What Are The Side Effects Of Chinese Herbs? – All You Need To Know

Traditional Chinese Medicine (also known as TCM) has been growing in popularity across the world for a few years at this point.

What Are The Side Effects Of Chinese Herbs? - All You Need To Know

From its humble beginning in Central and East Asia, it has garnered quite a following and support base over the years across the world, from Europe to Africa, to the Americas.

However, like all forms of medicinal treatment, TCM isn’t simply just a list of benefits with no side effects or drawbacks to speak of.

All treatments, whether mild or serious, Western or Eastern, have caveats and side effects that patients should know about, and TCM is no exception to this rule.

Understanding the potential side effects of TCM is vital for anyone who is looking for treatment in this particular field.

Because not only are there side effects, but if you’re getting your treatment from less-than-reputable sources, there are some potentially serious consequences to consider too.

This guide will help walk you through some of the side effects that you may come across when researching or using specific herbal remedies for your issues.

History Of Chinese Herbal Medicine

We should probably start with a quick rundown of the history of Chinese herbal medicine and TCM as a whole.

TCM has been practised across China for centuries, with documents of the techniques and herbs going back as far as 200 B.C.E, and evidence of herbal remedies being used even further back than that.

While many parts of the world have relied on natural solutions to pain relief or treatments, TCM is the only type of practise that has an arguably unbroken record of over 2,000 years of being practised and used.

While it was primarily restricted to Asia, TCM and Chinese herbal medicine have since gained a lot of popularity abroad, thanks to a combination of Chinese immigrants bringing the practise to other countries, it’s relatively simple to grasp in nature, and several high-profile cases of treatment being seemingly successful.

Probably the most notable case was the American journalist James Reston, who used TCM and acupuncture to help alleviate the pain that he suffered from after suffering and being treated for appendicitis, which sparked interest in TCM across the world.

Theories Behind Chinese Herbal Medicine

Generally speaking, the most defining feature of TCM and Chinese herbal remedies is its holistic and spiritual core that seeks to reduce pain around the body, and the theory behind this approach.

With Western medicine practices that follow the scientific method, the emphasis for treatment is studying the area that is affected, and treating the symptoms of the issue.

It’s a very thorough approach, but has also garnered a reputation for treating pain or issues in the body as isolated problems, and not part of a whole system.

This opposite approach is the way that TCM works, which treats the body as a connected system between different points, where sensations and energies can travel between. This energy, known as Qi, needs to be balanced between positive and negative energy.

When imbalances caused by exhaustion, stress, or other effects happen, the body responds with the maladies and issues that we see in many minor and even major ailments.

TCM seeks to correct these imbalances to help the body recover from issues, including a wide range of techniques, from acupuncture and acupressure to physical tai chi training or routines, and, of course, Chinese herbal remedies.

Side Effects Of Chinese Herbal Medicine

What Are The Side Effects Of Chinese Herbs? - All You Need To Know

So, with that groundwork covered, Chinese medicine seems to have a few strengths over its Western counterparts, at least when it comes to whole-body treatment and approaches.

However, as we said, there are no types of treatment with no side effects, Chinese herbal medicine included. And they come in several different forms, depending on what type of TCM or herbal remedy you are taking.

Herbal Remedies Side Effects

Of the many fields of TCM, herbal remedies have some of the most notable side effects, and also some of the biggest risks that come with it.

Herbal remedies that are obtained through questionable sources often come at low qualities, with many unknown ingredients or substances being added and used in their production to yield results.

In the worst cases, many of these lower-quality herbal solutions contain materials or components that are dangerous to humans, from drugs, poisonous plants, and even heavy elements such as lead and arsenic.

Add to that the fact that TCM herbal remedies are not nearly as thoroughly regulated as standard Western medicine, and you have a massive issue with quality control in TCMs.

In short, make sure that the source that you’re getting your Chinese herbal medicine from is a reputable source before even considering taking it.

Acupressure/Puncture Side Effects

While not as dangerous as some herbal remedies can be, acupuncture therapy in TCM can come with some risks.

Needles being pierced into the skin that haven’t been properly sterilized is the biggest issue. Even if the needle isn’t piercing far into the skin, contamination from diseases such as Hepatitis B and HIV is a real possibility.

Tai Chi Side Effects

Of all TCM’s treatments, tai chi is probably the practise with the least issues.

Just make sure that you consult with a health professional that you are in good enough shape to practise martial arts before trying it for yourself.

Issues With Traditional Chinese Medicine

While not a side effect in of itself, it’s worth noting that there are some elements of TCM that many doctors, academics, and other followers of non-TCM treatment

Because they focus on spiritual balance and the flow of energy throughout the many aspects of TCM are, by their nature, pretty hard to quantify by Western medicinal standards, which use the scientific method to establish a cause-and-effect relationship between pain/discomfort in the body, and possible solutions.

This approach has its issues, as we’ve already outlined, but it allows both health professionals and patients to be able to draw definitive links between pain and its causes, as well as how effective the solutions used are.

However, it means that categorically proving that a TCM treatment was the main reason for a condition improvement is difficult to separate from other potential solutions that were used, such as Western treatments that were used at the same time, or even placebo effects.

However, with so many TCM treatments being neutral at worst in many cases, actually trying these solutions rarely has any drawbacks.

It’s as that classic saying goes: Don’t knock it until you try it!

Final Notes – Are Chinese Herbs Safe/Right For You?

So, overall, what are our final thoughts on herbal medicine, and TCM as a whole? Are their side effects worth the potential benefits you can get? Are they safe to use for you? 

Well, the effects of most tried and tested forms of TCM, such as tai chi, acupuncture, and safer herbal remedies, such as green or herbal teas, have no real danger that they pose when trying them.

Still, you should make sure to consult with a doctor or other health professional before considering trying out these health treatments first.

They’ll be able to help you know what to expect, and what standards you’ll want TCM practitioners to meet before trusting them to deliver a safe service.

Clare McAfee
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