Chinese Herbs 102

Chinese-Herbs-102-Margate-FloridaBy Susan Tretakis – It’s been a very social month for me, which is somewhat surprising since I am not usually social. In fact, I define the word “introvert” to the max, but I have seen a number of people these past few weeks who I have not seen for many months. Some are snow-birds; others are just busy with this thing we call “Life”.  Everyone is extremely interested in my TCM journey, extremely complimentary on how well I look, and all seem to zero in on my use of Chinese Herbs.

Comments from various lunches and dinners:

  • “So exactly, what type of Chinese drugs are you taking for weight?”
  • “Tell me, what Chinese drugs are you taking for your skin and hair?”
  • “I can’t believe you’re not taking sinus medicine; what Chinese drugs are you taking?”
  • “Where can you get these drugs?”
  • “Can you share your Chinese drugs with me?”

It became very apparent – very soon – that as much as I explained Chinese Herbs are not drugs, the Western mindset does not accept the concept that a cure – or better yet – a preventative for a complaint – can be achieved without Big Pharma.

Chinese medicine has been around for a very long time. GOOGLE details that first “evidence pof the type of medicine that led to Chinese Medicine in use today dates back to 6,000BC. Stone tools from this period have been found that were specially shaped for making small incisions in the skin, which are assumed to be early forms of acupuncture.” Chris Kresser, in his Demystified Chinese Medicine sums it up with “Chinese Medicine has 8,000 years of uninterrupted use. To put this in perspective, western medicine as it has become recognized today wasn’t even invented until the 1350’s, which make it less than 700 years old. Do you think Chinese medicine would have survived for more than 3,000 years and spread to every corner of the globe if it wasn’t a powerful, complete system of medicine?”

Basically, if my acupuncturist has taught me correctly – and I have retained what he has said – when the flow of qi through our meridians becomes blocked, illness results. The purpose of acupuncture and Chinese herbs promote the proper flow of qi through the meridians, thus restoring – and most importantly to a wimp like me – maintaining good health.

The NCCIH concludes that “Qi, a vital energy that flows through the body, performs multiple functions in maintaining health. When thinking about ancient medical systems such as TCM, it is important to separate questions about traditional theories and concepts of health and wellness from questions about whether specific interventions might be helpful in the context of modern science-based medicine and health promotion practices.”

 “The ancient beliefs on which TCM is based include the following:

  • The human body is a miniature version of the larger, surrounding universe.
  • Harmony between two opposing yet complementary forces, called yin and yang, supports health, and disease results from an imbalance between these forces.
  • Five elements—fire, earth, wood, metal, and water—symbolically represent all phenomena, including the stages of human life, and explain the functioning of the body and how it changes during disease.”

Food and drink was the first type of medicine. Most Westerners view food as entertainment or for comfort, but everyone is aware how different foods have varying effects on their specific bodies. This is why we see some many television commercials with a chili cheese burger smacking a man across the head while promoting an FDA antacid.

In my experience – especially now that I am way over the age of 65 – western doctors rarely take the time to discuss my lifestyle, my emotional wellbeing or really anything else that is not in their checklist of “Things to Look for in Old Crones”. I suspect this is a health insurance issue as well as the fact that Western Medicine is based on a structural view of the body. writes, “If there is something wrong, Western doctors try to find the structural/chemical problem and fix it. Traditional Chinese Medicine does not see you as a machine separate from your environment but rather as a psycho-emotional and physical person that is intrinsically connected to your environment. Things like your job, the weather, your relationships and your lifestyle all play a major in your health. Chinese Medical treatment will always take into account these factors and tailor herbal treatment around them as well as offering lifestyle advice to encourage you to take back some control of your well-being.”

That last sentence is crucial to understanding Chinese Herbs. The YinoVa Center explains that “Chinese Herbs differ from western herbs in that they are most often prescribed in formulas containing anywhere from 5 to 15 herbs. Combining different quantities craft a formula to address specific symptom patterns.”

So, to answer my friends’ questions:

There is no diet pill in TCM. Since beginning with my acupuncturist in October of 2016, he has prepared herbs for me to take and treated me with acupuncture to get my metabolism, emotions, and organs balanced. After each tongue inspection and pulse assessment, his acupuncture / cupping treatment varied and he made one or two suggestions – what foods to eliminate, what foods to add – but, in the end, it was up me to implement his advice. So, while I can easily understand my friends’ wanting a miracle pill, they had to be reminded that it has taken this long to lose 125 pounds. I had to learn how to shop, how to cook and how to say no to various restaurants. It was a complete lifestyle change – and while there were times when it all seemed a bit too much, I powered through with encouragement from my TCM doctor. My reward for “powering through” varies from the profound – I still have my original knees that three orthopedics said needed be replaced by January, 2017, I’m off of six various prescriptive drugs and I have eliminated the need for laser surgery on my eyes – to pure, silly, all-girl vanity – once having worn a size 22, I am typing this wearing size 6 jeans.

There is no TCM magic pill for hair and skin. I really don’t help my hair much by changing from blue, purple, and pink highlights and then back to blonde on a regular basis, but my herbal formulas contains herbs that increase hair health and because my system is in tune, my skin is brighter and my nails are stronger.

Where do I get these herbs? The safest place to get your herbs is through a reputable herbalist – and if you are reading this post, you have access to one of the best. I am not a fan of on-line ordering, primarily because I am suspect of shelf-life and quality.

Will I share my Chinese herbs? This last question made me laugh, especially since it came from my former roommate from college. She leaned across the table and pleaded with me. Truth be known, we were both crazy flower children, two hippie chicks in school at a time when “sharing” was norm. We shared everything: from clothing, to hair care products to boyfriends. We even shared some, ahem, substances, and of course, we tried every diet fad that came along. So, I know how much this question cost her but here’s where sharing stops. I have to accept I am an aging hippie, and some past choices have led me to be more a wilting flower child than usual. The bottom line is that my herbal formula is designed for me – for my system – to balance my qi. It could very well have no effect – or worse – a negative effect on her.   Some people are very possessive of their artisan bread recipes, their craft beers; I share that sense of ownership with my herbs.

I readily admit that each time I see my TCM doctor, he asks me if there are any issues I’d like to address. I sometimes feel like I am doing an herbal equivalent of ordering a pizza; instead of asking for extra cheese, mushrooms and sauce, I list my continued needs and desires – sometimes outright wishes even knowing there is no Chinese herb that will remove 40 years of age. It’s a game we play, I know he already knows what I need by his examination, but he kindly listens and doesn’t even roll his eyes. I also know that if I just do what I he tells me and if I continue to listen to my body I’ll enter this later chapter in my life but healthier and wiser.

And that my friends, is my wish for each of you, whatever chapter in your life you are beginning.




  1. Dr. Landon Agoado
  2. Google/Wikopedia