Alternative Medicine That Works for Regular Folks
Updated April 15, 2004





Inquiring Minds... Pulse Readers Ask, and I Answer:
Short Questions and Answers
From the Pulse Website
Brian B. Carter, LAc

Herb Safety

How can I find out if the Chinese herbs i take are safe? Thank you very much for your help -- Sheila Smith

The best way is to get them from your local practitioner (who was trained in Chinese herbal medicine, especially one who knows how to watch out for drug-herb interactions). Most Chinese herbs are safe. The unsafe anecdotal info, such as with ephedra, are almost always due to self-prescription, or buying products from companies whose main interest is to make a buck off you.


Chinese Medicine Career


I've always been interested in learning more about 'alternative' healing, so this site is a great resource for me. In fact, I've even thrown around the idea of becoming a practitioner of oriental medicine. However, there's only so much I can learn about it by reading on the web. How can I really find out if it's for me or not? I want to be sure I'm making the right choice before I plunk down the tuition.

Oh, another question: for some reason, I find myself much more interested in herbs rather than acupuncture. How would only dealing with herbs affect my options, compared with doing both acupuncture and herbs?

Call Gina at PCOM - 619-574-6909 - she's the admissions couselor and answers detailed questions all the time. I think she's light on the sales and heavy on compassion.

Herbs are legally the black sheep of our profession- and most of the licenses emphasize acupuncture- i.e. if you want to practice CM in most states, they require the nat'l acupuncture test, not the nat'l herbal test. It's not separated, and I don't know of any state that actually requires the national herbal test except for Texas (thanks to Kristen Horner, LAc, in Hewitt, Texas for that info).

Socially and in practice, people don't really understand Chinese herbs- the main thing is to impress them that you are a serious health professional, then what treatments you work out with them are secondary. Most acupuncture patients will take herbs - Very few don't want the acupuncture- though after a time some want to only do acu monthly, but may still want to buy the herbs.


Re-Thinking (and Re-Thinking) Self Medication
(in reference to this herbal self-medication article)

It all started once I started learning iron palm. We have to use stuff called dit da jow on our hands to keep them from getting bruised and injured while we do our pounding. We also take chi-building formulas for... well chi buliding. I was completely fascinated. I started learning as much as I could about TCM. I had a ruff idea of what it was, I didn't assume I knew hardly anything, I realized it took years of practice, but I figured I'd learn something and it would be harmless if I started growing a couple herbs and doing some "self medication" (as you called it).

I was going about the internet, looking up names of herbs to grow or buy and I came across your site. My master had always taught me that the easy ways are too often the wrong ways (he used this argument to convince my mother that internal martial arts, which takes years, cannot possibly be "evil" because most things evil are easy). Now here along comes your site, which informed me that self medication isn't always a good idea and I should seek out a professional. Your argument was sound and logical and I was convinced. One article suggested I try a free consultation, and it gave excellent questions to ask the "doctor".

Well... true, and that's what I have written BECAUSE of things like the baseball pitcher dying of too much ephedra and sunstroke... if people took the time to educate themselves, it would still take a good year to be sure they were taking herbs that wouldn't hurt them.

And yet, I am writing a book on how people can help themselves at home... eating, exercising, sleeping, herbs, acupressure, etc.- some risk that people will misunderstand and take the wrong herbs... but there will be warnings about the dangerous ones, etc.

My change of heart is because so few people CAN get to an acupuncturist- only 15k acu's for the 300m people in this country. And those that can get to one don't always have the money. And if people would only live more wisely, many could avoid a lot of misery, save money, avoid drugs and their side effects...


Reference Books for Drug-Herb Interactions

Hello - I am a reference librarian at an academic medical library. I have been looking for a reference book (or website) that would be helpful to MD's and medical students, when they are treating patients who are already taking herbal medications. We have several books that describe the individual herbs and their characteristics, including chemical information for some of them. I have not found any tool that lends itself to the specific questions our physicians have. I notice that you have articles on some interactions, so I am inquiring if you have a resource that you could recommend. An example of a question - if a person is taking spute, blue citrus, and several other herbs, can they also take a particular drug for heart arrhythmias, such as sotalol? Any suggestions for reference books, websites or other resources would be most appreciated.

Thanks for your interesting request.

I believe that my articles on drug-herb interactions are the most comprehensive out there. They summarize several books (which only included a few interactions) and a number of review articles from medical journals.

Unfortunately, each drug and herb must be taken on a case-by-case basis. The best thing to do is to consult an herbalist or pharmacist who can apply the information in this article: - They need the Drug Information Handbook to do this.

All the best,

Acupuncture is Sensational

I would like to provide some feedback on your comments about whether or not acupuncture hurts.

I have trained in craniosacral therapy (+ osteopathy) as well as oriental medicine.

I do not believe that the electrical senstation you speak of is always a negative. Through the cranial rhythm I can tune into precise points of energy stagnation/congestion/weakness (often these coincide with well-known acupuncture points or they are on the main meridians). By needling these points I obtain signifcant therapeutic effect, as energy is released/redirected and the cranial pattern is improved.

Occassionally, an electrical sensation is produced. On one particular occassion this travelled from the ankle (where the needle was inserted) up the leg, up the back and up into the neck on the contralateral side - exactly following the course of energy obstruction I was aware of.
I am perfectly well aware that one needs to be very careful not to injure the nerve and that the electrical sensation may often indicate that one has penetrated and perhaps injured the nerve-sheath. I suffered the consequences of this whilst at acupuncture school when our teacher was teaching point location and needled S.I.4 on my wrist. Thereafter, it was painful for me to use that hand for at least 3 or 4 months.

However, I re-emphasise that I do not believe that the electrical sensation is something to necessarily avoid.

Additionally, when I needle points of severe energy stagnation it can occassionally hurts quite significantly. Obviously, I have to be careful on whom I do this kind of needling. However, I have some loyal patients with chronic ailments who have recieved little help elsewhere; and they are usually quite prepared to put up with the passing discomfort for the lasting results that are obtained.

Thanks for your marvelous work,
Michael Spottiswoode, DOM

Good point- in fact, I think the research corroborates the idea that an electrical sensation, or even a strong achey one, increases the effect of the acupuncture- Kendall talks about that in his phenomenal book, The Dao of Chinese Medicine.

However, considering that we can get a result without the electrical sensation, and that it's unpleasant, and can cause neuralgia like yours for months, I think it's best NOT to do it on purpose, or for the acupuncture newbie!

Thanks for the feedback and compliments,

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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.

Copyright 1999-2074, Pulse Media International, Brian Carter, MSci, LAc, Editor