The Importance of Proper Herbal Training

By | September 13, 2023

Dr. Matthew Fellner, DACM, L.Ac.

In the last blog I tried to explain why I think it is so crucial to develop a clear understanding of herbal principles along with the acupuncture when studying in school.  In this blog, I want to use 2 examples from my own clinical experience to further emphasize the importance of proper herbal training.  But first it is worth answering 2 very common questions that arise from patients that will help to provide some context for the examples I will be giving.

  • Why do I have to take herbs if I’m going for acupuncture? 

It is not always necessary to take herbs if you are doing acupuncture, but often, adding herbs to your acupuncture regimen can have a significant effect, making you feel better much quicker.  It is also likely that by taking herbs, you will feel a more sustained effect over time.

  • What are the overall benefits of taking herbs?

The benefit to taking herbs is that you are adding another component to your treatments that can be as powerful as the acupuncture.  It also compliments the acupuncture over time.  Acupuncture is not meant to be done every day, so its effect can be temporary.  When you take herbs, you are creating an environment inside your body that not only promotes healing and harmony, but also makes the acupuncture treatments more focused and effective

The 2 main principles that I want to emphasize in my patient examples are i. Creating an optimal internal environment for more effective treatment, and ii. a more sustained effect over time.

The first example is M.M., a 46 year old female who has been suffering from nasal/sinus congestion with post nasal drip for many years.  When she first came to me, she was on a litany of medications to try and address allergies and clear the congestion from the sinuses.  She was worried about the effect all the medication would have on her, and she also was not convinced it was even working.  She had seen an acupuncturist previously and felt that she had good temporary results.  That acupuncturist was not an herbalist but was astute enough to realize that M.M. likely needed herbs to create a more optimal internal environment.  That turned out to be very true.  In fact, based on what M.M. was telling me, it appeared as though the previous acupuncturist had been treating her appropriately and addressing the root cause of the problem, but just needed an intervention that worked on a deeper, more substantial internal level.  As it turns out, M.M. also complained of chronic gas & bloating, acid reflux, and fatigue.  So as most students of TCM can tell you, there were clear signs of digestive issues, namely Spleen Qi deficiency to use our terminology.  Working together we were able to identify some dietary triggers that could be avoided, as well as focusing on how the sluggish metabolism creates an environment more susceptible to having excess mucus and sinus congestion.  Once she began taking the 2 formulas I recommended, the results were substantial and more sustained.  1 month into our sessions, she had significantly less mucus, she stopped taking all the steroid based nasal sprays she had been given, and she started to not feel bloating for the first time in years.  The medications she had been taking for years seemingly only addressed the surface level symptoms, without taking into consideration the internal environment that was the root of the imbalance.  The acupuncture can absolutely address the root, but often it needs herbs to directly influence the internal environment and…segueing here to the second point…create a more sustained effect over time.

K.D. was a 36 year old female who had been trying to conceive with her husband for over 3 years.  They tried naturally and when that was unsuccessful, tried 2 separate courses of IVF.  She managed to get pregnant the second time but miscarried at 8 weeks.  She informed me that this was the 3rd time she had miscarried since turning 30.  The previous 2 pregnancies also lasted approximately 8 weeks.  During her IVF cycles they were able to harvest a few viable eggs each time.  The quality of the eggs seemed fine but the quantity was less than desirable.  K.D.’s menstrual history included a regular cycle but bleeding that had become lighter over the last few years.  She was generally fatigued, worked a stressful job, and often ate sporadically and not the healthiest choices, according to her.  She also had been diagnosed with iron deficient anemia at age 28.  In this scenario, most TCM students would recognize that K.D. was likely exhibiting signs of what we call blood deficiency.  It was apparent to me that it would take time to nourish her body and prepare her womb acceptance of a growing baby.  She had tried acupuncture in the past but to her own admission, was not as consistent as she could have been.  I explained that the acupuncture is absolutely necessary but may not provide enough sustained effect to alter the internal state of her body.  I told her to be prepared for a 6 month time frame to allow the herbs to nourish and regulate the blood.  She was more diligent about her food choices and regular with treatments.  This allowed her body to adapt to a new pattern.  Since she was already 36, and had a history of miscarriage, it became crucial to retrain the internal environment and have some patience to trust the process.  Luckily, we started seeing some harmonizing and regulating of the menses within the first 3 months, and sure enough, she missed her period on the 4th month.  She tested positive for pregnancy and was able to carry through to term and gave birth to a healthy baby boy. 

The herbs in this case were an essential component to ensuring positive results because often when treating gynecological issues or infertility, we can only judge success on a month-to-month basis.  Taking an herbal formula throughout this process is like having a treatment every day.

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