Some Common Questions About Chinese Medicine

As with any medicine, early treatment is always better. Acute conditions with recent onset, such as lower back pain or headache, may recover within several sessions, while more chronic issues, like anxiety or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), can involve multiple layers of disharmony and will require a longer-term commitment in order to address the root cause. Healing can be supported and accelerated by lifestyle measures, like modifying your physical activities or incorporating more exercise or rest. Dietary therapy is also an integral part of the process, and will help to further support your body between treatments – this is particularly important in chronic cases. The relevant advice, personalised to your needs, together with a scope of treatment, will be discussed during your initial consultation.

Yes – in the hands of a well-trained individual, acupuncture can be considered inherently safe, with negligible side effects. We use sterile, single-use needles to perform acupuncture, and have been highly-trained in their use.

Chinese medicine is generally considered to be safe, but occasionally (as with all treatments) may be associated with possible adverse reactions in individual cases. Chinese herbal medicine uses individually-tailored ratios of natural ingredients, many of which are commonly used in food (ie. mandarine peel, cinnamon, pepper, ginger, peppermint): it has been in continuous clinical use for several thousand years, so the therapeutic effects are founded on millennia of clinical practice.

Acupuncture needles are extremely fine (you can fit five or six of them side by side in one millimetre!) and are nothing like the standard “doctor’s needles” many of us are familiar with. While many people report no pain at all during an acupuncture session, others may be aware of a slight, momentary pricking sensation as the needle enters the top layer of skin – this has been likened to a mosquito bite and is a fleeting sensation. As the acupuncture needle begins to do its work, some patients may feel a dull numbness, tingling or a spreading sensation locally; others even feel sensations in other areas of the body. This is perfectly normal and an indication that the work has begun!

Cupping therapy uses suction to promote circulation and relieve tension. Once the suction is applied, there may be a strong sensation (somewhat like a deep tissue massage) in the area as tension and blockage is released, though this is not usually painful. Gua Sha works on a similar principle of promoting circulation and relieving stagnation or tension. Again, there may be a strong sensation as trigger points and knots are stimulated, though this is no more painful than a deep tissue massage. You can let your practitioner know if you’d prefer a lighter technique.

This depends on the unique formula that has been created for your particular pattern. Some formulas are made of ingredients such as dried ginger and liquorice, and taste like a spice cookie (well, according to some people anyway!). Another formula uses cinnamon with fresh ginger and sweet red date, and tastes almost like a chai tea. Some people enjoy their formulas so much that they drink them as a tea throughout the day! However, other formulas may be stronger and less pleasant in flavour, though their particular taste and therapeutic action is necessary to restore balance in the body. As your body gets used to herbal medicine, you will observe for yourself the ways in which it makes you feel better (many patients report that they actually start to “crave” their herbs as they feel so good as a result).

Absolutely not! We have a very strict policy against the use of any endangered animal products. In fact, the vast majority of formula ingredients are of plant origin – predominantly leaves, flowers, bark, stems, roots, grains, seeds and nuts. In a very small number of cases, an animal product such as gelatin may be included in the prescription. Gelatin is richly nourishing and can support the body in certain cases of extreme fatigue, anaemia or after blood loss (the same principle is behind the resurgence of bone broth as the latest superfood). If you are vegan, vegetarian or would prefer not to take animal products, please let your practitioner know and your formula will be modified accordingly. Similarly, please advise your practitioner if you have any allergies or sensitivities to any food products, (i.e. wheat or barley).

As Chinese herbal medicine is tailored to your specific situation and uses gentle, natural and many food-grade ingredients, side effects are rare. Occasionally, some minor effects may be observed such as increased thirst or appetite, a change in bowel movements, or a greater or lesser sensation of warmth throughout the body. These changes are generally welcome, as they provide further important clues as to the nature of the presenting imbalance, and will help your practitioner to fine-tune and individualise your treatment even further. If you are unsure about anything you may be noticing, please contact us to discuss your case.

When considering side-effects, it is worth remembering that many conventional pharmaceutical drugs have well-documented and considerable side-effects, such as: irritation of the stomach lining (as NSAIDs like Voltaren and Nurofen can do), potential damage of the liver and kidneys (as many painkillers can do as they are metabolised by the body), and blood clotting or disruption of the healthy production of blood (as Sulfasalazine, a common anti-inflammatory drug, can do).

As treatment progresses and your body becomes stronger and now has the resources to deal with immune challenges, any old imbalances or unresolved infections may come to fore, resulting in a temporary worsening of symptoms (or cold/flu-like symptoms, that indicate the newly-heightened activity of the immune system). This can be a positive sign that your body is becoming more resilient: after all, an exhausted immune system can’t put up much of a fight in the way of fever or mucus. If this occurs during your treatment process, it is likely that your herbal medicine will need to be modified to reflect the new state of your body: please contact your practitioner to discuss this.

When performed by a well-trained individual, acupuncture is inherently safe. While acupuncture is generally painless (or involves only minimal sensation), occasionally a surface capillary may be grazed, causing a small bruise over the acupuncture point.

Cupping and Gua Sha do not have side effects as such, but in most cases will leave a temporary, painless, bruise-like mark on the skin. As these therapies aim to promote circulation and resolve obstruction, the worse the tension or “stuckness” in the area, the more pronounced the marks will be. These marks have actually become a bit of style statement since Gwyneth Paltrow stepped out on the red carpet sporting the telltale marks, and were also a hit at the Rio Olympics. However, if you have an upcoming special event and would prefer make a different kind of style statement, please let your practitioner know so that they can choose another treatment approach.

It is an exciting time right now, as many of the latest scientific “discoveries” regarding health are actually just confirming what Chinese Medicine doctors have taken for granted for thousands of years: therefore, the two medicines are increasingly moving in the same direction. However, there are still some key differences that make acupuncture and Chinese Medicine a great choice for those seeking a natural approach with minimal side effects:

• Chinese Medicine treats the individual and their own unique pattern of imbalance to get to the root of the problem, rather than applying a standard treatment to (usually) suppress symptoms, as in Western Medicine. This equates to less side effects and more targeted results, and can be particularly helpful when standard approaches have already failed to deliver adequate results.

• Chinese Medicine is a holistic medicine that takes into account all the body systems. In this way, with minimal intervention it can address multiple symptoms concurrently, even when they may appear unrelated, i.e. recent research has again confirmed the relationship between gut health and emotional health.

• Chinese medicine is generally considered safe, using natural ingredients (often food items). It is sustainable, with minimal processing and waste. As a time-tested medicine using herbal formulas and acupuncture points that have been proven over thousands of years of clinical use, Chinese Medicine does not rely on costly and occasionally harmful clinical trials. Herbal medicines have many of the same therapeutic compounds that have been isolated and synthesised into pharmaceutical drugs, but taking these compounds in their natural form – as a herb – mitigates side effects and preserves any important co-factors that may contribute to the therapeutic action of the medicine.