All posts by Ryan Less

CORONAVIRUS AND herbal medicine

DISCLAIMER: This article is not intended to diagnose, treat, or cure any disease. It is solely for informational purposes only. Any use or misuse of the information contained in this article is solely the responsibility of the reader. The author cannot be held liable. Before trying any new supplement or herb, check with your physician. If you are pregnant, nursing, or on any medication, check with your physician before making any change.

By now, there are thousands, or hundreds of thousands of articles on the topic of coronavirus, aka sars-Cov-2. Nonetheless, many patients, family, and friends have contacted me asking questions, and wondering if there are any steps they should take. This article will present what is, hopefully, useful information in an easy to read format. I will tend to oversimplify things so as to make the article as short as possible.

About the virus itself……

So, scientists so far have determined that the novel coronavirus uses a protein spike, found on its surface, to bind to an ACE2 receptor on your cells. This is like a key fitting into a lock. Where are the ACE2 receptors? They happen to occur in plentiful numbers in your lung and digestive tract. This should come as no surprise then, that symptoms of this novel coronavirus can occur in the lungs and/or the digestive tract. I saw one estimate that as many as 20% of patients were presenting with digestive issues. That number will probably be constantly changing. At any rate, for those of you who don’t know, the virus isn’t technically alive, Its a fragment of RNA protein that needs the machinery in your cells to replicate itself. This really makes it pretty narcissistic. It breaks into your cell, it then uses your cell to duplicate itself as much as possible, and then makes you sick.

What might we be able to do……..

All of us would like to feel like we are protecting ourselves, and feel some sense of control over our situation regarding this virus. I will share with you some ideas beyond hand washing, isolation, and mask wearing. (PLEASE KEEP DOING THOSE THINGS HOWEVER). I’ll explain a couple different approaches and things people could consider trying.

There are two ways to approach things. One is basing actions on scientific findings, the biomedical model if you will. The other is a traditional or indigenous model. The biomedical avenue is like this: use an antiviral for a viral infection, use an antibacterial herb for a bacterial infection, use an anti-inflammatory herb for inflammation. It is totally logical and valid. The traditional or indigenous approach, which is equally valid and has its own inherent logic, includes things like traditional Chinese herbal medicine, Ayurvedic medicine, and other systems used by indigenous cultures around the world. The traditional model treats a patient by matching the specific pattern of symptoms and the constitution of the patient with a suitable, possibly modified, herbal formula. And a third options, would actually be a combination of the two.

The Chinese have chosen to use both approaches. In China, the government actually provided herbal decoctions for patients at hospitals throughout the epicenter of the coronavrus outbreak in addition to using conventional medical treatment strategies. Dr John Chen and his family business, elotus, have shared the herbal strategies being used there. Here is a link to a video Dr Chen has presented on the topic. It is quite good, and even though some of the jargon will be foreign to you, most people will gain some understanding and insight.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BGcsFzKLdTI

The main thing to take away is that the Chinese government used a couple modified herbal formulas to prevent doctors from getting sick, or at least reduce the severity of the illness in the event they got sick. These were basically a classic formula called Yu Ping Feng San, sometimes translated as Jade WIndScreen, or Jade Screen. It has 3 herbs, one of which is huang qi (astragalus) which has been extensively researched for its immune enhancing capabilities. They took this and added other herbs to the formula. The added herbs are based on the two approaches I mentioned earlier. They are herbs with both a traditional use in certain patterns of symptoms, AND they have modern research indicating they have anti SARS (coronavirus)properties.

Back in 2013, during the SARS outbreak, a somewhat similar herbal formula was given to 1063 healthcare workers, while a control group of 15,374 healthcare workers did not receive any herbs. In the treatment group, none of the healthcare workers got sick with the SARS virus (a cousin of the current coronavirus), while 64 of the healthcare workers who did not take the herbs did get sick with SARS. To be clear, I am NOT saying that if you take herbs you can be 100% bulletproof and escape this current virus. What I am saying is it certainly seems like it could be worth trying herbs out. Currently, some models are predicting as many as 50-80% of the US population could become infected. While some 80% of those infected will likely have mild to moderate symptoms , no one can predict which of us will fall into the 80% of mild cases, and which of us won’t.

