taking.
I do agree that Chinese herbs can have powerful medicinal effects. This actually is refreshing to me to hear medical students and a VGH ER doc note the potent physiological actions of Chinese herbs. TCM offers effective medicinal results, and too often the conventional side questions the efficacy. This group of conventional health providers do not question that there are medicinal effects. Bravo!
Should We Be Concerned About Dangerous Chinese Herbs?
But, is it really the Chinese herbs themselves that are the problem?
How herbs are being taken
Part of the problem is it that patients may take herbs improperly, taking the health advice of a friend or family member (or Dr. Google), rather than seek the help of a qualified TCM doctor or herbalist.
As a registered doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine, I know that when we prescribe Chinese herbs, the herbs are almost never prescribed as a single herb. We gather a lot of information from our patients about their health conditions, their medications (we too learn about drug-herb interactions), their other supplements, and a long list of symptoms, life patterns, and medical history. We do this so that we can work to avoid side effects and negative interactions.
British Columbians are lucky. TCM is a regulated profession. TCM herbs are prescribed by health professionals who are registered, licensed, and insured. We are held accountable, just like MDs, nurses, physios, and other health professionals under the Health Professions Act. So, make sure the person who tells you to take your Chinese herbs is actually qualified to do so. Note that if you want Chinese herbs, check our regulatory body’s website and choose only those with Dr.TCM, R.TCM.P., or R.TCM.H. Registered acupuncturists (R.Ac.) are not qualified to prescribe Chinese herbs.
What about the pharmaceuticals?
How about the pharmaceutical medications themselves? Do they hold some responsibility, or is it a dysfunctional blaming relationship? “It’s not me, it’s you.”
For example, the blood thinning drug warfarin (that they mention in the Vancouver Sun article) does not play well with others. Many others. Including A.S.A. (e.g. Aspirin), ibuprofen (e.g. Advil), and acetominophen (e.g. Tylenol); thyroid medicine, some antibiotics, and some antidepressants; and even many foods, like grapefruit, avocado, large amounts of kale or other otherwise healthy dark leafy greens, and store-bought mayo, salad dressings, and margarine.
I’m not against the proper use of pharmaceutical medicine. I work in an integrative medicine clinic with MDs and an ND who prescribe them. My mother is a nurse practitioner. I will take an Advil or Tylenol if I am suffering pain and need quick relief. But, too many people are too over-medicated because it’s easy to do. Because MSP or extended health plans pay for the medications, but not our herbs, vitamins, and other supplements. Because of scary articles like this one in the Vancouver Sun.
Why aren’t patients telling their MDs about their herb use?
Then, of course, there’s the big question…why aren’t patients telling their MDs about the herbs, vitamins, and other supplements they are taking? This article provides an answer, “A survey her group conducted of more than 300 Chinese immigrants to Vancouver revealed many don’t disclose their use of such remedies because they feel they’ll be harshly judged.”
That is a problem!
And it’s not just Chinese immigrants who feel that way. Many patients have told me that they take supplements or get treatments (like acupuncture, chiropractic, osteopathy, and more) despite the flak they take from their MDs. Some have learned to just shut it when it comes to that discussion. Easier not to have to argue. Or justify. Or try to explain how it’s actually working for them.
So, will my taking the time to print, fill out, and hand that checklist to each patient who receives Chinese herbs from me help?
Maybe a bit. Maybe it will open up some much needed dialogue between health professions so we can work better together. *I’m lucky because I work in an integrative medical clinic alongside MDs who are open-minded and who practice functional medicine–which really actually uses TCM foundational principles.
But, if only 1% of the herbal formula I make for someone is licorice root, will the MD still have them stop their herbs if they are taking warfarin?
And, above all, if patients feel they can’t discuss their health choices with their MDs, will they even hand that list to their MD?
I meant to add this awhile back as this is an article written in the Vancouver Sun about Connect Health. It’s one patient’s experience with Connect Health. It’s great to look back on the year and see how we’ve been able to work as a team at Connect! It’s also great to know that we are a growing team that are finding out even more ways to work well together for the betterment of our patients.
