The Gap Between Diet and Disease, Part II of Diet Theories

An old Chinese Proverb says,  He that takes medicine and neglects diet wastes the skill of the physician.

The Chinese have used food and Chinese herbs, basically the human diet, to treat seemingly incurable diseases as far back as records can show.  We now have studies that prove that foods and Chinese herbs are effective in treating nearly every affliction known to man. It is a Western concept  that  the word “diet”  refers almost exclusively  to a  weight  loss system.  A Chinese diet  may or may not  focus on weight loss, but it’s primary intention is to treat an ailment.   A Westerners “diet” focuses on protein, calories, carbohydrates, vitamins and other nutrients, whereas a Chinese diet  focuses on the:  Five Flavors, Five Energies, Movements of Foods and Organic Actions of Foods.  Maybe this sounds like a foreign language, but the basic concept is pretty easy, if I feel cold, I should eat something warm.  If I feel hot, I should eat something cold. (don’t  we all do this?)

 

This is of course a simplification and I know you want more details. It can get a little more technical,  so stay with me.

weight-loss-diet

I covered the Five Flavors and Five Energies is a part one of this article. Connect here to read that article.

 

Here I will delve into the “Movement of Foods” and “Organic Actions of Foods”.  

The movements of  foods has nothing to do with a musical score. Foods have a tendency to move inward, outward, up or down within us.  To move inwards means to move from outside towards the inside.  Foods that do this often alleviate constipation.  Foods that provide movement from inside towards outside reduce fever and induce sweating.   Downward moving foods can relieve vomiting and asthma.  Upward moving foods  help symptoms of diarrhea, and prolapsed of organs. This is only a general overview, but even a little knowledge can be of great benefit.  The movement of foods also corresponds to the seasons.

 

Here is a brief overview of  which foods are best in which seasons.  Springtime is all about growth and upward movement so eat foods that also promote an upward movement such as celery, kidney beans and shiitake mushrooms. Foods that move outward are best in the summer these foods have a hot energy and are usually pungent like green pepper, red pepper, black peppers and soybean oil.  In the autumn foods with a downward movement are preferred.  The downward movement corresponds to the leaves falling.  Food such as bananas, barley and bean curd are best in the autumn.   Lastly, in the winter eat foods that move inward, just as we move indoors in the winter.  Inward moving foods include bitter gourd, clams and seaweed.

 

Lastly, a brief introduction about the Organic Actions of Foods,  it’s not a Greenpeace protest.  It simply refers to the specific organ on which a particular food will act.  In the West we may think all food goes to the stomach, the intestines and through the digestive organs.  But there is more  to the saying “the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach”.  Different foods really do effect different organ systems in Chinese medicine and diet theory.  This can get complicated, many foods have more than one energy and act on more than one organ. Carrots act on the lungs, wheat on the heart, spleen and kidneys, almonds act on the lungs.

 

Organic actions of  foods have been discovered  throughout history  through both inductive and deductive methods. Traditional Chinese medicine has always put great emphasis on the association of  foods and our internal organs.  A simple example is chicken liver, it’s helpful for blurry vision, and Chinese Medicine believes our livers are connected to our eyes.

 

I have simplified how  a balanced diet in Chinese theory  focuses on the Five Flavors,  Five Energies, Movements and Organic Actions of foods. Yet, I hope you understand that from a Chinese viewpoint the word  “diet” has almost nothing to do with weight  loss and everything to do with how foods effect our body.  An organic balanced diet is one that is not necessarily rich in organic foods, but one that balances the internal organs. An individual’s balanced diet is always a mixture of foods with different flavors and energies suited to the needs of that individuals constitution.   I hope this is not such a foreign concept now even though it  may be a completely new view of diet and nutrition for you.  Sun Shu Mao wrote about it approximately 1400 years ago and seeing that history always repeats itself, it’s time to reiterate it today.   If you want to learn more check out:  Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford and my other blogs on Chinese Medicine and foods.

Minnesota Now Has Equal Access Law for Acupuncture

Minnesota and acupuncuture lawsI’ve always enjoyed my vacation time in Minnesota. I happened to be in Minneapolis for it’s Bi- centenial celebration a few years back.  They had more than an hour of the most amazing fireworks I’ve ever seen.    If you’ve never been there it’s truly the heart-land of America. Real people, real friendly.  I had  to blog on this news that Minnesota, not on a coast and not really considered the health crazed capital of the country is leading the way with equal access laws regarding alternative medicine practitioners. This  new law  takes affect and applies to insurance coverage issued, renewed or continued on or after Aug.1, 2009  Very exciting, the next step is on the national level with Medicare.

