Chinese Herbal Medicine – A Case Study

A typical Chinese herbal medicine shop

A typical Chinese herbal medicine shop

I was living in South London when I first heard about Traditional Chinese Medicine from a local pharmacist from whom I was getting my eczema prescriptions.  He suggested I try this alternative treatment that people with skin conditions found very helpful. He didn’t know why it helped but, according to many of his customer, it certainly worked. One afternoon while looking for a job in the Classifieds section of the Evening Standard, I stumbled upon an article about a Chinese herbalist in China Town (Central London). The writer claimed that she was having near miraculous results with eczema patients. I decided to find out for myself and went to see that doctor.

Different plants are weighed into a concoction

Different plants are weighed into a concoction

She was operating from the basement of a small shop in the Chinese quarter.  During my first consultation she wrote down my medical history (in Chinese) and asked me to stop taking dairy products. She prescribed Chinese herbs to use as decoction and to see her back in a month’s time. I bought a month supply of herbs in packets from the shop upstairs to make a very bitter tea, using one packet each day. At the time I had been allergic to eggs for about 10 years and had started a dairy free diet with a hospital dietician’s supervision a month previously. I was just recovering from the withdrawal effects of the milk free diet. A few days after starting that treatment, I felt much better. My digestion became normal and my skin cleared.

Herbs are boiled to make a bitter dark tea

Herbs are boiled to make a bitter dark tea

Incidentally, at about the same time, I started working in a Malaysian restaurant in Soho, a short walk from the Chinese doctor’s. I would get my supply of herbs every month and make the tea in the restaurant kitchen. At the beginning I was drinking it every day and after a while I managed every other day which enabled me to save money. I noticed that if I tried to take more than a day off, the eczema would start coming back. I spent 18 months working in that restaurant, taking that Chinese treatment. That was the best period of my life, healthwise, since my eczema started. Like all good things it didn’t last forever.

One day, the eczema started creeping back and in a short while I was back to square one. Despite reverting to drinking the tea every day, it didn’t seem to have any effect. The Chinese doctor tried different mixtures but to no avail. In the end I stopped altogether because they were of no use anymore. My eczema was so bad that I stopped working as well. I reluctantly went back to using the steroid creams. A couple of years later, I went back again to the Chinese doctor. This time the relief from the eczema lasted only six months. Later on I tried many times but not with the same doctor as Chinese herbal medicine shops mushroomed all over the place. I never experienced the same result again.

A Chinese herbal medicine practitioner

A Chinese herbal medicine practitioner

Through these experiences, I believe that Chinese Herbal Medicine can either help you a great deal or not at all. When it works, it will do so straight away. Your skin condition will respond to the treatment in a matter of days. However, it is unlikely to bring a permanent cure. When you stop taking the tea, the eczema will return; so you have to keep the treatment ongoing. Even if you keep taking the medicine, its effectiveness will wear out in the long run. In my case, after 18 months the first time and 6 months the second time, the disease eventually found a way around the medicine.

If you decide to give it a try, don’t pop into the first Chinese health shop you see in your town market or shopping centre. Do your research on the Internet and find a practitioner that is registered with The Register of Chinese Herbal Medicine (RCHM) or The Association of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture UK (ATCM). It is much better than talking to a Chinese herbal shop salesperson with very basic English who will try to sell you as much as possible without a thorough understanding of your particular condition. The treatment will cost you about £5 a packet of Chinese herbal medicine that you take every day. Some charge for the initial consultation and others do it for free.

A familiar sight on the high street

A familiar sight on the high street

If money is a concern, buy only one week supply and see how it goes. If you feel a marked improvement then it’s a no brainer; just carry on. If there is no effect whatsoever, it’s time to make a decision. If you don’t want to give up at this early stage, you can ask them to change the herbal mixture. Personally I wouldn’t try for more than a month if there is no noticeable difference. Don’t fall for the usual trap used by most alternative practitioners who will tell you that because you have been sick for so long, it will take time (how long!) for the treatment to work. There is some truth in it but you need to ask the practitioner at the onset to give you an indication as to how long before you start feeling the benefits from the treatment. Otherwise they will just ask you to come back for more in the hope that sooner or later you will see a light at the end of the tunnel. Just bear in mind that you may end up spending money in more hope than expectation, and your loss is their gain.

Healthy eating can help

Healthy eating can help

If you are fortunate and experience a dramatic improvement, take advantage of this window of opportunity to make changes to your lifestyle. Have a more positive attitude to life in general, eat healthy and do regular exercise. I wouldn’t advocate a drastic exclusion diet but make sure you cut down on junk food and stimulants like caffeine and alcohol, drink more water and eat more fresh vegetables and fruits, and less processed foods. Thus you will strengthen your immune system and be well prepared if and when you have to stop taking Chinese Herbal Medicine.


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