Patient Sings Praises of Holistic Healing Team
Yes, Traditional Chinese Medicine has been around for 3000-5000 years. Yes, it is the oldest continuously practiced medicine in current practice. Yes, other medicine like Aryuvedic and other native medicinal practices also have long historical records of practice.
But, the “new” medicine, the current buzz word in conventional medicine, is “Functional Medicine”. What is functional medicine?
- It addresses the underlying cause of disease
- It focuses on the patient instead of the disease
- It addresses the whole person–body, mind, and spirit
- Practitioners spend more time with their patients to gather information on a variety of levels
- Practitioners create an individualized treatment plan for each patient
Hmmmm…that’s what TCM does. We have always done that. But conventional medicine has relatively recently identified this “new” way of practicing medicine!
It kind of reminds me of this quote:
2001 BC Here, eat this root.
1000 AD That root is heathen. Here, say this prayer.
1850 AD That prayer is superstition. Here, drink this potion.
1920 AD That potion is snake oil. Here, swallow this pill.
1945 AD That pill is ineffective. Here, take this penicillin.
1955 AD Oops… bugs mutated. Here, take this tetracycline.
1960-1999 AD 39 more “oops”… Here, take this more powerful antibiotic.
2000 AD The bugs have won! Here, eat this root.
I love it! 🙂
This morning I just read an article written for the online version of the newspaper The Vancouver Sun. The Sun is a reputable newspaper, but clearly not immune to inaccuracies. Case in point (no pun intended), their recent article called, “The Intricacies of Acupuncture” by Randy Shore.
The question “What is acupuncture?” is posed. The answer they give includes a paragraph that reads, “The theory is that acupuncture unblocks and rebalances the flow of energy, or Qi, through the body. The modern practice of medical acupuncture – as practised by medical doctors – uses wires inserted into known anatomical structures rather than points dictated by ancient philosophy or astrology.”
So much wrong with this last sentence! Acupuncture is medical acupuncture. We treat medical conditions and I don’t follow astrological charts to do so! Yes, acupuncture uses the philosophies of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) to choose acupuncture points, but just because they are founded on ancient practices doesn’t keep them stuck in a time 3000 years ago. Just as we no longer use sharpened stones as acupuncture needles, so too have we modernized our practice. We learn anatomy, physiology, and pharmacology. We recognize the structures that we are needling as acupuncture points and meridians, but also as muscles and other soft tissues.
I have a degree in kinesiology from the University of Guelph where my training in how the body works included anatomy with a cadaver dissection lab, neuromuscular anatomy, basic physiology, respiratory physiology, cardiovascular physiology and applied sciences of human gait analysis and ergonomics. Traditional Chinese Medicine’s “philosophies” are actually observations that were made over thousands of years and came to conclusions about how the body works. The TCM scientists of the time correctly identified many of more modern science’s current understandings.
Many of my colleagues take extra training in modern forms of acupuncture in addition to the 3-5 years of training and 1-3 provincial licensing exams — depending on whether we train to be registered acupuncturists or registered Dr. of Traditional Chinese Medicine, with the latter requiring the most training. Motor point acupuncture, trigger point acupuncture, studies of myofacial tissues, and biopuncture are all modern forms of acupuncture that I trained in that many “medical acupuncture” performing MDs have not studied.
I do not divorce myself of either the principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine or the current understanding of the physiological structures of human anatomy. It’s Yin and Yang. Knowledge, recognition, and practice of both strengthens the results.
Where registered acupuncturists (R.Ac.), registered TCM practitioners (R.TCM.P), and registered Dr. of TCM (Dr.TCM) differ from MD “acupuncturists” is that we have MORE training for the practice of acupuncture. And perhaps even more important is that we can use both the 3000 (or more) years of observational studies of the human body as well as the more modern practice and study of current medical knowledge.
So, while I have asked some stars about their thoughts on acupuncture, those stars are human (acting and sport), not the ones in the sky.
