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kuenjato

Chinese Medicine - Has anyone used it? Opinions on effectiveness?

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I was curious what the board opinion on Chinese Medicine is, as I know we have doctors and people with extensive experience in the health care industry on this board. I was wondering if anyone has experienced positive results from this system of health care. 

Last year I became ill and suddenly developed a nerve irritation that has never quite gone away ("peripheral neuropathy"). It manifested as heat/irritation out of the palms and soles, almost constantly throughout the day. When I research it in the Western lens, information is quite vague, and my blood tests last year did not indicate any major cause (usually diabetes, vitamin def., potential thyroid issues). I also did not have insurance at that time, so I started looking around for alternative methods of healing. According to Chinese Medicine, the cause of my form of neuropathy is interior damage to "organ meridians" or the organs themselves due to long term exhaustion, and the issue can be resolved, albeit with long-term lifestyle changes and intake of herbs for a long period of time (potentially a year+). Acupuncture itself is not really needed, apparently; the herbs are much more important. When I read on the condition I have been diagnosed with, it is almost startling how the symptoms correspond to what I've been suffering for the past year.

I've been taking the herbs for about 4 months. I've also made some significant lifestyle choices in terms of diet, etc. The irritation has changed from one of "heat" to a more subtle irritation, with longer periods of relief (my hands now become cool, almost pleasantly so). So there is a marked change. However, I cannot really tell if this is the result of the herbs or the lifestyle changes or a mix of both -- if I sleep rotten or eat crap food, my condition is worse the next day; if I get good sleep and eat proper, it remains at a low setting. 

Any opinions on this? Feel free to cast doubt or defend. I will be going in to visit a doctor next month to get a yearly check-up + new blood tests.

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I've found nothing useful about the herbs or other things. I've tried a couple and it didn't do jack.

Both cupping and acupuncture were fairly decent ways of mitigating back pain, however. They didn't cure it, but they relieved it, and often better than anything else I've tried (massage/chiro/PT/drugs). 

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Posted (edited)

Acupuncture has worked very well when I was having serious nerve/muscle problems with my arms and fingers -- not a cure, but it definitely addressed the symptoms I was experiencing. I see it as an allied therapy rather than something I'd base an entire regimen on. 

My feeling is thusly: if it helps mitigate symptoms and the side-effects are not bad (no issue of addiction or liver damage), then go with whatever works. I'll be honest though -- it sounds like your issues are at least partially due to crappy lifestyle choices, so keep an open mind that eventually you might not need the herbs once you've stabilized the neuropathy. Good luck.

Edited by Xray the Enforcer

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My wife used acupuncture at various times for relief from allergies and digestive problems.  Both are autoimmune inflammation problems, if that is significant.  She would use it still if she had an acupuncturist she trusts but even she, who is so open to alternative medicine that I call her Placebo, thinks that most are charlatans and effective acupuncturists are few and far between. 

Her mom is even more invested in alternative/traditional East Asian medicine and routinely, and they're always swapping tips on health supplements and personal care.  FWIW my wife is generally in very good health (apart from pollen allergies) and looks much younger and healthier than her peers, which she happily abscribes to her various treatments and interventions.  

I, on the other hand, am skeptical of most medicines, including western pharmacology.  The Atlantic had a riveting article a few weeks ago that completely vindicated my lifelong skepticism.  The rate of benefit conferred vs rate rate of harm inflicted for almost every modern medicine is next to useless, including antibiotics, aspirin, statins and chemotherapy.  Vaccinations, sanitation and improved nutrition are the only reliable sources of health and longevity improvement in our modern society.  

I do use deep tissue massage to help process cellular metabolic waste from intense exercise, for which my sedentary workday has insufficient motion to process naturally.  It's possible that's just a placebo effect. 

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2 hours ago, Xray the Enforcer said:

Acupuncture has worked very well when I was having serious nerve/muscle problems with my arms and fingers -- not a cure, but it definitely addressed the symptoms I was experiencing. I see it as an allied therapy rather than something I'd base an entire regimen on. 

My feeling is thusly: if it helps mitigate symptoms and the side-effects are not bad (no issue of addiction or liver damage), then go with whatever works. I'll be honest though -- it sounds like your issues are at least partially due to crappy lifestyle choices, so keep an open mind that eventually you might not need the herbs once you've stabilized the neuropathy. Good luck.

What kind of nerve problems were they, i.e, how did it manifest? Mine started as intense hot throbbing from the hands and feet, but had now become much milder, *mostly*... though it flares 1-3x a day and becomes uncomfortable. Were you able to eventually heal these issues?

My health has improved, but its only been 4-6 weeks since I eliminated the main irritants to my condition. This may be also related to hormone imbalance, as I've had strange emotional issues from about when this began (overwhelming upset leading to crying, intense fear/anxiety) -- my wife claims I have male menopause; the correlating TCM diagnosis (which my tongue apparently shows) is dead-on. I'll be getting these checked.  

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Posted (edited)

7 hours ago, Iskaral Pust said:

Vaccinations, sanitation and improved nutrition are the only reliable sources of health and longevity improvement in our modern society

:wideeyed: - Whilst the first part of your sentence has certainly helped healthcare, I'm very dubious about that assertion. 

Out of curiosity, do you have a link to that article you're talking about? 

