Chinese Herbs – Science or Tradition?

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Both approaches have successes and yet they seem worlds apart. Whether using traditional TCVM principles or science-based medicine, it seems we are saying the same thing — just with different terminology.

Heat clearing herbs

Many of the most profound heat clearing herbs – e.g. huang qin, scutellaria and huang lian, coptis — are known to have profound anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and antiviral properties. From a TCVM perspective, heat clearing herbs are utilized in cases of excessive heat, seen as fever, restlessness, organ specific symptoms such as coughing or diarrhea. Excess heat patterns can be medically identified as acute infectious diseases, infectious fever, and non-infectious diseases such as autoimmune conditions.

Huang lian, coptis is commonly used to treat excess heat dysentery, while huang qin, scutellaria may be used in cases of excess heat in the lungs. The pharmacologic properties of these herbs include antibacterial, antiviral, anti-endotoxin, antipyretic, anti-inflammatory, immuno-regulating and anti-neoplasm effects. Therefore, huang lian and huang qin both clear heat and have antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties.

Damp clearing herbs

Another example of similar principles using different terminology is damp clearing herbs. Dampness and damp-related disorders include edema, stranguria, difficult urination, jaundice, moist dermatitis, diarrhea and obesity. The TCVM concept of dampness is associated with edema and congestion of fluids within the body. Congestion is the abnormal or diminished transformation and/or transportation of fluid. The congestion of fluids could be anywhere in the body, especially the gastrointestinal and respiratory tracts, and the lower limbs. Edema is commonly seen in allopathic veterinary medicine, such as phlegm retention in the patient with bronchitis, hydrothorax, ascites or limb edema.

Almost all herbs in the damp clearing category have diuretic effects and many have antibacterial benefits. Two commonly used damp clearing herbs are fu ling, poria and zhu ling, polyporus. Both drain dampness, promote urination, strengthen spleen function and facilitate fluid metabolism. Both also have diuretic, antimicrobial, hepatoprotective, antineoplastic and immuno-regulating effects. Damp clearing herbs are gentle diuretics and have their place in clinical practice. Note that damp clearing herbs can have an additive effect to concurrent administration of pharmaceutical diuretics.

Qi and blood moving herbs

Some of the most commonly used and quick-acting herbs are blood and Qi moving herbs. The speed of resolving pain makes this category of herbs very popular in modern practice. Painful bi patterns in TCVM are often seen in patients with a medical diagnosis of various forms of arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, lumbar back pain and sciatica. Almost all herbs in this category have anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects. For example, du hou, angelica pubescent has anti-inflammatory, analgesic, anti-spasmodic, hypotensive and antibacterial effects. Du hou is seen in formulas such as du hou ji sheng san, a traditional herbal formula used to move Qi and blood as well as tonify liver and kidney yin seen in chronic bi pain.

Ru xiang, frankincense/boswellia and Mo yao, myrrh are frequently-used blood moving herbs with anti-inflammatory properties. They mediate their anti-inflammatory actions via inhibition of cyclooygenase -1, cyclooygenase -2, and 5-lipooxygenase activity.

Heat clearing or anti-inflammatory…damp draining or diuretic…traditional Chinese veterinary medicine and allopathic veterinary medicine many times utilize the same principles. They just use different terminology.


Heart shen calming herbs

Fear, insomnia and anxiety are all signs of heart shen disturbance. TCVM will treat this disturbance using two different principles: herbs either anchor, settle and calm the shen or nourish the heart and calm the shen. The pharmacologic effects of herbs that calm shen are sedative, hypnotic and anti-convulsive.


The trend continues

• Herbs that relieve food stagnation contain digestive enzymes, vitamins, promote peristalsis and increase digestive fluids. • Herbs that stop bleeding reduce coagulation times, inhibit fibrinolysis, contract local vessels and increase capillary resistance. • Herbs that extinguish wind have anti-convulsive, sedative, and hypotensive effects. • Herbs that transform phlegm and stop cough have anti-tussive, expectorant and anti-asthmatic properties. • Warming herbs tend to have stimulant effects, increase metabolism and increase cAMP. • Cold and cooling herbs will have CNS, endocrine, and metabolism inhibitory effects.


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Dr. Christine Bessent has been a practicing veterinarian for nearly 25 years in southeast Wisconsin. She practices holistic veterinary medicine, utilizing Chinese herbs, acupuncture, food therapy and chiropractic on all animals. She teaches the benefits and wisdom of Chinese veterinary medicine through seminars, classes and internships for veterinary students and veterinarians. Dr. Bessent is certified in veterinary chiropractic and acupuncture and is a member of many organizations, including the AHVMA, the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association and the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society. She is the founder of Herbsmith, Inc.