Tag Archives: herbal medicine

Traditional Chinese Herbal Medicine and Brexit

As promised, we are taking a break from the Great Med Off series. I’ll be back covering Western and Chinese medicines next time, but today I am going to discuss the issue which is on almost everyone’s mind-Brexit. For the love of God, WHY??? Nobody wants to hear yet another opinion! Also, of course, I can get myself into trouble with some of my patients. Emotions are very high, yet the sequence of events which helped me make up my mind regarding the Brexit question is interesting and is TCM related and that is why I am going to share it with you.
In the early days after David Cameron announced that there was going to be a referendum. I thought that I would vote for remain. To be perfectly honest, like most people, I knew very little about the EU. It was more of an intuition. It has always made sense for me that people should cooperate, share and help each other so why not be in a union with our friends in Europe? Indeed, why not? Well, something has happened during the run up to the referendum which has started me thinking properly. Before I tell you about it I have to give you a bit of background. The struggle of Herbalists against the mainstream medical institution’s attempt at stopping them from practising is hundreds of years old.  Mainstream medicine always viewed the Herbalist community (out of ignorance of course) as a bunch of charlatans. In the old days Herbalists were considered as witches and often ended up in jail or even burned on the stake. Luckily the methods of persecution have changed but not the principle. Mainstream medical science (these days strongly supported by the pharmaceutical industry) relentlessly tries to stop Herbal medicine practice.

