How is a Chinese herbal formula made?
The average herbal formula has between 8 and 20 ingredients, almost always in different proportions. There is usually a 'King' ingredient administered in a larger amount, whose action provides the thrust of the formula, then one or two 'Minister' herbs in lesser amounts to refine the action of the 'King.' 'Envoy' herbs take the effect of the formula to a particular part of the body, the head, for instance, or the lower back, or the extremities. Other herbs treat incidental symptoms of the overall condition. Finally, 'Harmonizing' and 'Digestive' herbs, as their names suggest, get the whole formula to work in unison, and without causing digestive upset.
There are hundreds of classical formulae that are still highly useful, and that are still made in pill and granule form. There are also many herb companies innovating, refining, and adapting to the problems of today's world with original formulae.
At BA, we strive to always stay current with whatever best serves the needs of our clients, 'getting there firstest with the mostest,' as the man said. We have personal relationships with the makers of many of these formulae, and ensure that the quality of the products we give our patients stays high.
How are Chinese herbs administered?
Internally, many people opt to use pills for convenience. For specific or serious health problems, we highly recommend trying raw or granular herbs, which allows us to make a 'smart bomb' specifically for your individual symptoms. As your symptoms change, so does the formula.
Externally, herbs have been used for centuries in China mainly for trauma, but also for stubborn painful conditions and anything manifesting on the outside of the body. These herbs are administered as limiments, pastes, and soaks. We draw on all of these at BA, depending on the client's needs.
I've heard of rare and endangered species being used in Chinese pharmacology...I
Unfortunately, this does go on, mostly in Asia. We have never used such products at BA, and would not deal with herbal suppliers who do.
We encourage any of our clients who want to donate to a worthy charity to give to
Animals Asia Foundation Limited
International Fund for Animal Welfare
What about the safety of herbal formulas?
Chinese medicinals are very safe when
a. They are procured from reputable sources, and
b. They are prescribed by a trained practitioner.
About half of the 4-year Master's degree is spent learning several hundred medicinals (we often call them 'herbs' for convenience but animal, vegetable, and mineral products are all used,) their contraindications, and how to combine them. Chinese pharmacology is extremely precise with the formula tailored to each patient's symptoms; in China it was traditionally seen as an intellectual 'Gentleman's art' requiring years of serious study. Like any drugs, if they are prescribed by someone without the requisite training, adverse reactions can occur.
Also like any drugs, they are counterfeited. Illegal operations in Hong Kong, Macao, Thailand, and parts of China (where they are called 'Mountain Bandit Factories') produce copies of popular formulas with little or no herbs in them, or the wrong ones, and sometimes additives like Western drugs (antibiotics are popular, potentially very dangerous to those with sensitivities.) These formulas are marketed online, including on Amazon and Ebay, at lower than average prices. Buying Chinese formulas from anywhere but a reputable practitioner is a very much a case of caveat emptor.
And, unfortunately, herbal products are often misused by people who buy products online or at health food stores then self-administer, thinking, "It's natural, it can't be harmful." No qualified practitioner has ever uttered those words, guaranteed.
All of our herbal suppliers comply with the new stringent Chinese Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP), and have also been internationally certified by the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). TGA standards are among the highest in the world, as dietary and herbal supplements there are subject to the same guidelines as pharmaceutical drugs. We have been ordering from the same companies since we opned in 2005, but continue to monitor their safety practices.
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