Here’s a report from the American Association of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine, ( AAAOM)  byKris Berggren.

A new law, effective August 1, provides equal access to a licensed acupuncture practitioner for services covered under a regulated health plan. If acupuncture services provided by a physician are covered, the same services provided by a licensed acupuncture practitioner must also be covered. It does not require health plans that don’t cover any acupuncture services to begin doing so.

The law is also a memorial to Edith R. Davis, considered Minnesota’s pioneer acupuncturist, who brought “the whole area of acupuncture into the light of day and (made) sure that we have good standards,” said Rep. Karen Clark, (DFL-Mpls), who sponsors the law with Sen. Linda Berglin.

Advocates said that a growing body of scientific evidence supports the benefits of acupuncture for a variety of conditions and that the treatment is rarely associated with complications. They also said only about a dozen Minnesota physicians or chiropractors are board-certified in medical acupuncture.“Acupuncturists licensed under Board of Medical Practice’s very high standards ironically are not allowed to get reimbursed, and often their prices are lower and they are far more qualified to practice acupuncture than are physicians, even those with acupuncture licenses,” said Rep. Jim Abeler (R-Anoka).

Remember Coke’s “The Real Thing” – Coca Cola drinks made with Chinese herbs may just be “The Real Thing”

coke real-thing-1The worlds largest beverage company  Coca-Cola has been researching and developing drinks made with Chinese herbs for the past several years.  In the US, both Coke and Pepsi have both lost market share with their soft drink products.  To offset this marketplace change both have expanded into  energy drinks and  water  products.  Will Chinese herbal teas be next?  Are Americans becoming health conscious enough to purchase an herbal alternative? I think the tide is changing here. 

I can report first hand that  a gas station/ mini-mart off I-5 near  Bakersfield California,  is now selling ging seng drinks from Korea right at the register.  Presumably, for drivers who  need an energy boost Coca-Cola with several new Chinese bottling plants in place Coke is set to expand,  as they say, “their beverages that contribute to well being”.   Coke is adding teas, water and energy drinks for Asian consumers who are avoiding sugary sodas and  who  now perceive those drinks as fattening.  In fact,  they have spent over 100 million dollars in the last couple years developing these drinks.  

Business in China has more than doubled in the past five years and the  herbal teas are even eclipsing Coca Cola soft drinks.  With the Asian market growing  Coca Cola is working on worldwide expansion of these drinks. But Coco-Cola is not the only one exploring this new market share.  Pepsi  is not far behind and has also been building factories in China. Pepsi has a product called “Herb Joy” on the Chinese market, a  beverage made with several  common Chinese herbs including  the red date,  jujube.   Most recently,  Coke and Pepsi have been experiencing a boom from bottling  a cooling  herb tea, originally known as  Wanglaoji Cool Tea. This tea originated in the southern regions of China, where  spring and  summer temperatures are very hot. This herbal tea has been a popular Chinese drink in the summer, it’s a healthy choice to cool the body heat and quench the thirst. 

Wanglaoji is based on  the Traditional Chinese Herbal Medicine theory of cooling the body. This tea is made by boiling herbs that are capable of reducing the bodies heat and improving digestion, in much the same method all traditional Chinese herbal medicines have been made for centuries. Varieties of this tea have traditionally been sold by street vendors. The big companies are now promoting these herbal teas with slick packaging and expanding to a global market.  More importantly for Coke & Pepsi, by adopting a traditional Chinese herb formula as a packaged drink,  they are culturally endearing themselves to the Chinese market , translation, higher sales. What about the American market?  I think the answer is yes Americans will be seeing more herbal products including herbal beverages on store shelves.  American will  buy them as long as the taste is “not to herbal”   and maybe it will help Americans pay a little closer attention to their health.

Ginger to Maintain Your Health

ginger[1]

Ginger is a common recommendation in my clinic. Ginger is wonderful for digestive disorders and it is anti-inflammatory. "Drink Ginger tea" is one of the most common suggestions I make.

Don’t underestimate ginger just because it isn’t the fancy favorite of TV Chefs. Ginger root is a common herb used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (the Chinese name is Sheng Jiang). Ginger is also used as a spice for cooking, particularly in Asian food.