For those who are curious, the formula Yu Ping Feng San ( Jade Screen) is often available on Amazon, and a wide variety of websites. You wont be getting the modified version with the addition of herbs being used in China during this pandemic , but it would seem to be better than nothing. IF you have a relationship with an acupuncturist who practices Chinese herbal medicine, you can likely get the modified version, or one similar.

Another Road to Protection

The biomedical approach to using natural therapies may include certin supplements. Certain phyto-chemicals have been found to have the ability to prevent the coronavirus from attaching to your ACE2 receptors, which were mentioned earlier as a keyhole on your cells. Some of them are bioflavonoids including quercetin, and a number of bioflavonoids, like hesperidin, found in citrus and some others, and natural phytochemicals like chlorogenic acid found artichokes, apples, pears, sweet potatoes and some coffee beans and tea, and also rutin found in buckwheat, unpeeled apples and other fruits. This approach is based on computer modeling and in vitro studies, not human clinical trials, so it can’t be known with certainty if it is effective at inhibiting the virus. At the same time, I would say this: some of those flavonoids occur in herbs that had anti-SARS activity and have been used for hundreds of years for a variety of viral infections in Chinese herbal medicine. So, again, it is something to seriously consider. I have some on hand for myself. However, check with your doctor before taking supplements. And please note that you can get quercetin and other phytochemicals from a variety of fruits and vegetables including common things like apples.

Combining both overall approaches, we get this: modern research confirming traditional use of herbs. What that looks like in this case, is that certain Chinese herbs used for viral illnesses have been shown to have anti-viral activity against SARS viruses including, but not limited to licorice (gan cao) , scutellaria (huang qin), yu xing cao ( houttuyniae), lonicera (jin yin hua). Some of these were the herbs added to the Yu Ping Feng formula to make up the formula used in China for healthcare workers to help them not get seriously ill from the coronavirus. The best of both worlds

BEYOND PREVENTION…….

Once a person is infected, and actually manifesting symptoms, things get a little more complex (NOTE: if someone already is sick, they should discontinue using Yu Ping Feng). This is because, in the traditional approach used in Chinese herbal medicine, its not just, “have a virus, treat with antivirals”. Nope!! What the herbalist (acupuncturist) seeks to do, is to match up an herbal formula, with the pattern the patient presents with. In other words, each person’s body is unique. Therefore, the way each body responds and interacts with the virus will be different. Thus, there is not ONE herbal formula that would fit everyone. The guidelines from the Chinese government therefore list various formulas it recommends based on the set of symptoms the patient presents with. This customizing herbs to the specifics of the patient is the heart of Chinese herbal medicine. If you watch the youtube video by Dr Chen (link provided earlier in this article) you will get a keener idea of what this looks like relative to the coronavirus. To reiterate that: people getting the novel coronavirus are presenting with varying sets of symptoms. sometimes including diahrrea and abdominal pain, sometimes dry cough and wheezing with fever, sometimes severe body aches and fever, and so on. In each situation, the patient is given an herbal formula designed for their specific pattern of symptoms. Each body responds differently to the virus. Each body gets a different formula!!

CONSULTATIONS

For those of you who have questions about herbs, supplements and so on, phone consultations are available. I block off about 2-3 hours per week for this. If you are not already a patient at the clinic, this consultation will be considered as being for eductional and informational purposes and will not constitute an acupuncturist-patient relationship. Two options exist:

  1. $20 for a 15 minute consultation
  2. $30 for a 30 minute consultation

Payment can be made via PayPal, or by credit card. Payment is made prior to the consultation. For those of you who wish to schedule, you may contact me at ryanacupuncture@gmail,com

A Cancer Patient Rejuvenates

NOTE: SOME DETAILS CHANGED TO PROTECT PATIENT IDENTITY

Though Traditional Chinese Medicine is roughly 5000 years old, it has a lot it can offer patients who have cancer. In this case history, we will look at a patient who benefited greatly from some basic acupuncture, herbs, and moxibustion. This patient’s story is a really great example.