Read more: http://www.vancouversun.com/health/intricacies+acupuncture/6161674/story.html#ixzz1meiRqJ84
A friend of mine asked me to post some info on what to do after a bout of the flu or food poisoning. She called it a “forced detox”. That’s one way to put it!
If you have had diarrhea or have been vomiting, the first and most important thing is to rehydrate. You might want to consider a homemade “Gatorade”. Healthier than it and also easy to make:
Mix 2 cups (16 ounces) of water with 1 tablespoon of honey and the juice of 2 lemons.
Because your stomach may still be sensitive and you might be easily nauseated, you’ll want to start back into some easy-to-digest foods. Soups heavy on the broth and light on substance may help. I resonate with making something called ochazuke. My mom gave it to my sister and I when we were sick as kids. It consists simply of green tea poured over cooked white rice. Perhaps you prefer a chicken noodle soup or congee.
Ginger tea or ginger in your soup can help to settle your nausea and assist your sensitive digestive system. Under-ripe bananas might help to reduce diarrhea.
Once recovered, continue to be extra kind to your belly and nourish your body with good whole foods.
Remember too to get enough sleep as that will help speed your recovery.
Finally, a visit to your natural health care provider can help you get back on your feet again.
What’s your favourite way to rebound after a “forced detox”?
Four years ago it was just an idea. Four years ago I started meeting regularly with Dr. Lawrence Cheng and Dr. Ashley Riskin, the MD founders of the clinic I’ve moved my practice to. Four years ago we really didn’t have any idea of just how big a project this would be, but we knew it was our passion. A clinic where conventional and alternative medicine would not just work side-by-side, but also share information, patient cases, and research, and communicate and meet on a regular basis.
I’m no longer a joint owner of the clinic, but I am a full-time practitioner there and absolutely thrilled with being a part of a truly integrative clinic.
I’ve been practising out of this clinic since the end of June, but we just recently celebrated a media launch with Dr. Andrew Weil as our honoured guest. Dr. Weil is a Harvard-graduated MD who has written a number of books on health, founded the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, has his own line of supplements, travels and lectures worldwide, and is one of the groundbreaking people for integrative medicine.
I don’t think he’s generally considered alternative or terribly controversial now, but when he started, he was heavily criticized for promoting therapies not generally accepted by his conventional medicine colleagues. His focus is on nutrition, evidence-based (“does it work?) therapies, healthy lifestyle, and mind-body connection. Funny to think that that has been so controversial!
Dr. Weil spoke to the media about integrative medicine and Connect Health. Then, later that day I was honoured to sit for dinner with him and the clinic founders. His beard makes it difficult not to think about Santa, but that’s okay because I felt that he was very giving of himself and his experiences, candidly sharing his thoughts about health and its future.
What did Dr. Weil have to say to the media about Connect Health?
He said that we have the first truly integrative clinic in Vancouver and he will continue to be a support and resource for us.
He said that the U.S. is way ahead of Canada with its number of integrative clinics and medical schools teaching integrative medicine. This is for one very simple reason. The U.S. health system has failed. People cannot afford to get good medical care. Medicine–with it’s new drugs, fancy technology, and bold surgeries–is expensive! In Canada, yes, we have a public medical system that allows us access to health care, but have you ever waited for an MRI? A surgery? A specialist? Do you know how hard it is to gain access to a good GP? Dr. Weil feels that we Canadians are on that same dangerous path to a failing health care system. Why? Because it doesn’t promote health. Because it chooses the newest, fanciest, and boldest options sometimes over good, fundamental, and relatively inexpensive treatments and lifestyle changes.
None of us–the founders of Connect Health, the other practitioners at our clinic, or Dr. Weil–say that conventional medicine is not important. All of us believe in the integration of the best of health practices that are not harmful and are evidence-based as beneficial and supportive to a healthy body and mind.
He was asked why will our clinic succeed when others before have tried and closed? Because of timing, he answered. We NEED this now. People are asking to be a part of their health care plans. People are asking for ways to feel well, better than okay, and not just “not sick”.