Here are some great ideas from an article by Jennifer Dubowsky, L.Ac. originally posted Dec. 2008 about the benefits of ginger.

Ginger’s rhizome (the underground stem) is highly spicy and widely touted to aid digestion. That is why ginger tea is very popular. In addition to a lovely flavor, it is anti inflammatory and eases digestion. Consider drinking ginger tea (try Traditional Medicinals) after meals. Another benefit from ginger is its ability to combat nausea from various causes including morning sickness, motion sickness, chemotherapy,and food contamination. Many people use ginger to treat coughs, influenza, and colds. I also recommend it to my patients to improve fertility and ease PMS symptoms.

It is interesting to note, too, that ginger has been employed in Chinese herbal medicine for thousands of years due to its numerous beneficial properties. Called Sheng-jiang in the Chinese pharmacopoeia, ginger used alone as a single herb is considered to alleviate nausea, dispel pathogens by inducing sweating, expel cold, as well as stop coughing and reduce excess phlegm in the lungs. In Chinese herbal medicine, Sheng-jiang, or fresh ginger, is considered to have very different properties than Gan-jiang, or dried ginger. Gan-jiang is useful for "cold" pain of the stomach and abdomen, diarrhea due to "cold" in the abdomen, cough, and rheumatism, among other uses. Dried ginger has also been shown to inhibit vomiting.

A Japanese study brought ginger into the experimental lab. The study, led by Dr. Hiroshi Ochiai at the Department of Human Science, Faculty of Medicine, Toyama Medical and Pharaceutical University, Japan, was published in The American Journal of Chinese Medicine, 2006:34(1):157-69, and reported in the Chinese Medical Times, concludes that they were able to inhibit the growth of influenza virus using ginger extract.
For more articles by  Jennifer Dubowsky, a licensed acupuncturist in downtown Chicago, check out:  http://acupuncturechicago.blogspot.com/

Another rising star in the Chinese herb medicine cabinet – This time for swine flu

Star Anise fresh and driedThe Star Anise, Illicium verum  or Ba Jiao Hui Xiang has been used as a spice and medicine since antiquity.  Star Anise is used dried and the seeds have a licorice-like flavor. It’s commonly  sold in supermarkets and often used in Chinese cuisine to flavor duck dishes. ( I used it once in my Thanksgiving turkey, it was a hit)   It’s also  contains the active chemical component in the drug Tamiflu, which is now being stockpiled as a defense against the Swine flu.

Star anise was originally in the spotlight  because it’s core ingredient  was discovered effective as a flu fighter for the Avian flu. Now it’s being touted for the swine flu.  In an  announcement in Feb 2006 from  the University of Tokyo’s Graduate school of Pharmaceutical sciences,  they “ found a way to make Tamiflu without using shikimic acid, which is produced from a spice called star anise”  The acid is extracted from the pods which wraps the seeds by using a petrochemical ingredient instead of the plant based ingredient.  The group, headed by Prof. Masakatsu Shibasaki said the new method would ensure the stable supply of the antiviral drug in the face of surging demand worldwide prompted by fears of a bird flu (AVAIN) outbreak.  Although many believe the best  way to produce shikimic acid is extracting it directly from the fruit.

“It (Tamiflu) doesn’t prevent the infection,  but may decrease its’ severity,” (although there is no scientific data it will prevent H1N1) according to the Tamiflu website.  Tamiflu has been on the market since Oct. 1999 and Roche probably never dreamed that this years orders would top 220 million.  In the first  three years Tamiflu was on the market only 5.5 million doses sold.

Other  information from the Tamiflu website said this:  “Influenza viruses change over time. Emergence of resistance mutations could decrease drug effectiveness.  Other factors (for example changes in viral virulence) might also diminish clinical benefit of antiviral drugs. Prescribers should consider available information on influenza drug susceptibility patterns and treatment effects when deciding whether to use Tamiflu.” (line 155),   It continues elsewhere on the site with this,  “Efficacy of  Tamiflu in patients who begin treatment after 40 hours of symptoms has not been established” and “ Safety & efficacy of Tamiflu in pediatric patients younger than 1 year has not been studied.”

