I have been using Chinese herbal medicine for so long, that I am always surprised when patients come in having just come back from the doctor with another antibiotic for a sinus or respiratory infection. I think to myself: why did they wait so long to come in? And I realize yet again that most patients do not comprehend the power of Chinese herbs, nor understand how to use them.
Another common scenario is patients canceling because they have cold or flu symptoms. While I understand not wanting to leave the house when sick, I would love to see more people come in for some assistance with herbs!
The effectiveness of Chinese herbal formulas for viral or bacterial infections, if applied correctly and at the right dosage, still amazes me even though I have come to accept it.
I trained in Chinese herbs long before I went through acupuncture school. My family and I have not had to use antibiotics for as long as I can remember. Apart from an H1N1 flu virus that knocked us off our feet two years ago (although we treated ourselves all the way through without complicating symptoms), we resolve viral illnesses swiftly--usually within a few days.
In light of this experience, I believe that Chinese herbs deserve much greater scrutiny in response to the current Western medical dilemma of antibiotic over-use, not to mention the woefully inadequate array of antivirals. I am perplexed at how overlooked they have been. (Although they are non patent-able and that may partially explain the lack of interest.)
That said, Chinese herbs work very differently than Western drugs. Unless the patient (or health practitioner) understands the differences, they may give up or "drop" herbal therapy due to inexperience or unfamiliarity. I have found several "keys" to the successful use of Chinese herbs for viral illness. These include:
1) Start the use of Chinese antivirals in high doses at the first sign of viral illness. The longer you wait, the more chance there is for the virus to settle in to the throat, lung, or sinus.
2) See your Chinese medical practitioner as soon as possible for guidance as to the right dosage and type of formula, based on your symptoms. Chinese herbal formulas guide the antibacterial or antiviral activity to specific body areas, and address additional aspects of illness such as cold or heat, damp or phlegm.
3) I have seen the right formula not work at the wrong dose. Don't be afraid to double recommended doses of antivirals in the beginning. If you get some loose stools as a result, that is normal.
4) Be patient. Chinese herbs do not provide immediate symptomatic relief. They are working at a deeper level to support the immune system, fight pathogenic influences, and actual heal the body. This takes time. It may take several days before you start feeling better.
5) You may feel worse before you feel better. Strong doses of herbs stimulate the body to fight harder, and cause more die-off reaction from the virus or bacteria.
6) Change the formula if your symptoms change. In general you want symptoms to move "up and out". If a cold goes from a sore throat to lots of nasal discharge, for example, that is a good sign. If you suddenly develop a cough, or sinus pressure headache, then the formula must change. See your practitioner for guidance.
7) Follow dietary advice from your Chinese medical practitioner that will be specific to your symptoms.In general, you want to avoid all forms of dairy and sugar including fruit juice, alcohol, and wheat/gluten products. Emphasize vegetable and meat broths, low-glycemic fruit (such as blueberries and grapefruit), vegetable juicing, and rice, millet or quinoa congees (if you are eating grains).
Conditions treated most effectively with Chinese herbs include: colds and flus, sinus infections, cough and bronchitis, sore throat, ear infection, and urinary and genitourinary tract infection.