Jake Paul Fratkin, OMD, L.Ac.
From Alternative Medicine May, 2005
Q:I have heard that Chinese herbs are effective for treating and preventing common cold. What products do you recommend, and where can I find them? Are they safe?
A: Chinese herbs are remarkable for treating common cold, as well as a large array of viral infections. This is due, I think, to the large number of anti-viral herbs that have been identified and used in China. In Western herbology, there are a few herbs that come to mind in treating pathogenic microbes: echinacea and golden seal, for example. In the Chinese pharmacopeia, however, forty herbs have been identified as having strong anti-viral effect, and of these, 25 are commonly used in herbal formulas. This does not include the 15 herbs that have been found to be successful antibacterials!
Before answering your question of which products to use, I would like to comment on the safety issue. Chinese herbal products have been accused of being routinely contaminated with pesticides, heavy metals and pharmaceuticals. This is quite untrue. First of all, the products American acupuncturists choose usually meet Australian GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice) standards, guaranteeing no heavy metals or pharmaceuticals. Contamination is rare according to government lab analysis made in California of imported Chinese products, and pesticide use is nonexistent or at a level far below that of vegetables in our supermarkets. So yes, they are quite safe.
As far as which products I recommend, there are three or four that come to mind. All of these rely on a synergistic approach of combining 3 to 10 herbs. The most effective product in my opinion is Gan Mao Ling. (This translates as “Common Cold Effective-Remedy”). The Gan Mao Ling formula, available from several GMP manufacturers, employs seven herbs. Four of these, which make up 74% of the formula, have strong anti-viral effects. Two of the antiviral herbs, Ilex Gang Mei Gen and Evodia San Cha Ku, have only been discovered recently, and make up 56% of the formula. These two herbs are extraordinary in stopping a respiratory virus quickly, perhaps in one or two doses. Gan Mao Ling is recommended in the early stage of a cold, usually the first 24-36 hours, when symptoms of sore throat, runny nose or slight malaise are noticed. Take five pills every three hours until the symptoms are gone. Gan Mao Ling can be used for the duration of the cold, if the symptoms are confined to the throat and sinus. Once the cold enters the lungs, different formulas are required.
Other Chinese herbal products that are useful include Zhong Gan Ling, which is similar to Gan Mao Ling. It also contains strong antiviral herbs (66% of the formula) while supportive herbs address fever and chills. Zhong Gan Ling is quite useful during influenza. It will not stop the illness, but can reduce the severity and duration up to 50%. It is also beneficial for West Nile Virus. Finally, I would recommend Yin Qiao Jie Du Wan for viral sneezing and running nose. An American product having a similar effect, and using Chinese herbs, is Cold Snap. Most of these products can be found in health food stores.
Q: My baby is 6 weeks old, and has had constant colic. He is fussy during the day, but cries inconsolably at nighttime. My doctor says that he will outgrow it. Does Chinese medicine have anything that could help?
A: In my clinical practice, we address colic by taking into account both Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) as well as a modern naturopathic perspective. In the TCM view, colic is caused by over-feeding. Infants are seen as having sensitive digestive systems, and overfeeding, including breast-feeding, can overwhelm an infant. This leads to food stagnation with accumulation of undigested food and mucus. For feeding infants, too much fatty, sweet, raw, cold or hard to digest food can cause colic.
In some cases the baby will spit up. In others, the inability to process food and move it downwards causes painful abdominal distension, crying and discomfort.
In simple cases, gentle massage in a clockwise direction on the abdomen, followed by gentle downward stroking along the abdomen, can provide relief. In China, mothers are encouraged to have fixed feeding times, with the idea of a fixed amount. Babies are separated from the breast when it is felt they are 3/4s full, and the babies quickly get use to this.
In babies who do not respond, we treat with Chinese herbal medicine, acupuncture or pediatric massage (shoneishin) to break up food stagnation and support a weak digestion. This approach is very effective, but should be done by Oriental medical practitioners who are experienced and comfortable working with infants.
From the naturopathic vantage point, colic often has a food trigger, particularly dairy. Having the baby or the nursing mother stop all dairy should be the first course of action, including yogurt, ice cream, cheese and goat’s milk. In severe cases, other food triggers include eggs, gluten grains, nuts, seeds and beans. Usually meat, vegetables, fruit and rice are not allergenic, and the mother should stick to this diet for herself until reactive foods can be identified.
Q: Are there alternatives to hormone therapy for PMS? I have been using birth control pills, but am curious if there are more natural methods.
A: Progesterone-estrogen therapies can be effective for controlling PMS (premenstrual syndrome), but seldom provide a cure. The Chinese approach is different. We treat premenstrual syndrome successfully – without outside hormones.
PMS is caused by stagnation of qi (energy) and blood in the liver. In Chinese energetic physiology, the liver, after cleaning and detoxifying the blood, distributes blood smoothly to the muscles. If there is stagnation, the body becomes tense, leading to irritability. The Chinese refer to this condition as “premenstrual tension”, signifying a low-level muscle tension. Because the liver channel courses through the breast and to the head, liver stagnation leads to breast distension and headache, two other symptoms of PMS.
Why does premenstrual syndrome occur? Historically, Oriental medicine recognized that liver stagnation originates with internalized emotional stress or anger. In modern times, we find that it is also due to over-accumulation of chemicals, drugs and hormones in the food chain. This overwhelms the liver’s ability to detoxify. Why do the symptoms occur before the period? One reason is that a woman’s body heats up naturally between ovulation and menses. Heat actually aggravates liver stagnation, making it worse, and manifests in the symptoms of PMS: irritability, breast distension and headache.
Chinese herbal treatment or acupuncture is used to move qi and blood stagnation out of the liver and to clear liver heat. This approach is entirely effective, and doesn’t require the use of hormones. Chinese medicine, and particularly acupuncture, can regulate endocrine function so as to normalize hormone production.
While it is always best to find an experienced practitioner, many women in China self-medicate with one herbal formula that is remarkably successful. It is called Jia Wei Xiao Yao San (“Added Ingredients Free and Relaxed Powder”), and is available from various GMP companies as Free and Easy Wanderer Plus or Bupleurum and Peony Formula. This formula dates back to 1080 AD, which attests to its popularity and endurance! It is recommended to take the pills starting at ovulation and stopping once the period begins. Complete cure is possible within four months, but some women will need to take it monthly. This herbal formula is safe and without side effects!
JAKE PAUL FRATKIN, OMD, L.Ac. is a respected practitioner and teacher of Traditional Chinese Medicine, in practice since 1978. He is the author of Chinese Herbal Patent Medicines, The Clinical Desk Reference (2001), and is the recipient of the Acupuncturist of Year Award from the American Association of Oriental Medicine. He is actively involved in the newly formed Holistic Pediatric Association (hpakids.org), and maintains a website at drjakefratkin.com.