Star anise sells for aprox. $5.00  or less for a few ounces.  The best source I found said a dose of Tamiflu contains the equivalent of approximately 13 grams of star anise. That’s a few cents per dose.  Studies on guinea pigs yielded evidence that star anise essential oil had a relaxant effect, antispasmodic  and bronchodilatory effect on muscarinic receptors. People have  traditionally used star anise to reduces gas, relieve minor digestive problems, for headaches  and even to promote vitality.

If your interested in drinking star anise as a tea, a typical dose is .5-1 gram of  coarsely ground seeds. Cooked at a slow boil (covered) in 2 ½ cups water for a aprox. 30 minutes  and then strained. Ground star anise has been traditionally taken in a dose of 3 grams daily. The essential oil of star anise in a dose of 300 milligrams daily has also been reported.  The Food and Drug Administration lists star anise as “generally safe for otherwise healthy adults who are not pregnant, nursing or have a preexisting allergy to the herb.”  I hope the swine flu fades quietly into oblivion like the Avain flu.  Who knows  what will happen once weather changes in the fall and winter when flu season is upon us.  In any case, if your considering a dose of Tamiflu your armed with some knowledge.  Most importantly keep your immune system as strong as possible to avoid any future viruses that abound and remember  grocery store shelves can be very beneficial when you know how to shop.

The difference of government responses to H1N1, the Swine flu

H1N1 has been declared a pandemic by WHO  (World Health Organization) and many of us seem to know someone who’s already had the swine flu. WHO

I just heard from a friend  that a cabin full of  12 year old campers were quarantined to their cabin as a result of the swine flu.  Now that were getting more comfortable with the first pandemic in our life time, I want to explore the differences  in responses from the two most powerful governments in the world, the Chinese and the American.

The U.S. official government response  at time of publishing is this:  a state of emergency has been declared and well known pharmaceuticals  such as Sanofi-Aventis,  Novartis, Baxter, GlaxoSmithKline and Solvay  are all  in the process of creating test batches of  vaccines.  Government websites are to report updates within 24 hours once new information is released, unfortunately this rarely happens.   Not very reassuring considering our elected representatives are currently debating health care reform.

The United States Food & Drug Association, FDA, on one hand has given authorization  for use of “unapproved or uncleared” medical products (Relenza & Tamiflu Anti-virals) following this declaration of emergency.  On the other hand, FDA has sent out warning letters to websites to cease the selling  of any product or making any claims about how to prevent and treat the Swine Flu.  I would define this as an aggressive approach   I’m in favor of cracking down on websites that scam the public but since neither Tamiflu or Relenza have proven effectiveness or  have a scientific basis for this new viral strain, how is that any different from selling a homeopathic product, supplement, air purifier, surgical mask etc etc. that also has no scientific data behind it?   This virus strain has never been seen before. How do we know what is the best cure.  Will we really need any medicinal at all?  For most people a few days  of  bed rest is the  cure.  The camp kids are just fine by the way.  The official statement from U.S. Centers for Disease Control says “the majority of people infected with the virus make a full recovery without requiring medical attention or antiviral drugs.”

The Chinese Government has taken a different approach to the H1N1 virus. China is also in the midst of searching for a vaccine and is currently  in the testing phase. China is expanding  it’s capacity for  vaccine manufacturing and  government sources say  “by the end of this year we may produce the amount necessary for 5 percent of the worlds population”.  But the Chinese government has gone beyond the vaccine route. The government has also allocated  nearly 1.5 million dollars (equivalent)  to research  Traditional Chinese Medicine in regards to H1N1.   Four million will be spent on clinical test and the rest on laboratory research for a combination of Chinese herbs that  will best prevent and treat H1N1.  Presently,  China is reporting 1537 confirmed cases of H1N1 and no fatalities.  This is the same government that dealt with a SAR epidemic not to long ago, for which a Chinese herb formula was found successful in treating.

Interestingly, along with this theme, the European Union has  just granted 1 million euros for ground breaking research  for a project entitled “Good Practice in Traditional Chinese Medicine Research in the Post-Genomic Era.”  “Researchers at Kings College in London will review the current status of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) research, identify problems and propose solutions by applying modern methods of investigation as well as providing a forum for the exchange of opinions, experience and expertise among scientists in the EU and China.”

The road map to prevention and cure for this emerging pandemic is being written as we speak. I would like to see the integration of Western and Chinese approaches to medicinal therapies for H1N1,  how about you?   Which direction should our government lead us or should the medical community take the lead rather than the pharmaceutical companies.  I look forward to your comments.