The patient, whom we will call Mr. C, had been in remission for some 2 years but was still getting chemotherapy twice a year. At that point, the patient was diagnosed with a bladder infection, and shortly after that, he contracted an intestinal infection known as c. diff, which can be life threatening. Additionally, he was informed that the cancer had returned and would need to begin undergoing regular scheduled chemo treatments as well as a new treatment of rituxin. By the time the proverbial smoke had cleared and the infections had resolved, the patient was quite “wiped out”. Furthermore, Mr C also suffered from loose stool (a side effect of chemo), weakness of the legs, and a general malaise and lack of his normal mental vibrancy.

How did we go about helping Mr C regain vitality, improved digestion, improved recovery time after chemo, and increased zest for life? We carried out what, in traditional Chinese Medicine, is referred to as ‘fu zheng therapy. The term means support the normal. Simply put, this means strengthening the normal functions of the body so that it can withstand the chemo and other treatments. Another way to think about it is that therapy is used to reduce side effects of the cancer treatmenent.

As was mentioned previously, Mr. C’s side effects included fatigue, weakness of the legs, unsteady gait/dizziness, loose stools, somewhat depressed affect and feeling cold. In fact, the abdomen and arms and legs on Mr. C were ice cold to the touch. Real improvement was made within even the first week. While acupuncture was used, the biggest contributors were moxibustion and herbal therapy. Moxibustion is a type of ancient heat therapy where a specific herb is burned safely and comfortably over certain acupuncture points to strengthen the body and is particularly indicated in cases such as this, where the body is very cold to the touch, significant fatigue is present, and the pulse is deep and forceless at the radial artery.

An herbal formula, known in Chinese as Shen Ling Bai zhu San was given. The herb formula immediately began to improve digestion and improve bowel movements so that they were no longer loose. Energy levels also began to improve within about a week. Additionally, after 3 treatments of moxibustion, the abdomen was no longer ice cold, but only very mildly cold, and the limbs also felt warmer to the touch. The radial pulse was improved, though not entirely. As of this writing, the patient has reported that he finally feels like his old self, with an enthusiasm for life returning. While no one can predict the future, we plan to keep helping Mr C, doing what we can, to feel the best he can feel under these difficult circumstances. Seeing him smiling and animated again is very satisfying

If you or a loved one is undergoing chemo or other conventional cancer treatments, it may be worth looking into complementary treatments to help improve quality of life and potentially have an even deeper positive impact. Always discuss these matters with your physician before trying anything new.

Oatmeal non-milk milkshake

Oatmeal Fruit Smoothie (aka The Oatmeal Breakfast Milkshake)

1 Cup of fruit (frozen berries work nicely)
can use mango, banana, citrus, etc..

1 or 2 packets of quick or instant oatmeal (uncooked)

2/3 cup of water (roughly)

Combine in a blender at high speed until smooth. If it is too watery just add extra oatmeal. If too thick add a bit more water. For more fruity taste simply add more fruit.

You will get a creamy fruity oatmeal milkshake. In only a few minutes you can have a healthy drink full of antioxidants, complex carbs, fiber, vitamins, and great taste.

Chinese Herbal Medicine: An Overview

OVERVIEW

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is the indigenous medicine of China, which developed over the last 5000 years.  It employs three main methods/therapies to restore health to patients: herbal medicine, acupuncture, tui na (massage).

While it is acupuncture that has usually grabbed the headlines here in the U.S., it is actually herbal medicine that is considered the primary method of treatment by the Chinese themselves; at least in so far as TCM is concerned.

All three therapies in TCM (herbal medicine, acupuncture, tui na) are based on the same fundamental theories.  It is this sophisticated theory that helps make Chinese herbal medicine so successful.

Pattern Discrimination: What is it?

