A recent article in the New York Times explored impurities in a few poor quality herbal supplements that supposedly aid in weight loss and low libido. We are saddened that these products exist and are giving Chinese herbs a bad reputation. We would like to reassure our patients that purchasing herbal products and supplements appropriately prescribed by a licensed professional is safe and innocuous.
I think it is sometimes easy to forget that herbs are medicine. With so many supplements and herbs available over the counter, it is easy to assume that they are natural and thus, harmless. The Chinese herbal system is beautiful and complex and takes years to understand. The herbs can be very powerful and potent substances. They range from something as simple as a Chinese date (Da Zao) or a Goji berry (Gou Qi Zi) to powerful purgatives like Gan Sui (Euphorbia) or Yang tonifying herbs like Fu Zi (prepared Aconite). Just like Western medicine pharmaceuticals, the herbs are meant to be prescribed for each individual depending on their current symptoms and constitution. Taken inappropriately, some herbs can be harmful, but those same harmful herbs can heal a difficult condition when prescribed by an experienced practitioner.
Licensed practitioners of Chinese medicine have a Master’s of Science degree and are certified by attending accredited graduate schools for four years in order to learn the complex art of acupuncture and prescribing Chinese herbs. Just as you wouldn’t trust a small obscure shop with vaguely labeled products to provide your heart disease or diabetes medicine, you shouldn’t buy herbal pills or supplements from them either; especially when they are making claims like easy weight loss or cures for low libido.
We sometimes have patients in our clinic who are wary of taking Chinese herbs because they’ve read articles like the one recently in the NYT. We are happy to work with you at your comfort level and never push our patients to take herbs, but we want to take a moment to explain the precautions taken by our herbal companies to ensure purity and safety, so you can feel confident and get the maximum benefit from your treatments with us.
At The Yinova Center, we use herbs from two of the best herbal companies in the world. Both follow stringent guidelines created by the FDA to ensure the highest quality product. The herbs are identified, tested and retested using the following scientific techniques: TLC (Thin Layer Chromatography for proper herb species identification), microbial testing for potentially harmful pathogens, Gas Chromatography (tests for the presence of over 200 harmful pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides), HPLC (High-Pressure Liquid Chromatography, which tests for the correct concentrations of active medicinal ingredients), and ICP-MS (Inductively Coupled Plasma-Mass Spectrometry, which tests for heavy metals). Both companies have their own private herb farms, with strict growing conditions and both have their own government regulated and approved laboratories.
To get the most out of your health dollars, you should seek guidance when purchasing vitamin and herbal supplements. Products sold over the counter can be unregulated and inconsistent with their ingredients when coming from unreliable companies. We urge you to do a little research to make sure you are getting what you pay for. We also urge you to obtain Chinese herbal medicine from licensed, experienced practitioners only. Typically, negative effects from herbs are either due to substances in the supplement that shouldn’t be there (like the pharmaceuticals mentioned in the NYT article) or from untested herbs (containing chemicals like pesticides or heavy metals that are toxic). In our history as a center, we thankfully have never had a negative experience with our herbs. We give credit to the wonderful herb companies we source and their hard work to keep our herbs pure, yet potent and to our experienced, diligent staff of acupuncturists.