The Cat, The Birds and The Herbs

CatLast night I was rudely awakened at 3:00 am by a hungry cat.  He climbed up my wind chime which was hanging near a mother dove nesting with her two new babies.  Wind chimes don’t suddenly start chiming, normally they start out kind of slow and steady and usually build in volume as the wind picks up.  This was not the case last night.  The chimes were attacked as were the birds. 

  I heard a bird take flight and I jumped out of bed to see the culprit.  I was too late and it was too dark. Upset by the attack and the rude wake up call, all I could think of was  “will I be able to get back to sleep”.   Mind not quite awake… I  almost forget that I have the perfect Chinese herb formula for sleep.  I’m not usually up at 3 AM  and almost forgot,  a perfect opportunity to use my “I sleep”  herb formula in the middle of the night. When I’ve had a particularly stressful day I will use “iSleep” before going to bed.   I sleep so soundly I never had the need to use it in middle of my night.  Perfect opportunity.  So I took one packet at 3 AM.  

Happy to report I got  back to sleep within thirty minutes, even as I ruminated over the fate of the mommy dove and her babies we’ve been watching for the last two months.   Did the cat get all three.  Did the babies get away.  Could the babies fly yet. My mind  finding any reason to chatter on. (This was  the second set of eggs this year for our mommy dove or maybe it’s daughter of the first mom.  In any case, every year  a mommy dove has a nest somewhere in our yard and we are happy to be her hosts.)

iSleep Herb Pac passed the test  last night. I slept like a log till 7:00 when there was yet  another rude awakening, the alarm clock.  I found bird feathers on the ground this morning,  it’s a cruel world out there, but at  least I slept.

"Empty nest this morning"]

"Mommy dove in nest with 2 babies. (Taken just 2 days earlier)  
 
"Feathers on the ground"

A High Price for Deer Antler and for Chinese Medicine

Chinese herbal medicine

A family trip to Alaska, a lot of time in a van and unexpected lessons on deer antler aka Lu Rong. 

On a family trip to Alaska, we quickly learned Alaska is too big for road trips. However, we did see the most incredible scenery and enjoyed some off the beaten path family activities.  An ingrained family tradition. As the planner of the trip, I decide the family must pay a visit to a reindeer farm just north of Anchorage. Our teens had their i-pods and they are accustom to my crazy ideas of fun, so off we went on the 5 hour round trip drive.  Admittedly, I had an ulterior motive, I wanted to learn about Lu Rong, deer antlers, from a true source, and this was a golden opportunity I couldn’t miss.

In Chinese Medicine, the deer antler also known as Lu Rong is a prized and highly sought after commodity.  Deer antler has been used for hundreds of years for health and  longevity and is considered a yang tonic in Chinese Herbal Medicine.  Reindeer antlers our one source of antlers  however much more commonly used is the smaller breed of Red Deer.  Today the most expensive deer antler is harvested in New Zealand  but Alaska is also a source and prices range anywhere from $100.00 for a 100 gram bottle of  granules to $500.00,  quality can vary widely. I admit, a small ulterior motive, I was investigating whether  importing deer antler might become part of my herb business.

Chinese medicine antlers

Wow, I had no idea the antlers were so sensitive.  In fact, males who commonly fight each other will not touch one another while their antlers are in velvet, a growth stage named for the velvet like fur on the antlers. There is a tremendous amount of blood flow to the antlers which supports this growth and there is a correlation between the head being the most Yang part of the body, the antlers growing from the top of the head  and deer antlers categorized  as a yang tonic. Eskimos have used deer antler soup for it’s internal warming (yang) properties for as long as anyone can document.

 

We arrived at the reindeer farm which was operated by a family (and some hired help), mainly for the purposes of selling reindeer meat. The tourist business is a summer sideline. We paid a small entrance fee and along with two other families with young children were given instructions before we were allowed to enter the main pen and hand feed the reindeer some supplied food. I knew that deer are very skittish, nervous animals by nature and easily startled, but what else I learned was surprising. The number one rule was no touching the antlers of any animal that is “in velvet”.  The reason was simple. The antlers are extremely sensitive when they are growing and just touching the velvety soft exterior, especially at the tips, could freak out the animal and be dangerous for us. We could pet the deer anywhere else exception being, the antlers.