Most people who want to take an herbal remedy ask a question something like this: What herb can help my X (x being whatever problem they have)? This implies a single remedy for a single problem. For example, if you have gout, get some sour cherry juice. If you have a urinary tract infection, take a cranberry pill.  If you have inflammation take curcumin, for liver problems take milk thistle and artichoke. Its not that this is bad per se. But it could be better.  How so? Ah, that is where pattern discrimination comes in.

Let’s say you go to your doctor because of headaches. It is his/her job to figure out the cause of the headache. If you had neck tension that is severe, maybe a muscle relaxer helps.  If you had migraine, maybe Imitrex helps. But what if the problem is bacterial meningitis? You can’t treat that with a muscle relaxer or migraine medicine; you need antibiotics instead.  The point is that there is not ONLY ONE remedy for headache. Rather, there are many. And finding the right one will depend on getting the correct diagnosis.

A pattern discrimination is a similar thing. When you come into our clinic for a visit, we must determine which ‘pattern of imbalance’ is specifically causing your symptom.  Only after this is done can a Chinese herbal remedy be chosen. Let’s look at an example to make it easy for you to really grasp. Once you have this example stored in your memory, then you will be able to know about Chinese medicine on a deeper level.

Two patients come in complaining of low back pain. Let’s call them Larry and Sally.  Larry has pain that came on suddenly. He thinks it started when he did some extra yard work a couple days ago.  Now it aches and he notes that it improves once he gets moving. But pressing on the area or massaging it aggravate it.  Sally on the other hand has low back pain that came on slowly over time.  It started as a mild little ache, but in the last two years it has slowly gotten worse. It seems better when she rests, and she notices that it is worse by the end of the day.  Sally says that her back ‘feels weak’.

Obviously Larry and Sally are experiencing two very different sets of symptoms. In fact, two patients like this came into the clinic. And, as you might guess, they received two different treatments.

The point is that to treat a patient, we look at more that just the chief complaint.   In fact, the chief complaint is only meaningful when it is seen in the context of all the other signs and symptoms the patient has.  When all this information is woven together, it forms a ‘pattern’, and this pattern will direct the practitioner to the correct herbal formula.

CAN HERBS REALLY BE EFFECTIVE?

Chinese herbs can be VERY effective.  Just like anything else, they will not work 100% of the time, nor can they cure every disease known to man.  But they often can have a significant beneficial impact, sometimes even when other therapies have failed.  And the effects can be quite noticeable to the patient.  A few months ago, a woman came into the clinic because she had a severe yeast infection with vaginal itching, discharge, and was constantly feeling uncomfortable.  She had taken prescription drugs for some time, and they had given no relief.  The herbs we gave her began to give relief within a day, and 3 days later she felt about 75% better.  By the end of one week the yeast infection was eradicated.  Another great example is a patient who came in with significant fatigue.  After one week of herbs the fatigue had vanished.

Not all cases are that simple however.  People with more signifcant problems such as fibromyalgia, CFIDS(chronic fatigue syndrome), or conditions like lupus, may take longer to get reasonable results.

Chinese herbs do not work by magic. They take time and care.  And, in some cases, even the best crafted formula can fail.

RESEARCH

While Traditional Chinese medical theory is sophisticated and beautiful, how about some research.  Can herbs really affect the body? Consider for one moment that 25% of prescription drugs are actually directly derived from natural substances.  AN example is Digitalis, a heart medication which come from the flowering plant foxglove.  How about the antibiotic penicillin? It comes from a common mold.  Therefore it should be no surprise that Chinese herbal medicines can have very real benefits that have been studied and researched.  Here are a few examples:

The Chinese herb jin yin hua (lonicera flower) has shown to be able to inhibit the growth of 73.9% of oral pathogens, and also has a strong ability to inhibit influenza and HIV viruses.  This info is from the following references

Sun Y. et al. Antimicrobial properties of flos lonicera against oral pathogens. China Journal of Materia Medica. 21(4):242-3 Inside Back cover, Apr 1996

Chang W. et al. Antiviral Research. August 1995

The Chinese herb yan hu suo (rhizoma corydalis) exerts strong anti-inflammatory effects and can help with both acute and chronic inflammation.  It also has analgesic(i.e. pain killing) properties. The references are below

Kubo, M. et al. Biol Pharm Bulletin. February 1994

Zhu, XZ. Development of natural products as drugs acting on central nervous system. Memorias do Instituto Oswaldo Cruz. 86 2:173-5, 1991

Suffice it to say, Chinese herbs offer people a multitude of opportunities to improve health and well-being through real mechanisms of action on the body.

