Chinese Herbal Medicine in the Time of Covid-19

Posted by Isabel Martinez on

Classical Chinese Medicine in the Time of the Coronavirus.

We're staying home. Washing our hands. Sanitizing every corner of our homes and cars. Wearing masks and gloves to the store. But in the absence of a cure, what else can we do to avoid the coronavirus?

These days, waking up with a sore throat is even more distressing than usual. Now known to be possible early-stage indications of the COVID-19 virus (also known as "the coronavirus,") common symptoms of upper respiratory infection such as sore throat, runny nose, dry cough, sneezing, nasal congestion, lethargy, muscle pain and headache are understandably causing concern. As there is currently no known cure for COVID-19, Western medical treatment is mostly supportive, meaning that its objective is to stabilize the body while the virus runs its course. Tests for the virus are currently in short supply and medical care is reserved for the severely ill, leaving a gap in treatment options for much of the population. 

Preventive Health Care
Preventive health care is any preemptive treatment, screening or other measures taken for disease prevention. This proactive approach to health provides the opportunity to address potential health issues before they become overwhelming. In the United States, Traditional Chinese Medicine is often referred to as "preventive medicine" because it is a system of healing that not only addresses disease but helps patients to achieve and maintain good health.
In our current environment, we can't be too cautious, so don't hesitate to consult your primary physician at the onset of any symptoms - especially if you are over 60 years old, have pre-existing health conditions, or if you experience tightness of the chest, difficulty breathing, prolonged or high fever. Recommendations for at-home treatment of mild, early-stage symptoms include staying hydrated and acetaminophen as needed for fever and pain relief. For patients with advanced COVID-19 infection, access to Western medical care can be life-saving, but it offers limited options for those who want to take steps to further protect themselves or who may be experiencing mild symptoms like those indicated in the beginning stages of the virus. Now more than ever, preventive health care is crucial to our protection and wellbeing. 

Collaborative Medicine
Over two thousand years old, Classical Chinese Medicine is still widely practiced in hospitals across China, and frequently used in collaboration with biomedicine. According to the Ministry of Science and Technology in China, as of late February 2020, more than 85% of all coronavirus patients in China received herbal treatment in addition to contemporary medical care. However, this statistic only accounts for the patients who were ill enough to go to hospitals and health clinics. We may never know how many other people contracted the virus and managed symptoms entirely with herbal medicine and other traditional therapies such as acupuncture, moxibustion and cupping.

Ancient Medicine for Modern Diseases
Though ancient in origin, Classical Chinese Medicine is timeless in its ability to address modern people and health conditions as its practices are based in the natural laws of relationship, reciprocity and balance, known as the theory of yin and yang. Classical Chinese Medicine differs from Western Medicine in that its focus lies not only in treating disease, but in treating the patient who has the disease. This is significant because the same pathogen can have distinct presentations in different people based upon a variety of factors including overall health, age, diet, lifestyle, etc. The goal of Classical Chinese Medicine in disease prevention is to restore balance in a patient's system by supporting their natural defenses and addressing early-stage symptoms before the pathogen has the ability to penetrate more deeply into the body.  

Healing Roots and Bark
Chinese herbs consist of a pharmacopoeia of plant seeds, berries, roots, leaves, flowers and bark native to various parts of China. Through their ability to help strengthen the body's resistance to disease while simultaneously addressing symptoms, Chinese herbs are uniquely poised to provide support as preventive medicine. They have been used to treat epidemic illnesses in China for thousands of years, and are effective in treating common cold and flu-like symptoms such as those experienced in the early stages of COVID-19. Chinese herbalism is effective in that it's not "one-size fits all" medicine. Formulas are safest and most effective when they are designed for an individual's specific etiology, and with the understanding that formulas will need to be adjusted as symptoms change. Additionally, it's important to know the source of Chinese herbal medicines, and herbs should only be purchased from reputable companies that provide quality assurance and routinely test their products for purity and safety. To this effect, I cannot stress enough the importance of working with a trained herbalist to accurately prescribe and oversee your treatment with Chinese herbs.

Medicine for Uncertain Times
An added benefit of treatment with Chinese medicinal herbs is that you can access them from the safety and comfort of your own home! In accordance with the current Shelter in Place Order in the United States, some practitioners are now offering telemedicine consultations online and Chinese herbal formulas can be shipped to any address in the continental United States. Although we are experiencing uncertain times, Chinese Herbal Medicine continues to be applicable and adaptable to our modern conditions. Whatever steps you are taking to care for yourself during this time, I wish you good health and some consolation in knowing that preventive options are available.

In health,

Isabel Martinez, L.Ac.