What else I learned; deer antlers, whether reindeer or red deer are not so easy to harvest.  It would seem harmless to saw them off once they are essentially dead and have no more blood flow.  The antlers die naturally every year and either fall off or are broken when the deer fight.  But, deer antlers are harvested when there is still blood flow to them, best when the tips are still rounded which means they are still growing.  Our guides explained they would never harvest antlers while in velvet because it would be like cutting off one of your fingers.  The antler is truly an limb extension of the animal. If  just touching an antler can make the deer skittish what do you thinking cutting off an antler would do to the deer?  Extremely painful to say the least.

This was the moment I decided no matter how much can be earned from deer antlers I could never be part of that industry. If the antlers were used once they are naturally shed by the animals, that would be different.  But by the time the antlers are naturally falling off they are dead, no blood flow no nerve endings. No medicinal value.

To be fair,  I am told  that many people who raise deer exclusively for their antlers as a Chinese medicinal, use a veterinarian to perform the sawing off operation.  Some say they tranquilize the animals and/or provide Novocain. Once the antlers are cut the deer’s head is wrapped in bandages and something is given to reduce the bleeding at the site. Antlers are always harvested when they are at the height of the growth stage. If you have ever seen slices of deer antler the highest grade are red in the middle, from the blood flow. Regardless, once I spent just a few minutes with these beautiful docile creatures, I knew I didn’t want any part of an industry initiating animal cruelty. Yang tonics are great strong medicine.  Chinese Herbal Medicine has plenty of  plant based yang tonics, no animal products would ever be part of Pacific Herbs.

Dietary Supplements have new GMP rules

vitamins on store shelvesFDA Rules for  Current  GMP Effective June 25th

This week is another important milestone for the Dietary Supplement industry.  June 25, 2009 is the deadline the FDA (Food & Drug Assoc) has given for medium sized companies, (those with more than 20 employees) to comply with cGMP or Current Good Manufacturing Practices.  What this means to the consumer is another step closer to more consistency in  over the counter herbal supplements and all dietary supplement.  The cGMP regulations  protect the consumer by providing  standards for ensuring purity, identity and strength of composition for each product produced.

All told it’s taken 14 years to get to this point. The FDA made allowances for smaller businesses to comply giving them an additional 3 years if they had less than 500 employees. Companies with greater than 500 employees  were required to comply one year ago, June 2008.  Finally, those companies with fewer than 20 employees  have an additional year to comply with the new regulations, until June 2010.

The best producers in the dietary supplement  industry have been complying with the FDA regulations for years and these regulations have no major effect on them.  Now the smaller companies  need to comply, bringing standardization in the supplement industry.   Most likely it will also give third party certification companies an even more important role, proving to the consumer that products truly contain the amount of supplements listed on their label.  No doubt manufacturer will begin putting  pressure on their suppliers to give proof of the purity of their raw materials  taking some of the testing burden of themselves.  Down the road this may lead to increased cost of raw materials as product  testing becomes more the norm rather than the exception.

Although this may lead to some retail price increases, overall it is extremely beneficial  for the consumer.  Products will me standardized and hopefully as a result more effective.  Of course, unscrupulous manufacturers exist in every industry and those adding prescription medications into an “herbal supplement” may still find that without FDA inspectors knocking at the doors for regular inspections it is all to easy to provide tainted products.  This is where third party independent testing is crucial.  FDA will never have enough in their budget to run from factory to factory and oversee these regulations.  Consumers must be diligent in knowing where their products are manufactured and by whom. They must do some minimal research at places like consumerlabs.com to get the independent  assessments  on product effectiveness and  discern whether minimum standards for product purity, identity and strength our actually met.  At least  the FDA has raised the bar and companies must follow. As a consumer of  dietary supplements all I can say is it’s about time.

Stop Painful Menstrual Cramps with Chinese Herbs

herbs for pmsLately this is my favorite topic and formula to make in my herb granule pharmacy .. because  the calls I receive go something like this.  "I took it once & I'm off the couch and back to normal",  "I can't believe those herbs work",  "Why didn't you tell me before", "I didn't take a single motrin this month",  I could go on and on, but you get the idea.  So here's some information about the herbs in the PACHerbs PMS Relief Herb Pac & some interesting information on well conducted research on menstrual pain. 

Don't mask the pain with NSAID's  try an approach that's worked for centuries, Chinese Herbal Medicine.  An international nonprofit organization, known as the Cochrane Collaboration, studied the effectiveness of Chinese herbal medicine in relieving menstrual pain compared to western drugs.  Their conclusion:  “Chinese herbal medicine for primary dysmenorrhea roughly doubled pain relief and improvement in overall symptoms compared with conventional Western pharmaceuticals."