Accessory Techniques:The Other Part of Acupuncture

The Chinese word for acupuncture is zhen jiu, and translates as ‘needle and fire’, or as ‘acumoxa therapy‘. Where does the fire come from? Well, there is a technique that has been employed by acupuncturists over the ages, and it is called ‘moxibustion’.  It is a special form of heat therapy. Below, we will describe this and some of the other techniques which, while lesser known here in the U.S., are quite valuable.  They are commonly used by acupuncturists all over the world, and we at New England Acupuncture & Herb Clinic utlizie them whenever they can be of value to the patient, offering another way to move closer to the desired therapeutic outcome and achieve success.

Moxibustion

As alluded to above, moxibustion is a special form of heat therapy commonly used as part of acupuncture. Not every patient will receive moxibustion. But when it is used, its effects can sometimes be remarkable.

Essentially, the practice of moxibustion involves the burning of various substances near the acupuncture points on the body. While there are some forms of direct moxibustion (i.e. burning it right on the skin), we do NOT use the direct method here at the clinic. Instead we use the indirect method, which means the moxa is comfortably held at a distance from the body while the heat gently penetrates the body and benefits the patient.  Patients find this therapy very enjoyable.

The most common substance used for moxibustion is artemisia vulgaris, an herb. Wen it is ground up and prepared for use in the clinic, it can resemble brown cotton, or ground up twigs. Other substances can be used for various therapeutic reason. Indications for the use of moxa include pain worse with cold and better with heat, a tendency to feel cold all the time, fatigue, conditions which in chinese medicine would be termed, ‘damp conditions’, and others. It may even be indicated in breech presentations in pregnant women.

The moxibustion is said to increase the yang energy of the body, dispel cold, promote cirulation of qi and blood, and transform damp. One of the wonderful uses I have found for moxa, is its use in helping older women who experience a feeling of distention and discomfort in their urinary bladder, but who have no infection. They often also have a feeling of  incomplete voiding of urine when they go to the bathroom. Another specific example of the use of moxi is cases of arthritis where the joint pain is worsened by cold weather. For more examples of real life cases treated here at the clinic please go to our case history page. There we have posted some of the cases we have treated, in order to illustrate some of the principles of how Chinese medicine works and the results that can be attained.

Cupping

Cupping is pretty straight forward. It is the application of ‘suction cups’ to specific areas of the body, most often the back and shoulders. This technique can be combined with others, or used by itself. It can be very effective for relieving muscle tension. This is its most common use. Sometimes the cup(s) is placed in a particular spot and left for a few minutes. Other times hypoallergenic massage oil may be rubbed into a broad area and the cup can be moved back and forth over this area. That is termed ‘moving cupping’, or ‘sliding cupping’. There are some people who may be sensitive to the pressure, but most patients seem to find it fine, and even quite pleasant.

Tui Na (no, its not pronounced “tuna”.  It is “tway na” or “twee na”, depending on who you ask).

This translates as ‘pushing and grasping’. While it sounds a bit rough, it is not. Actually, it is a sophisticated and ancient form of massage developed in China. It has been imported to other coutries where it was modified to fit their needs and cultures. The prime example that comes to mind is Shiatsu, which is what tui na became after it was imported to Japan.

Tui Na, sometimes called Anmo, or amma, is based on the same theories and principles as all of Chinese medicine. Thus, it too works to stimulate or relax the acupuncture points and channels that lay on the surface of the body. It also works directly on the muscles, ligaments and tendons. Some patients have described it as a ‘complex form of acupressure’.

In summary, Chinese medicine offers many therapeutic techniques. Each one brings with it a good deal of value and benefit. They are non-invasive, quite safe, and often highly enjoyable.