Pulse of Oriental Medicine: Alternative Medicine That Works for Regular Folks
Alternative Medicine That Works for Regular Folks

Updated September 1, 2003








Milk Thistle and Chinese Medicine
By Brian Benjamin Carter, MSci, LAc

Brian is the founder of the Pulse of Oriental Medicine, medical professor at Pacific College of Oriental Medicine, and author of Powerful Body, Peaceful Mind: How to Heal Yourself with Foods, Herbs, and Acupressure.

Hi, I tend to have excess heat and liver/gallbladder problems. Most of my illnesses are the manifestation of problems with my liver/gallbladder channel. I also have issues with regularity, and colon cancer runs in my family, so I have been taking herbs like milk thistle for cleansing, detox and regularity. This seems to help. My question is, is milk thistle a warming herb and if so then is it potentially bad for me to increase yang - which is where I tend to reside already?

Thank you for your help.

Great question, and difficult to answer. Since milk thistle is not a Chinese herb, we have to guess what its Chinese medical properties are. Until we do that, we can't use Chinese medicine's insightful theories of diagnosis and treatment. If it is anti-inflammatory, we can guess that it's not warm, but that's still a guess.

Putting Western Herbs into Chinese Medical Terms

Peter Holmes has done some work on classifying Western herbs in Chinese medical terms (see his 'The Energetics of Western Herbs.'). Holmes writes that milk thistle is warm, dry, pungent, and bitter. To support the warming, damp-draining function he attributes to it, he cites its effect on edema, phlegm, and cold limbs. But since this is a new effort, I doubt most Chinese herbalists would feel that we have definite and complete answers about what individual Western herbs do in Chinese medical terms.

Unfortunately, many of the resources on the internet focus only on the western research- it is equally difficult to translate between the three worlds of

1. Chinese herbal properties and functions,
2. Western biomedical terms, and
3. Western herbal terms

There is only one reality, but these are three distinct ways to look at it. And though there may be one-to-one correlations in some cases, they do not appear to be the rule. That means some Chinese herbal properties may reflect more than one western herbal property or function, and more than one western biomedical effect.

So, See a Chinese Herbal Practitioner (aka Acupuncturist)

Find one here. Sorry I can't be more helpful here, but until we map out and verify the relationships between these three fields, we won't be able to say for sure.

That, plus the clear advantages of Chinese herbal medicine's holistic diagnoses which allow for personalized herbal combinations, are the main reasons I almost always advise people go see a Chinese herbal practitioner. You can get most of your health needs met in one stop without worrying about interactions between western and Chinese herbs, and between herbs and drugs. In fact, formulas are less likely to interact with drugs than single herbs are.

All the best!

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All information herein provided is for educational use only and not meant to substitute for the advice of appropriate local experts and authorities.

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