Since I started practicing Chinese medicine 24 years ago there have been 3 orchestrated attempts by the Authorities to pass laws regarding the manufacturing, the prescribing, and the use of Herbal medicine. These laws, often camouflaged as public safety concerns, were very clearly designed to devastate the herbal medicine industry and the Herbal medicine practice. The first of those came in the late 90’s-a set of new rules and regulations regarding the manufacturing, the selling and the prescribing of herbal medicines brought in front of Parliament by the Medical Control Agency (MCA). The centre point of this new legislation was that herbal products would no longer be regarded as food supplements.  Instead they would be treated as medicines! The implications of that were huge! It meant that each herbal medicine would have to go through the same testing that new medicines do in order to be approved for use!  This would have completely destroyed the Herbal practice since no herbs would ever be available again. The herbal medicines companies are all very small with a large amount of products (hundreds). Unlike the pharmaceutical companies which are very big companies with a very small amount of products. To test a new product takes years and costs many millions, but it is still worth it for the pharmaceutical companies. They will get their money back on the investment. For the Herbal companies it is of course a complete impossibility! So, faced with the prospect of annihilation, the Herbalist community fought back. Herbalists and their patients wrote to their local MPs, signed petitions, and even went on a demonstration in front of the Houses of Parliament. To everyone’s surprise the Campaign worked. The MPs had a good look at the Bill, realized the problems, and rejected it. The MCA was told to go back to the drawing board and to come back with a more balanced and sensible Bill. This was Democracy in motion!
About 3 years later the MCA came back to Parliament with a new Bill. There were few little changes from the original one. Firstly, the MCA changed its name to the MHRA (Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency). Secondly, they kept it secret and the Herbalists heard of it only about 2 weeks before the vote in Parliament so we had very little time to campaign. Other than these there were very little changes of substance, just cosmetic ones. Again we fought a fast and successful campaign. Common sense and Democracy prevailed again!
The third time the Herbalist community had to face this sort of threat was around 2008. This time we had a real problem. This time the herbs directive came from the EU. There was simply nothing we could do about it. The EU Herbal medicine directive, although not as devastating as the original MCA one, is still a very bad piece of work. It is supposed to offer public protection from rogue medicines and yet it is doing just the opposite. For example: those “take-away” style  Chinese herbal places which sprout up around the town centres are having no problems practicing with the new regulation-and that is despite the many court cases brought against them for using banned Herbs and Pharmaceuticals. At the same time, genuine Herbalists run into trouble and have to seriously find a way to bend the rules just to be able to keep on practicing. Many useful, effective, much loved and 100% safe products had to be stopped. They just disappeared never to come back. A few Herbal companies had to close down. But probably worst of all, courses for Herbalists are now impossible to find. Chinese medicine courses are simply not on offer anymore. It is simply too hard and complicated to practice TCM in the UK in light of the EU Herbs directive. It came into full effect in 2014.
I think what happened is that I heard about yet another of my Herbs suppliers closing down in the run up to the Referendum and that made me start thinking.  The main problem is not with the directive itself (although bad enough) it is with the process. Some bright spark in an office in Brussels set out a directive. There was no consultation, there was not understanding of the situation, problems or needs of the Herbal medicine reality in the UK. We had no chance to have any influence on the process and could not even protest after. I didn’t vote him in and I can’t vote him out. No accountability whatsoever, no consultation, no democracy.
 It’s not just the Herbs directive, this flawed process happens in many other areas of our lives controlled by the EU. If you value democracy then this is very very wrong!  This lightbulb moment made me look a bit more closely at the effects of the EU projects on our lives.
Not far from my Leicester Clinic a big construction project was unfolding. Humberstone Road was having a very welcome facelift. At the end of the street a sign declared: this project is supported by money from the European Union! The initial response to this information is ”Great! We are getting money from the EU to make Leicester look better!” Then I thought again. What is actually happening here? We pay our hard earned tax money to the UK Government. They then pass it to the EU. The EU use it to pay for fancy offices and generous salaries for its workers and then, whatever is left, they send back to the UK for Projects. Which Projects get the left-over money? That is decided by EU Bureaucrats who probably don’t know much about the UK, about its culture, its ways, and its needs. Sorry my dear Remainer friend but this just makes absolutely no sense to me.
The more I looked at it the more convinced I became. The way the EU operates at the moment and, maybe more importantly, the direction it is moving toward is simply not good and is going to end up in tears. I am aware of course that there are some good sides to the Project. As I mentioned earlier I am always for cooperation and support but there is absolutely no need for the obsessive control over Member countries’ rules and internal affairs which is coming from Brussels!!! As demonstrated by the case of the Herbal medicine directive: it doesn’t work and it will gradually cause more unrest in other EU countries!
Please understand that my support for leaving the EU is nothing to do with a hope of getting my herbs back. I know unfortunately this is not going to happen, not in my working lifetime anyway. It is purely about bringing back sovereignty and democracy.
And, one last thing I would like to say to my “Remain” friends: many people born in the UK  who have probably never experienced life anywhere else often don’t appreciate how great this country is. Of course it is not perfect and it has problems the same as everywhere but, nevertheless, it is a great place with great strength, great tradition and great people! It will have no problems with coping, flourishing and fulfilling its potential outside the EU.
And on this positive note we’ll end today’s post. I hope I haven’t upset anyone. Next time, hopefully we’ll be back to proper TCM and Human Health matters!

Dr Ilan Shahor

The Great British Med Off

In today’s post I will try and embark on the very complicated task of comparing Chinese medicine and Western medicine. Having qualified and practised in both disciplines I think I am in a good position to do so. The subject is vast, it’s multifaceted with different layers to it. It can easily fill a book or two. As usual, I am going to try and simplify matters. I will try and focus on the practical aspects: which discipline is likely to be more beneficial in which condition; what are the pros and cons etc. The next few posts will be dedicated to this comparison with a different group of conditions in each post.

However, before starting with all of this I would like to stress a very important point. In many cases it is not necessarily one type of therapy or the other which will reap the most benefit but a combination of both. In China, Chinese and Western medicine are working effortlessly in harmony side by side. Chinese medicine practitioners are also trained in Western medicine and vice versa. There is an understanding of the pros and cons, the strengths and weaknesses and, most importantly, the limitations of each discipline. A Western medicine practitioner, in China, won’t hesitate to refer a patient for a course of Chinese medicine treatment on occasions where they feel it will be beneficial. A TCM (traditional Chinese medicine) practitioner, on the other hand, will be able to identify the cases which require Western medical intervention.

Let me give you an example of how it works in practice. A stroke is a very common condition. It can have a devastating effect on the patient. In the West, from the people who survive a stroke, 33.3% will recover completely, 33.3% will partially recover, that means they will have some residual paralysis, and 33.3% will stay fully paralysed. Western medicine has no means to affect or improve this outcome. In China, however, the treatment for a stroke is a beautiful demonstration of the possible cooperation between TCM and Western medicine. A patient with a stroke will be rushed firstly into a Western medicine ward and will normally stay there for a few days only. After being assessed by the doctors as being in a stable condition, the patient will be transferred into a rehabilitation unit. On that unit most of the methods used for rehabilitation are TCM methods, namely: Acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine and tuina (physiotherapy of Chinese medicine). The full recovery rates on these units is around 80%!! This demonstrates how Western and Chinese medicines can (and should) work beautifully together. Soon after the stroke, at the early stage, Western medicine is essential. In a small portion of patients emergency surgery will be needed. Chinese medicine can’t help those patients at that stage. In the later stage, however, the rehabilitation is the important factor and that is where Western medicine can’t help much but Chinese medicine can!

The question that naturally arises is why can’t it work like that in our health system? After all we all want as successful an outcome as possible for the patient. The answer is that, unfortunately, when it comes to openness towards and awareness of other treatment options we are miles behind the Chinese. Whilst TCM practitioners qualified in this country have a good knowledge and understanding of Western medicine basics and in particular of “red flag symptoms” (symptoms that may indicate a serious medical condition and therefore require a referral to a doctor), Western medicine practitioners haven’t got a clue about TCM and what it can do. There is still a complete ignorance regarding the issue and that is a great shame!

However, we can’t keep digressing from our main issue: the Great Med Off! I would like to start with the treatment of cancer. It is by far the most asked about condition in my Clinic. Can Chinese medicine cure cancer? The answer to this question is, unfortunately, in most cases, no. Chinese medicine is extremely good in fixing body systems that are malfunctioning but if there is a lump of cancerous growth in the body then it is just not strong enough. I have heard about cancer cases which have been cured or at least been improved with TCM treatment but these were all in China, in a very specialist clinic using very strong herbs (mainly animal products) which are not available to us in the UK. The bottom line is that, despite the obvious shortcomings of the Western medicine treatment for cancer (severe side effects), I still usually recommend to those who ask me to keep on with the Western medicine treatment, particularly in cases where there is a chance of a cure.

Chinese medicine, however, still has an important part to play in the treatment of cancer. On my last trip to China I saw a presentation of a big study of the treatment of cancer by a combination of TCM and Western medicine. In that study breast cancer patients were divided into two groups. One group had received the traditional Western medicine treatment of an operation and chemotherapy or radiotherapy. The other group received the same treatment and in addition they received TCM treatment that included acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine and a form of exercise (QiGong or TaiChi). The results were: a) a dramatic reduction in the side effects from the Western medicine treatment and a significant increase in the quality of life in the combined Western and Chinese medicine therapy and, more surprisingly, b) a 30% increase in the survival rate in the combined treatment group! So again I would say combine if you can. The problem is that it is becoming harder and harder to combine Chinese medicine in the treatment of cancer in this country. In the past I used to treat people who were going through chemotherapy and radiotherapy with acupuncture and herbal medicines. Those treatments were very successful. The patients used to suffer much less from side effects and felt generally better. They used to go through the treatment with much less problems including less bone marrow suppression (which causes a fall in white blood cell count and often forces the doctor to stop or to reduce the chemotherapy!). It was common for my patients to report that the doctors asked them how they were staying so well. Recently, unfortunately, more and more treatment centres tell their patients not to take any other treatment during the chemotherapy. The reason given is that they don’t want anything to interfere with their treatment. This policy comes out of the ignorance of Western Medicine Doctors regarding Chinese medicine. The doctors are probably too busy to check out the available research. Again I think that it’s a great shame. So when it comes to cancer I will say definitely combine if you can but if I had to choose a winner then it is Western medicine due to its better ability to deal with tumours and an overall bigger chance of a cure.

Next in our Great Med Off are skin conditions. I chose it to follow the cancer section probably due to my need to balance things up. After giving the advantage to Western medicine regarding cancer treatment, when it comes to skin conditions then Chinese medicine is a clear winner. Skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis and acne are common, usually chronic, and very poorly treated by Western medicine in my opinion. The Western medicine approach to treating these conditions is suffering from the usual problem: it only treats the symptoms. The first line of treatment is usually with creams, mainly creams containing steroids. On the one hand these are quite effective and will clear most types of skin lesions. The problems start when we stop using them. The condition is likely to come back. A long term use of steroid cream will damage the skin and is therefore not recommended. The use of steroid creams can therefore only be recommended in light and self limiting conditions and is usually not effective in the chronic condition. The second line of treatment is with steroid or other Immunosuppressant drugs. The dynamic there is similar to the use of cream. These medicines will often be very effective in clearing the skin condition. However, the condition will be almost certain to come back, at least as bad as it was before the treatment, when we stop the medicine. A long term use of these medicines will cause serious side effects such as kidney or liver failure, diabetes, atherosclerosis and others.
The only cases where I support the use of steroids or Immunosuppressant drugs in skin conditions are those where the condition is extremely severe and other treatments have failed.

The Chinese medicine approach for skin conditions is different. It has a good understanding of the reasons and causes of these diseases. Treatment with Acupuncture and Chinese herbs is directed towards the cause of the symptoms as well as the symptoms themselves. With chronic conditions the patient will have to be a little patient as the treatment may take a few months but the results are usually excellent and long-lasting. (For a more detailed explanation as to how Chinese medicine can understand and treat skin conditions please go to the conditions section in my website.)

In my next post I am going to discuss musculoskeletal conditions, digestive system problems and psychiatric conditions with the pros and cons of Western medicine and Chinese medicine regarding the treatment of these areas. Which one will come out on top? The answers are all in my next post.

Good health for everyone.

Dr Ilan Shahor

The Miracle of Fertility and the Mystery of Infertility Part 3: Recurrent Miscarriage and IVF.

Image result for ivf baby
Today I am going to discuss both recurrent miscarriage and IVF and how Chinese medicine can help.  The two are not necessarily related and the reason they are both discussed in the same post is that they are probably too small to fill a post by themselves.
I will start with the heart-breaking condition of recurrent miscarriage. It is defined as having more than two miscarriages without the presence of a medical condition to explain them. In some cases, when the miscarriages are late in the pregnancy, the doctor can help with a procedure that tightens up the cervix. In cases where Auto Immune factors are suspected the doctor will prescribe steroids to calm down the over-active immune system. In the cases where blood clotting problems are thought to be the cause, the doctor’s treatment will be with blood thinners like Aspirin or Clexane. Those treatments can be helpful at times but often they can not. Another problem is that often the lady won’t be suffering from any of the above but still won’t be able to keep a healthy pregnancy. For a woman it is an extremely frustrating and upsetting situation. In Chinese medicine, as it is in the case of infertility, we have a much more subtle understanding of recurrent miscarriages. Practically all of the women I have seen over the years with this problem did not have any medical diagnosis to explain their predicament and therefore weren’t offered any treatment from the doctor. Most of them were able to have a healthy pregnancy and birth after a course of treatment with Chinese medicine! How come? Again, as is the case in the treatment of infertility, we first try and identify the reason for the recurrent miscarriages from a Chinese medicine point of view. The most common cause for “unexplained” recurrent miscarriages is weakness of the kidney energy (Qi). This energy is crucial in our ability to nourish the foetus and in maintaining pregnancy. Women with low kidney Qi will often feel very tired when pregnant with a tendency to low back pain and to feeling cold. However, sometimes there will be no symptoms except the miscarriage. Another problem with recurrent miscarriage due to weak kidney Qi is that every miscarriage by itself drains a lot of the kidney energy. This causes a vicious circle in a way in that the more you try the worse it gets. Since after every miscarriage it gets worse then, in these situations, our only choice is to stop trying for at least 6 months. During this time the patient will take a course of Chinese herbs and acupuncture specifically to strengthen her kidneys’ energy. This situation can be a bit tricky. Understandably it is often hard for the patient to stop trying to conceive for 6 months. The biological clock is ticking and time is so precious but, in this situation, it is the only way to allow the kidney Qi to recover with the help of Chinese medicine. There can be other causes of recurrent miscarriage such as circulation problems, overheating or weakness of the blood. In each of these cases accurate diagnosis and choosing the correct treatment is crucial. This treatment is often successful.
IVF and Chinese medicine:
The effectiveness of Acupuncture in increasing the success rate of IVF is well established. A comprehensive review study has concluded that Acupuncture Treatment increases the chances of successful IVF by nearly 70%. The scientists who conducted the study remarked that they didn’t really understand in what way the Acupuncture helps but they made a guess that it is probably through improving the blood circulation to the womb. They weren’t that far off.
 So, how is it that Acupuncture helps IVF? When treating an IVF patient, the body’s regulation of hormones, which is so important for fertility, becomes insignificant. The reason for this is that during the month leading up to the IVF the doctor will completely take over the control of the hormones. The body has nothing to do with it anymore. In the case of IVF the best thing we can do to help is to help with the quality of the Endometrium, which is the covering of the Uterus. It tends to be extremely rich in blood vessels. If we can improve the supply and the movement of blood in the Uterus we will improve the endometrium quality and that will allow a much better chance for successful implantation of the fertilised egg which has been put back in the womb. So, blood is the focus. There are, however, other areas which can improve-such as the temperature of the womb, the movement of the energy (Qi) and the kidney energy which is so important in conceiving and the development of the baby in the uterus. With an IVF patient we are going to work on and improve all of these factors in the run-up to the IVF. The results are a near 70% rise in IVF success.
This is the last post in the series about fertility. I would just like to add that there is nothing that gives me more joy, during work at the clinic, than hearing a fertility patient telling me that they are pregnant. There is something very special about helping to bring new life into this world. I remember when I used to work as a doctor in the hospital-most hospital wards were places full of misery and suffering. There was just one ward that had a lot of joy and happiness on a regular basis: it was, of course, the Obstetrics ward. In my clinic I treat couples for fertility problems on a regular basis but I always feel I would like to help more. I am concerned about ladies who have not received any help and would recommend for any couples experiencing problems with fertility to have a course of Chinese medicine. You do, however, have to be a bit careful with your choice of Practitioner. It is a fairly specialised subject so you want to make sure that your TCM practitioner is qualified and experienced in treating infertility.
Good luck with it,

The Miracle of Fertility and the Mystery of Infertility – Part 2: Unexplained Infertility

In my last post I discussed the cases of infertility where there is a medical explanation for the condition. Today I am going to concentrate on the surprisingly common situation where a woman can’t conceive despite all medical tests being normal, the so-called unexplained infertility. Unexplained infertility is what we call a basket diagnosis. It is a similar situation in the case of IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) and in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. In these conditions the Doctors will throw into the basket any patients who manifest with certain complaints without actually understanding the reason for those complaints. As a result, the patients, who can have different causes for their problems, are all put in the one basket. The problem here of course is that when we don’t know the cause of a problem we can’t treat it effectively. Indeed, the only solution modern medicine offers for unexplained infertility is I.V.F. This means, in a way, that medicine is giving up on trying to cure the problem and is bypassing it instead by doing part of the process in a controlled manner outside of the body. IVF is very important and in some cases will be the only solution. However, many of the women who have been diagnosed with unexplained infertility can conceive naturally following a course of treatment with Acupuncture and Chinese Herbs. I have helped many women who have come to me with this diagnosis. Conceiving naturally will save them the unpleasant, expensive and often unsuccessful process of IVF.

So how does Chinese medicine explain and then treat these cases of unexplained infertility? These women have been through a thorough medical testing. It has been established that the hormone levels are correct, ovulation is regular, follicular tubes are open and there are no anatomical abnormalities. What then is the reason for the difficulty in conceiving? Well, the problem here is usually on a more subtle level. The way Chinese Medicine sees the process of conception is a bit like the process of the sprouting of a seed in the ground. You can put a seed in the ground but if the conditions are not right the seed won’t sprout. If the ground is too cold or too hot it won’t sprout; if it is too dry or too wet it won’t sprout; if there are not enough nutrients in the ground it may sprout but it won’t develop and will die or grow poorly. The human reproductive organs are the same. If the uterus is too hot, too cold, too dry, too moist then pregnancy won’t happen. If circulation of blood or energy (Qi) is poor it won’t happen. The environment in which the egg is fertilised then implanted in the uterus and then developed into a healthy baby has to be perfect or at least near to perfect. At the first consultation at the Clinic it is important to establish, in these cases, which of the above problems is the cause of the difficulties. When we establish a diagnosis then treatment is usually successful. The diagnosis will be made through Chinese Medicine methods such as questioning, observation and tongue and pulse diagnosis, but also through a temperature chart. Taking the body temperature morning and putting it in a monthly chart will give me valuable information about the state of the patient’s reproductive system.

I will try now to give you (without boring you with too much Chinese medicine detail) the most common causes of unexplained infertility.

1) Yin deficiency and heat

Yin is the part of energy in the body that keeps us cool and moist. It is therefore essential for fertility to have strong Yin. Examples of symptoms that can indicate the presence of Yin deficiency are: dry mouth at night or first thing in the morning; night heat and poor night sleep. In the context of fertility the uterus lining can get too hot and dry-this will make implantation difficult. Another possible problem when the Yin is low is that cervical mucus may become too thick and that will block the sperm from entering the uterus. The treatment of Yin deficiency in Chinese medicine is with herbs and acupuncture points that nourish the Yin and reduce heat.

2) Yang deficiency and cold

This situation is the opposite one to the Yin deficiency. Here the body is unable to warm itself properly. The patient may feel cold or have cold hands and feet. In bad cases she may feel coldness in the low abdomen, there is often tiredness and low back pain and low libido is common. Lack of warmth in the uterus will limit the blood circulation and will make conceiving difficult. The treatment is with Chinese herbs and acupuncture points that warm the body and tonify the Yang energy.

3) Kidney Qi deficiency

The kidney is the most important organ in the human body in the context of fertility. Energetically it includes the uterus and the ovaries. When the kidney energy (Qi) is weak it is unlikely that pregnancy will occur. Symptoms of weak kidney may include lower back pain, feeling cold or night heat, tiredness and problems with passing water including frequency, urgency or waking at night to urinate.

4) General Qi deficiency

The main symptom here will often be tiredness and palpitations. Shortness of breath is possible as well. When the Qi is low, on top of a weak kidney (see above), we will have problems with the circulation and pregnancy is unlikely.

5) Blood stasis

Blood stasis means a problem with sluggish movement of the blood. In this situation the quality of the womb lining will be poor and therefore implantation and/or maintenance of the embryo will be difficult. Common symptoms resulting from blood stasis are: period pain and passing of blood clots with the period. The treatment here is with acupuncture points and herbs that improve the circulation.

6) Qi stagnation

Here we have a problem with the free flow of Qi. If the Qi is not flowing freely it often affects the blood circulation and the function of the organs. Qi stagnation often occurs due to high emotions, stress or worry. Common symptoms are: irritability, anger, feeling emotional, headache, bad PMS (pre menstrual stress) and period pains particularly in the first days of the period. The treatment of Qi stagnation will aim to relax and restore the free movement of Qi.

As we can see, each of these imbalances will have a negative effect on the woman’s ability to conceive. In reality it is usually not just one of these imbalances on its own but is more likely to be a combination of two or three and sometimes more. In any case, correcting these problems can significantly increase fertility and the chance of a healthy pregnancy. It is about creating an optimal environment for egg fertilisation, implantation and then growth and development of the embryo. That is really what Chinese medicine is all about when it comes to fertility treatment and that is why it is so successful in treating unexplained infertility!

In my next post, which will be the last in the Fertility series, I am going to discuss recurrent miscarriages and I.V.F., considering the Chinese medicine view and how it can help.