How do we make sure that it works? Educate. Educate. Educate. We teach our patients. Our patients teach us. We teach each other. We seek new and ongoing teachers.
We, as practitioners, also communicate regularly with each other. We have the ability to share patient files. We email, call, or chat with each other when we have questions. We post case studies with questions for our practitioners to make suggestions and comments. We meet monthly to share new studies, information, experiences, readings, and case studies. We gather socially on team-building outings. We’ve already been out dragon boating together. What a fun way to remind us how to work as a team!
If you’d like to see more of our pictures of Dr. Weil’s visit or our dragon boating outing, or if you’d like to ask your health questions, check out our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/ConnectHealth
What would you like to see happen in your health care system?
Written by an MD, this newsletter that I have just subscribed to puts conventional medicine in perspective. This is a cut and paste of the last e-newsletter I received. You can check it out yourself by googling his name and signing up for it yourself. Of course, I’ll probably post more from him if it keeps of interest to me.
Changing our Disease care system to a Health care system
Although we call our system a health care system, it is actually a disease care system. Doctors are trained to treat disease, not to keep people healthy. Our two primary tools as Doctors of Modern Western Medicine are drugs and surgery. We have no tools to keep people healthy.
We are not trained in nutrition or other lifestyle modalities that keep people healthy, nor other medical systems that have been helping other cultures for centuries. At medical schools, we doctors are taught to treat the symptoms of disease, rather than how to create health and prevent people from getting sick. For example, in our entire training as doctors, we receive very few lectures on nutrition, even though diet is fundamental to good health.
I am not saying there is no place for this disease care model in the new model of medicine I am proposing. I am the first to acknowledge that Modern Western Medicine and science have made phenomenal advances and alleviate much pain and suffering. Surgery is often lifesaving and many new surgical techniques are quite remarkable. Trauma treatment, burn treatment, emergency room management and the management of acute medical and surgical emergencies are incredible. And certain drugs when used appropriately are life saving. We are blessed to have all this as part of our arsenal and we need Modern Western Medicine for all this. I would not encourage someone to see a herbalist or Acupuncturist for any of the above.
But this medical model is not adequately addressing almost 75% of the problems that most people go to their Doctor for, including most chronic problems. It has failed miserably to address the majority of problems people have today and because of this, many people suffer unnecessarily.
Apart from antibiotics where the drug can kill the bug causing the problem, most drugs treat symptoms, not the cause. Similarly with surgery, it usually addresses the symptoms, not the cause. For instance, bypass surgery, (which can be lifesaving!!!), does not address the underlying reason why your arteries are getting blocked in the first place.
And with both drugs and surgery, there are often side effects, which are then addressed with more drugs. Many patients end up on multiple drugs and often it is only the first 1 or 2 which were given for the original problem. The other 5-10 are dealing with the side effects of the original 2 drugs or the interactions of the other drugs.
The tragedy is that for many of these problems, changing lifestyle, behavior, diet and taking some supplements can often deal with the underlying processes causing the problems and no drugs (and therefore side effects) would be necessary. Unfortunately, it does not suit the drug industry to have patients take a drug which cures or eliminates the problem. It is much more lucrative for them if the drug can manage the symptoms, so you have to stay on them for life (eg statins, anti- hypertensives etc)
Modern Western Medicine is a disease care system, it is not preventive nor does it teach patients how to stay well. In fact what we call Preventive Medicine in Modern Western Medicine…Pap Smears, Breast exams, certain blood tests etc are really early detection medicine. They are not teaching patients how to stay healthy.
So the best medicine is using Modern Western Medicine for what it is good at….crisis care medicine, acute medical and surgical emergencies, when you break a bone, when you are acutely ill etc, and using diet, supplements, exercise, stress management and other benign modalities for prevention and initially for most non acute problems.
In this new model of medicine I am talking about or in a true health care system, we look for the underlying imbalances or dysfunctions and the root causes of the problem (to be discussed in a future “pearl”). We are not content with waiting for disease to occur nor with just suppressing symptoms.