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Herbal Therapies

The use of herbs, along with acupuncture and acupressure, is a major component of traditional Chinese medicine, or TCM. Doctors of traditional Chinese medicine usually practice under the title "licensed" or "certified" acupuncturist; they prescribe herbal combinations according to complex rules of diagnosis, which are intended to help the body correct imbalances of energies. In TCM, ailments are believed to be caused by disturbances in the flow of a type of energy called chi, or by a lack of balance in the complementary states of yin (characterized by darkness and quiet) and yang (characterized by light and activity).

Chinese herbs, like other TCM remedies (such as minerals and animal products), can be prepared in numerous ways: steeped in hot water to make a tea or infusion; boiled to produce a stronger solution called a decoction; used to make powders, pills or syrups that may be taken internally; and fashioned into plasters or poultices applied to the skin. Treatments should be prescribed and monitored by a trained practitioner because some Chinese herbs can be toxic in large doses; others, such as safflower flowers, should be used with caution during pregnancy. Complex mixtures should be formulated only by a trained practitioner.

In recent years, Chinese herbal medicine has been subjected to increasingly rigorous study in China, the United States and elsewhere. The evidence indicates that although some remedies do not perform as claimed, others are effective. In China today, herbal remedies often are prescribed along with modern biomedical treatments.

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