One of my favorite parts of working at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute is to see how our providers can bridge the best of both Western and Eastern medical practices. Our patients have many different treatment options for most, if not all, of the chronic diseases that currently afflict Americans.
My philosophy is to partner with each patient, rather than tell them what to do. Some patients prefer traditional Western medicine, which consists of both lifestyle recommendations along with medication. Other patients prefer lifestyle modification along with Eastern medicine modalities, like acupuncture, medical massage and Chinese herbs.
It has been 18 months since we launched the first ever Chinese herbal clinic at a major medical center. Our herbalists, Galina Roofenor and Yanming Huang, have seen more than 550 patients (and appointments are only scheduled 1 day per week!) and the results have been overwhelmingly positive. I have referred many patients with a variety of conditions — either because of patient preference, or because my Western training could not alleviate their symptoms.
One patient was battling recurrent chest pain for 6 months — the workup for cardiovascular disease was normal and symptoms were felt to be related to heartburn. However, both over-the-counter medications and prescription strength medications did not help. After several weeks on herbal therapy, the symptoms were completely eliminated. Chinese herbs can be incredibly useful when a patient has multiple symptoms that are hard to pinpoint.
A second patient was seen for nerve pain, also known as neuropathy, of unknown cause. The patient had a history of back pain but this did not explain his nerve pain. A battery of tests ruled out things like diabetes and thyroid disease. After several months on herbal therapy, the pain was gone and quality of life restored. You can imagine for me, being a champion in the Wellness arena, how rewarding it is to see Eastern medicine truly complementing my Western remedies.
Chinese herbal medicine is a major part of traditional Chinese medicine. It has been used for centuries in the Far East, where herbs are considered fundamental therapy for many acute and chronic conditions. Herbalists in our Chinese Herbal Therapy Clinic draw from "Materia Medica," a traditional Chinese medicine text that covers thousands of herbs, minerals and other extracts. Like acupuncture, Chinese herbs can address unhealthy body patterns that manifest in a variety of symptoms and complaints. Chinese herbal therapy aims to help regain homeostasis, or balance, in one's body and to strengthen the body's resistance to disease. When will our herbalists recommend Chinese herbs, you ask? Herbs may be used to increase energy, improve breathing, improve digestion and deepen sleep. They can also be used to treat many chronic pain conditions, as noted in my example above. One aspect of women's health where herbs can be extremely beneficial is both for infertility and annoying symptoms related to menopause (like dryness and hot flashes).
One additional way we are using Chinese herbal therapy to augment western medicine is following cancer treatment. Herbs can aid the body's recovery from the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation.
A consult with our herbalists will typically last one hour. A detailed history, including your past and current illnesses along with medication use, is obtained. A physical exam, which focuses on the tongue (color and texture) and pulse, will be used to determine the body's overall health status. Once you have been fully assessed, the herbalist will make recommendations for a custom formula of herbs that are right for you. The herbs are prepared in Arizona, encapsulated, and shipped directly to your home.
One common question regarding herbs is their potential interaction with both prescribed and over the counter western medications. Our clinic's herbalists are overseen by physicians and trained to recognize how herbal therapy can interact with prescription medications. We avoid any herb to drug interactions to the best of our ability, ensuring that you have the best possible outcome.
Chinese herbs can be incredibly useful when a patient has multiple symptoms that are hard to pinpoint, when we have exhausted traditional medical options and nothing has helped, or when we need herbal therapy to counteract side effects of prescribed medications. Keep in mind that herbs can also be a very useful tool for prevention of disease as well. If you have a strong family history of a chronic disease, Chinese herbs may be used to prevent that disease.
Having the opportunity to blend Eastern and Western medicine has been a rewarding addition to my more than 20 years of Family Medicine. This blend has re-energized both me and my patients, many of whom prefer complementary treatments over pharmaceuticals. By being open to new ways of thinking, I am able to help patients in ways I did not think possible. This proves that you can indeed teach an old dog like me new tricks. Until next time, be well.
To schedule an appointment in our Chinese Herbal Therapy Clinic with Galina Roofenor or Yanming Huang, please call 216.448.HEAL (4325).
Dr. Daniel Neides is medical director and chief operating officer of the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute.