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Traditional Chinese Herbal Medicine
What is it? Overview Usage Side Effects and Warnings

Traditional Chinese Herbal Medicine Usage

Written by FoundHealth.


Effect of Traditional Chinese Herbal Medicine on Depression

Chinese herbs are most often used in conjunction with acupuncture to treat many chronic diseases and the same is true of their joint effectiveness in depression treatment.

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Read more about Depression and Chinese Herbs.

Effect of Traditional Chinese Herbal Medicine on Migraine Headache

The actions of Chinese herbs will not be as immediate, direct or usually as specific as medications. The following are some of the medicinal properties of the most commonly prescribed herbal medicine...

Read more about Migraine Headache and Chinese Herbs.

Effect of Traditional Chinese Herbal Medicine on Allergic Rhinitis

Traditional Chinese herbal medicine is part of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), a complex, multi-faceted healing tradition with a long history. TCM seeks to restore balance to the body, so Chinese...

Read more about Allergic Rhinitis and Traditional Chinese Herbal Medicine.

Effect of Traditional Chinese Herbal Medicine on Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)

Traditional Chinese Medicine is concerned with correcting any underlying imbalances that are present in the body. By correcting these problems, the body become stronger, better at fighting off any...

Read more about Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) and Traditional Chinese Herbal Medicine (TCHM).

Effect of Traditional Chinese Herbal Medicine on Viral Hepatitis

Chinese herbs, alone or in combination, may help treat hepatitis infections and alleviate some of the symptoms of chronic hepatitis.

Read more about Viral Hepatitis and Traditional Chinese Herbal Medicine.

What Is Chinese Herbal Medicine Used for Today?

In the traditional system of Chinese herbal medicine, herbal formulas can be used to treat virtually any condition. Some of the most common uses in China include liver disease ( hepatitis and cirrhosis ), sexual dysfunction in men , infertility in women , insomnia , colds and flus , menstrual pain , irregular menstruation, and menopause .

Acupuncture is often used along with herbs as a supplemental treatment; in addition, extraordinarily detailed lifestyle suggestions are common. It is not unusual for a traditional practitioner to “prescribe” dinner, as well as counsel changes in living situation (for example, move from the basement to the first floor or face the bed south rather than north). Exercise systems such as Tai Chi and Qigong may also be recommended.

Other Uses for Traditional Chinese Herbal Medicine

A large, double-blind study conducted in China reported that use of the traditional remedy xue-zhi-kang by people with a previous history of a heart attack could reduce the risk that they would suffer a subsequent severe cardiovascular problem, such as a stroke or another heart attack. 1 Chinese herbal medicine may also be helpful for people with angina. In a small, randomized trial of 66 adults with stable angina, Shenshao tablets (containing ginsenosides and white peony) reduced the frequency of angina attacks. 2 In a small, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, use of the herbal combination Banxia Houpo Tang (also called Hange Koboku-To or Magnolia and Pinelliae Formula) was tested for the treatment of impaired cough reflex in people who had suffered a stroke . 3 The results indicated that the herbal combination was more effective than placebo treatment for improving the coughing response.

In a review of 21 studies involving almost 3,000 subjects, researchers concluded that Chinese herbs were as effective as commonly prescribed medications for drug withdrawal symptoms in heroin addicts . They could not draw any conclusions, however, regarding which specific herbs were more most beneficial. 4 Various Chinese herbal formulas have been evaluated for the treatment of respiratory infections. The results of published studies appear to indicate that these formulas are more effective than standard antibiotics, but the poor design of most of these trials precludes placing much faith in their outcomes. 5 One combination therapy called Shuang Huang Lian has better supporting evidence than most.

A double-blind study performed in Hong Kong evaluated the potential benefits in cancer chemotherapy of personalized herbal formulas designed according to the principles of Traditional Chinese Herbal Medicine. 6 In this study, 120 people undergoing chemotherapy for early-stage breast or colon cancer were given either a personalized formula or placebo. Researchers evaluated numerous possible effects of the treatment, but found benefits in only one: reduction of nausea. Note that even this single result is less meaningful than it may seem; it is statistical questionable to use a multiplicity of outcome measures. A review of 15 mostly poor quality trials with 862 patients suggested that Chinese herbal medicine might improve quality of life in patients with non-small cell lung cancer undergoing chemotherapy. 7 One study evaluated the effectiveness of an herbal combination containing herbs commonly used for the treatment of cough , but failed to find the treatment effective. 8 ( Note:This study has been incorrectly reported as finding the tested treatment effective; indeed, use of the treatment did help suppress coughing, but so did the placebo treatment, and there was no significant differences between the groups.)

