By Katie A. Schmitt
Treating autoimmune disease is often a multi-dimensional process. Often times prescription medications, such as corticosteroids or immune-suppressants are used to treat the symptoms. Patients are told to eat foods that nourish their body, exercise as they are able, and to reduce their stress levels. However, more and more people are turning to Chinese medicine in hopes of finding remission from their disease. Chinese medicine can bring a new dynamic to the table and be a nice complement to modern Western medicine. According to licensed acupuncturist, Alexander Tan, modern medicine is good to treat acute flare-ups of autoimmune disease, but Chinese medicine can be good to stabilize the condition.
Chinese medicine refers to the use of acupuncture and Chinese herbals supplements, in addition to lifestyle changes as well. The key to treating an autoimmune disease is to find the patient’s ‘pattern,’ states Tan. Some examples of these patterns include heat-toxin, dampness, phlegm, blood-stagnation, and yin-deficiency. By identifying the patterns that need to be addressed, a practitioner can come up with a plan. Patients are often deeply involved in their health plan. Chinese medicine focuses more on treating the ‘pattern’ or underlying cause of the disease, not the symptoms. In Chinese medicine, they do not recognize an immune system and they do not use “disease-labels.” They simply recognized patterns and treat signs and symptoms.
It has been shown that Traditional Chinese Medicine can be quite effective. A study published in the Chinese Medicine of Integrated Traditional and Western Medicine, 310 patients were followed and given a Chinese herbal formula to treat the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. (Stanescu, 2009) After 10 days, 70% of them reported significant pain reduction and at the end of one month, blood work values for inflammation saw improvement. As symptoms improve, herbal supplements are often changes to address repairing the body. The important thing to remember is that each patient is different, and as with modern Western medicine, one “cocktail” of medications does not work the same on all patients. Chinese medicine is very individualized and matched to each patient. If improvements are not seen in a reasonable amount of time, a new mixture of herbs can be tried.
In an article from webmd.com, it has also been found a certain Chinese herb, called chang shan, could potentially be used to treat autoimmune diseases. The herb is said to target a certain kind of immune cell called a Th17 cell. These cells regulate autoimmune inflammatory responses, which is the kind of response that happens in the case of an autoimmune illness. An added bonus for this herb is that is target one certain cell, as opposed to pharmaceuticals that target a lot of immune cells. This herb is still being studied, but shows potential success in using Chinese herbs for the treatment of autoimmunity.
Denoon, D. (2009) Chinese Herb May Treat Autoimmune Diseases. WebMD. Retrieved from
Tan, Alexander (2017). Treating Autoimmune Diseases with Chinese Medicine. Straight Bamboo. Retrieved from http://straightbamboo.com/autoimmune-chinese-medicine/
Stanescu, Adina. (2009). Autoimmune Disease Treatments with TCM: Part One. Vitality. Retrieved from http://vitalitymagazine.com/article/autoimmune-diseases-treatment-with-tcm-part-one/