Chinese Herbal Medicine & Whole Foods

chinese herbal medicine calligraphyWhole foods and Chinese herbal medicine are part of the same spectrum of nutritional therapy. Many foods have medicinal properties, and many medicinal herbs are also foods. Herbs are food as medicine. Proper nourishment, including a whole foods diet, is an essential part of restoring balance to body, mind and spirit. A healthy lifestyle and diet enhances the therapeutic benefits of Five Element acupuncture.  A Chinese herbal formula provides additional – and in some cases, essential – support.

Inner Works Acupuncture in Portland offers wellness and nutritional counseling along with acupuncture, herbal and nutritional therapy.

Chinese herbs and whole foods offer safe, effective therapy for a wide range of health conditions. Whole food supplements and Chinese herbal formulas contain the full spectrum of phytonutrients in the original plant – the thousands of natural chemicals that benefit our health.  Because they are closer to foods, our bodies are able to assimilate them effectively.

Why Use Chinese Herbal Medicine?

Chinese herbal medicine is the most advanced and ancient system of herbalism ever developed. Over thousands of years, the Chinese learned how to combine herbs with synergistic healing properties to produce powerful and balanced formulas. These formulas can be customized to meet the individual patient’s needs, and rarely have side effects.

Effective Treatment

Chinese herbal medicine offers safe, effective therapy for a wide variety of ailments, including:

Chinese herbal medicine should always be prescribed by a qualified, Board-certified practitioner. The use of over-the-counter formulas is not recommended without first consulting a professional.

Treatment without Side Effects

Chinese herbal medicine rarely has negative side effects if properly prescribed.  Chinese herbal formulas are designed on the principles of balancing and harmonizing the properties of the ingredients. As a result, they generally have a very wide therapeutic window of safety.

By contrast, Western pharmaceuticals are designed to target a single condition. They are very powerful but often have side effects. They are not designed to take into account the wide-ranging effects a drug may have on the whole person.  They have a narrow window of therapeutic safety.

Herbal formulas may work more slowly than a corresponding Western pharmaceutical, but with equal benefit and fewer negative effects in the long run.  A good example is herbal formulas that help lower blood pressure to treat hypertension. While several months of therapy may be needed, equally good results can be achieved over time – especially when combined with positive lifestyle changes.

Herbal Alternative to Antibiotics

There are many Chinese herbs with antibiotic and anti-viral properties.  These provide a safe alternative to pharmaceuticals for treating many common infections, including bronchitis, sinus infections, and urinary tract infections. For some conditions, it is absolutely necessary to use pharmaceutical antibiotics (for example, cellulitis, a dangerous bacterial infection of the inner layer of skin). Nonetheless, Chinese herbal medicine works very well for treating many common infectious illnesses.

Chinese herbal medicine can play an important role in reducing the over-use of antibiotics by widening the therapeutic options for treating infectious illnesses.  Herbs can help combat the growing problem of bacterial resistance to antibiotics.

Chinese herbal medicine is also gentle on the digestion, unlike Western antibiotics.  Antibiotic medications often damage the beneficial microflora of the digestive tract while they destroy the pathogenic bacteria.  Herbal formulas are deliberately balanced to avoid damaging the gut.


The Chinese materia medica includes thousands of products derived from plants, animals and minerals. While some herbs are rare and esoteric, such as ginseng and reishi mushroom, other herbs can be found in an ordinary kitchen. Peppermint, ginger, turmeric and garlic are good examples of common herbs with important medicinal properties. Foods are also a form of medicine, and Chinese herbology includes a complex system of culinary prescription.

Plants, animals and human beings co-evolved. Our bodies are designed to thrive on whole foods, not refined chemicals in pills. Herbal formulas and whole food supplements, which contain the full biochemical spectrum of the original plant, are much closer to the original whole foods we are meant to digest.

Why Use Chinese Herbs with Acupuncture?

Chinese herbal medicine works synergistically with Five Element acupuncture. Treatment with Five Element acupuncture alone is often sufficient to unlock the healing process. Herbal medicine provides an additional level of treatment that can hasten results.

For example, menopausal symptoms, including insomnia, hot flashes and night sweating, can usually be treated most effectively and quickly by combining acupuncture, herbs and dietary changes.

For some conditions, Chinese herbal medicine is essential. Benign tumors and cysts, such as uterine cysts, fibroids, or Baker’s cyst, must be treated with herbal medicine in addition to acupuncture.

How are Herbs Administered?

At Inner Works Acupuncture, Portland, most herbal formulas are available as powdered extracts which contain the full spectrum of the original ingredients. The powder can be taken in a capsule form, or mixed with water and swallowed.

Rarely, an herbal formula must be prescribed and prepared in the traditional way: the raw, dried herbs are boiled to create a liquid decoction. This is much less convenient for clients than using the powdered herbs.

Inner Works Acupuncture helps clients heal from within through the administration of Chinese herbal medicine and whole food nutrition, in addition to Zero Balancing bodywork and Five Element Acupuncture. To learn more about herbal and nutritional therapy or to schedule an appointment with Dr. Elizabeth Zenger, contact our office at (503) 227-2127.