Numerous studies have evaluated traditional Chinese herbal medicine for treatment of liver cancer with generally positive results. 9 However, study design and reporting were markedly substandard.

A double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 29 people with chronic fatigue syndrome found indications that use of the Kampo remedy Hochu-ekki-to significantly improved symptoms compared to placebo. 10 The Kampo remedies Saiko-keishi-to and Shosaiko-to have been suggested for the treatment of epilepsy , but the supporting evidence is too preliminary to be relied upon. 11 12 Both of these combination treatments consist of bupleurum, peony root, pinellia root, cassia bark, ginger root , jujube fruit, Asian ginseng root , Asian scullcap root, and licorice root , but the proportions are different.

Other traditional herbal combinations with some supporting evidence (often from studies of questionable quality) include Xiao-Yao-San (Free and Easy Wanderer) for depression and bipolar syndrome , 13 Mai-Men-Dong-Tang for allergic asthma , 14 Yi-Gan San for dementia , 15 Bofu-tsusho-san for weight loss and diabetes , 16 Chang Ji Tai for irritable bowel syndrome , 17 and Ondamtanggamibang (a Korean formulation) for reducing symptoms of stress . 18 Qinzhu Liangxue for psoriasis , 19 and red peony root for acute pancreatitis . 20 In one study, the herbal formula Duhuo Jisheng Wan, widely used for osteoarthritis , proved to be as effective as the standard anti-inflammatory drug diclofenac. 21 However, the herb caused as many side effects as the drug, and was slower to act. (It was so slow, in fact, that its benefits could have been due solely to the placebo effect.) This study did not use a placebo control group.

One double-blind, placebo-controlled study tested the remedy Hochu-ekki-to for enhancing immune response to influenza vaccine, but failed to find benefit. 22 One study quoted as showing that a Chinese herbal formula can reduce blood pressure actually failed to find any effect on blood pressure. 23 A review of 17 trials found that there is limited evidence to support the use of Traditional Chinese herbal preparations for the common cold. 24