Here are a few common Chinese herbs used for painful menstrual cramps, ( All our in our formula plus more)

1. Dong Gui (Chinese Angelica  or Angelica Sinensis) Also known as the "female ginseng," it is commonly used to regulate the menstrual cycle and relieve menstrual cramps.  It also helps to relieve menopausal symptoms, reduce PMS and anemia and to re-establish a menstrual cycle after cessation of birth control pills.  It is commonly sold as a single herb tea, bagged or loose.  It is considered a king herb or premier herb in Chinese gynecological disease because of its ability to harmonize the blood in Chinese medicine.  Dong Gui is also considered antispasmodic.  The coumarin chemicals present in this herb may help dilate blood vessels and relax the smooth muscles of the uterus, thus relieving menstrual cramping.

2. Chuan Xiong (Chuanxiong  Rhizoma) This herb is also a key medicinal herb for treating pain.  It improves blood circulation and promotes the flow of "qi" or vital energy.  Chinese women, dating back to the Song Dynasty, used to take this Chinese herb in the form of soup.  The soup is called a Four Substance Decoction and includes three other herbs:  angelica, red peony and Chinese foxglove.  The soup and tea are still used today as a blood tonic to relieve PMS, stop menstrual pain and improve overall health, especially after giving birth.

3. Bai Shao (White Peony Root) White Peony Root nourishes the blood and improves circulation.  It is also used for a wide variety of gynecological problems.  The peony root is considered a   liver tonic in Chinese medicine.  By strengthening the liver, it helps to increase the efficiency of protein and fat metabolism, thus inhibiting the excessive synthesis of prostaglandins that may cause an over-active uterus and endometrial pain.

4. Yi Mu Cao (Chinese Motherwort) Leaves from this herb are used to treat menstrual problems.  They have been shown to improve blood circulation and clear blood clots that occur in menstrual disorders and after childbirth.  The leaves also promote diuresis and relieve edema.  Studies on the alkaloid leonurine showed that this substance stimulates the uterus of rabbits, cats, dogs and guinea pigs.2

5. Yan Hu Suo (Corydalis Rhizome) There are two main functions of this Chinese herb:  to strengthen blood circulation and to relieve pain.  In conjunction with chuan xiong it is known to help both body aches and headaches.  Corydalis is related to the opium poppy.  Although only 1% in strength compared to opium, it is a very effective pain reliever.  The active chemical constituent di- tetrahydropalmatine (THP) is a neuroactive alkaloid with analgesic action that relieves cramping pain. Formulas or groups of Chinese herbs are more beneficial than single herb remedies because the herbs work synergistically for conditions such as menstrual cramps.  The Cochran study also stated that:  “The herbal remedies were also significantly better at relieving painful cramps and other symptoms than acupuncture or a hot water bottle, with overall promising finding.  Chinese herbs overall, whether standardized or tailored, yielded better pain relief than conventional pharmaceutical therapies.” Chinese herbal medicine can be a bit intimidating when you don’t know anything about these herbs, and the five herbs above are only a few of the herbs beneficial for menstrual cramps in the Chinese herbal encyclopedias.  Asian pharmacies sell prescriptions of herbal teas and pills daily, and Asian cultures have used herbs successfully for hundreds of years. 

By replacing NSAIDs with Chinese herbs, women receive an additional benefit of avoiding the nasty NSAID3 side effects such as upset stomach, heartburn, ulcers and rashes, and liver damage, to name a few.  Women don’t need to suffer month after month.  You can use Chinese herb supplements to be pain free and PMS symptom free all month long.

Check the research for yourself: Primary source: Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews Source; Zhu X, et al "Chinese herbal medicine for primary dysmenorrhoea" Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2007;3: CD005288.

  1. Chinese Medicine Program at the University of Western Sydney.1 (fourth issue for 2007 of The Cochrane Library)

2.  Yin, J. Modern Research and Clinical Application of Chinese  Materia Medica (2) pp 218-219 Beijing: Chinese  Medical Classic Press.

NSAID are Non-Sterodial Anti-Inflammatory Drugs.  Generics and name brands include:  ibuprofen, Advil, Motrin, naproxen sodium, Aleve, aspirin, Bayer, Bufferin, acetaminophen, and Tylenol.