I often get asked about the difference between using acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine for health. This is a great question! While acupuncture is probably the most common modality in East Asian medicine utilized in the Western World, Chinese herbal medicine is starting to find a more prominent footing in our modern Western world.
Acupuncture essentially addresses our health by regulating how the body works. The acupuncture points selected for your condition work together to remind the body how to function in ideal health, which in turn, will strengthen the body as your organ systems get closer to homeostasis. If your condition is one that arises out of deficiency or fatigue in a specific constellation of organ systems, then acupuncture helps them to remember how to work better together. To explain this in an overly simplistic way, the needles themselves do not directly give anything to the body to directly overcome the deficiency, whereas Chinese herbalism will. I’ll get to that in a moment.
Acupuncture alone will strengthen the body, just in a more indirect way than Chinese herbalism. An acupuncturist can use a wide variety of techniques that utilizes their qi or energy to stimulate the needles and strengthen the action of a point. There are also numerous needling techniques that provide tonifying and strengthening movements to the needles that will actually strengthen your body. The best way to strengthen the body with acupuncture is by combining moxibustion with needling. This utilizes the properties of Chinese mugwort burned (safely of course) on or near the body to give the plant properties of Chinese mugwort to the point to actually strengthen the body. The mugwort is giving plant energy to the body, while the needle is regulating how your body functions.
Chinese herbal medicine in turn is a direct way to actually give something back to the body. With herbs, we are providing medicinal support to improve how different organ systems function. The herbs can strengthen the energy of the stomach for instance to improve acidic balance if the imbalance is coming from fatigue. If hormonal imbalance is impacting your health, and the imbalance comes from a deficiency pattern, then herbs will be used to both mimic proper hormone function, and to support the systems responsible for creating the hormones needed for ideal hormonal balance. Herbs are similar to food, in that they provide the body with the tools it needs to make things like hormones, neurotransmitters, qi, blood, body fluids, etc. Herbs are much stronger than food, so if your body has moved beyond the ability for food alone to regulate your symptoms, herbs are definitely the way to get back on track as quickly as possible.
The combination of acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine is one of the fastest ways to get back to ideal health, whether you are treating pain, working with women’s health, managing strong fatigue, or other managing a wide variety of other health conditions. Chinese medicine; both acupuncture and herbal medicine is a whole health medical system that has a deep understanding of how our body and mind functions both in health and out of health. If you’d like to learn more about Chinese herbal medicine, I encourage you to reach out to your local licensed acupuncturist to learn more.
For more information on Chinese herbal medicine, check out these other posts from our clinic.
Lindsey Thompson is an East Asian Medicine Practitioner at the Thompson Family Acupuncture Clinic in Walla Walla, WA. She loves growing vegetables, raising chickens, and striving to get the most out of life. Practicing medicine and help people find ways to improve their health at home is one of the most fulfilling aspects of her career.