  1. Hamazaki K, Sawazaki S, Itomura M, Huan M, Shibahara N, Kawakita T, Kobayashi S, Hamazaki T. No effect of a traditional Chinese medicine, Hochu-ekki-to, on antibody titer after influenza vaccination in man: a randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind trial. Phytomedicine. 14(1):11-4.
  2. Wang J, He QY, Zhang YL. Effect of shenshao tablet on the quality of life for coronary heart disease patients with stable angina pectoris. Chin J Integr Med. 15(5):328-32.
  3. Iwasaki K, Cyong JC, Kitada S, Kitamura H, Ozeki J, Satoh Y, Suzuki T, Sasaki H. A traditional Chinese herbal medicine, banxia houpo tang, improves cough reflex of patients with aspiration pneumonia. J Am Geriatr Soc. 50(10):1751-2.
  4. Liu TT, Shi J, Epstein DH, Bao YP, Lu L. A meta-analysis of Chinese herbal medicine in treatment of managed withdrawal from heroin. Cell Mol Neurobiol. 29(1):17-25.
  5. Liu C, Douglas RM. Chinese herbal medicines in the treatment of acute respiratory infections: a review of randomised and controlled clinical trials. Med J Aust. 169(11-12):579-82.
  6. Mok TS, Yeo W, Johnson PJ, Hui P, Ho WM, Lam KC, Xu M, Chak K, Chan A, Wong H, Mo F, Zee B. A double-blind placebo-controlled randomized study of Chinese herbal medicine as complementary therapy for reduction of chemotherapy-induced toxicity. Ann Oncol. 18(4):768-74.
  7. Chen S, Flower A, Ritchie A, Liu J, Molassiotis A, Yu H, Lewith G. Oral Chinese herbal medicine (CHM) as an adjuvant treatment during chemotherapy for non-small cell lung cancer: A systematic review. Lung Cancer. 68(2):137-45.
  8. Wong WC, Wong EL, Lam AT, et al. Effectiveness of a Chinese herbal medicine preparation in the treatment of cough in uncomplicated upper respiratory tract infection: A randomised double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Cough. 2006 Jun 22. [Epub ahead of print].
  9. Shu X, McCulloch M, Xiao H, Broffman M, Gao J. Chinese herbal medicine and chemotherapy in the treatment of hepatocellular carcinoma: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Integr Cancer Ther. 4(3):219-29.
  10. Kuratsune, H. Effect of Kampo Medicine, “Hochu-ekki-to,” on chronic fatigue syndrome. Clinic and Research. 1997;74:1837-1845.
  11. Yarnell EY, Abascal K. An herbal formula for treating intractable epilepsy: a review of the literature. Alt Compl Ther. 2000;6:203-206.
  12. Narita Y, Satowa H, Kokubu T, et al. Treatment of epileptic patients with the Chinese herbal medicine “saiko-keishi-to” (SK). IRCS Med Sci. 1982;10:88-89.
  13. Zhang ZJ, Kang WH, Li Q, et al. The beneficial effects of the herbal medicine Free and Easy Wanderer Plus (FEWP) for mood disorders: Double-blind, placebo-controlled studies. J Psychiatr Res. 2006 Sep 28. [Epub ahead of print]
  14. Hsu CH, Lu CM, Chang TT. Efficacy and safety of modified Mai-Men-Dong-Tang for treatment of allergic asthma. Pediatr Allergy Immunol. 16(1):76-81.
  15. Iwasaki K, Satoh-Nakagawa T, Maruyama M, Monma Y, Nemoto M, Tomita N, Tanji H, Fujiwara H, Seki T, Fujii M, Arai H, Sasaki H. A randomized, observer-blind, controlled trial of the traditional Chinese medicine Yi-Gan San for improvement of behavioral and psychological symptoms and activities of daily living in dementia patients. J Clin Psychiatry. 66(2):248-52.
  16. Hioki C, Yoshimoto K, Yoshida T. Efficacy of bofu-tsusho-san, an oriental herbal medicine, in obese Japanese women with impaired glucose tolerance. Clin Exp Pharmacol Physiol. 31(9):614-9.
  17. Shen Y, Cai G, Sun X. [Randomized controlled clinical study on effect of Chinese compound changjitai in treating diarrheic irritable bowel syndrome.] Zhongguo Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Za Zhi. 2003;23:823-825.
  18. Lee MS, Park KW, Moon SR. Effects of a Korean traditional herbal remedy on psychoneuroendocrine responses to examination stress in medical students: a randomized placebo-controlled trial. Hum Psychopharmacol. 19(8):537-43.
  19. Li FL, Li B, Xu R, Song X, Yu Y, Xu ZC. [Qinzhu Liangxue Decoction in treatment of blood-heat type psoriasis vulgaris: a randomized controlled trial] Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Xue Bao. 6(6):586-90.
  20. Zhang M, Zhu DZ, Li ZS, Zhan XB. [Red peony root decoction in treatment of severe acute pancreatitis: a randomized controlled trial] Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Xue Bao. 6(6):569-75.
  21. Teekachunhatean S, Kunanusorn P, Rojanasthien N, et al. Chinese herbal recipe versus diclofenac in symptomatic treatment of osteoarthritis of the knee: a randomized controlled trial [ISRCTN70292892]. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2004 Dec 13. [Epub ahead of print].
  22. Hamazaki K, Sawazaki S, Itomura M, Huan M, Shibahara N, Kawakita T, Kobayashi S, Hamazaki T. No effect of a traditional Chinese medicine, Hochu-ekki-to, on antibody titer after influenza vaccination in man: a randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind trial. Phytomedicine. 14(1):11-4.
  23. Arakawa K, Saruta T, Abe K, Iimura O, Ishii M, Ogihara T, Hiwada K, Fukiyama K, Fujishima M, Mizuno Y, Kikuchi T, Takaori S. Improvement of accessory symptoms of hypertension by TSUMURA Orengedokuto Extract, a four herbal drugs containing Kampo-Medicine Granules for ethical use: a double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Phytomedicine. 13(1-2):1-10.
  24. Zhang X, Wu T, Zhang J, Yan Q, Xie L, Liu GJ. Chinese medicinal herbs for the common cold. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2007 (1):CD004782

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