Edited by Raja

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5 hours ago, kuenjato said:

 

I've been taking the herbs for about 4 months. I've also made some significant lifestyle choices in terms of diet, etc. The irritation has changed from one of "heat" to a more subtle irritation, with longer periods of relief (my hands now become cool, almost pleasantly so). So there is a marked change. However, I cannot really tell if this is the result of the herbs or the lifestyle changes or a mix of both -- if I sleep rotten or eat crap food, my condition is worse the next day; if I get good sleep and eat proper, it remains at a low setting. 

Any opinions on this? Feel free to cast doubt or defend. I will be going in to visit a doctor next month to get a yearly check-up + new blood tests.

It seems like what you're saying here is that sleep and diet are the variables that make your condition better or worse rather than the herbs.  Doesn't mean the herbs don't help in some way, but it does look like other things are helping in significant and measurable ways.

I was sent to an acupuncturist once for a really painful should, back and arm.   I wasn't a fan because it didn't work, though it turned out I actually had a torn rotator cuff which was the cause of my pain and so wasn't going to be fixed being poked with needles. I have an autoimmune disorder that has a lot of symptoms and I've been told that acupuncture can help relieve some of them.  

When I lived in various parts of Asia, I used a lot of Chinese medicine.  I found many different types of things helpful for small things like upset stomach, sore throat, cold, headache, or menstrual pain.  The same is true of some other Western natural products.  Perhaps there was some placebo effect.  I figure that if it doesn't actively harm (physically or financially) then it's fine to continue to use for the prescribed period of time, but it probably shouldn't be something to rely on entirely for more serious things like the neuropathy you mention.  

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10 hours ago, Raja said:

:wideeyed: - Whilst the first part of your sentence has certainly helped healthcare, I'm very dubious about that assertion. 

Out of curiosity, do you have a link to that article you're talking about? 

Article

It was an interesting read.  The explicit measurement of benefit delivered vs. harm induced via side effect paints a very bleak picture.  If those stats can be trusted, it suggests that there is very little upside to most medication because the patient would probably recover just as fast anyway or the risk of side effect is quite small compared to the expected benefit relative to no medicine. 

As an actuary, I love this approach to measuring and judging social value vs cost -- health and monetary -- of medication.  But I'd like to see where their stats are substantiated.  They do cite a lot of clinical researchers papers. 

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Posted (edited)

42 minutes ago, Iskaral Pust said:

As an actuary, I love this approach to measuring and judging social value vs cost -- health and monetary -- of medication.  But I'd like to see where their stats are substantiated.  They do cite a lot of clinical researchers papers. 

No, I totally get that and that article has lots of very good points in it, especially regarding replicating research and drugs that don't actually work. Coronary Artery Disease isn't fixed by placing a stent in your heart, that's just a temporary fix for a specific artery. It's your lifestyle that's going to change that. A healthy lifestyle will have a significant impact on *many* chronic illnesses, like the ones mentioned in that article ( Type 2 Diabetes, Hypertension, increased cholesterol), and chronic illnesses is where medicine can do a much better job in terms of prevention and treatment. However, a healthy lifestyle will do *nothing* for a whole host of other illnesses ( and I could name plenty, not to mention the surgical side of medicine). If you've got Type 1 Diabetes, no amount of healthy food or exercise is going to help you. 

( Apologies for the thread derail!) 

Edited by Raja

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Acupuncture made my dad quit smoking, which will always get it bonus points.

Other than that, I've had no experience with Chinese medicine in any shape or form.

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51 minutes ago, Raja said:

No, I totally get that and that article has lots of very good points in it, especially regarding replicating research and drugs that don't actually work. Coronary Artery Disease isn't fixed by placing a stent in your heart, that's just a temporary fix for a specific artery. It's your lifestyle that's going to change that. A healthy lifestyle will have a significant impact on *many* chronic illnesses, like the ones mentioned in that article ( Type 2 Diabetes, Hypertension, increased cholesterol), and chronic illnesses is where medicine can do a much better job in terms of prevention and treatment. However, a healthy lifestyle will do *nothing* for a whole host of other illnesses ( and I could name plenty, not to mention the surgical side of medicine). If you've got Type 1 Diabetes, no amount of healthy food or exercise is going to help you. 

( Apologies for the thread derail!) 

I agree that insulin is a good example of a very effective medication, and some specific surgery is highly effective at extending life, e.g. removing an appendix or gall bladder, while many are effective at just improving quality of life, e.g. joint replacement or resurfacing.

But their central claim that most medicines are over-used despite evidence of very low efficacy is well argued and I'd love to see a deeper investigation and debate on that with clinical data.  I had always thought that antibiotics were one of the single most effective health innovations in human history, and yet this author appears to disagree. 

This article makes focuses specifically on a few common medications and procedures, namely stents for arterial/vascular obstruction, beta-blockers for high blood pressure and arthroscopic partial meniscectomy (APM surgery to fix damaged knees) and a new chemotherapy -- with a strong conclusion that they are widely over-used and most patients receive little benefit.  Antibiotics and sleep aids are addressed to.

The example of daily aspirin for heart disease prevention is very illuminating (emphasis below is mine):

Quote

That means if 1,000 elderly women take aspirin daily for a decade, 11 of them will avoid a heart attack; meanwhile, twice that many will suffer a major gastrointestinal bleeding event that would not have occurred if they hadn’t been taking aspirin. As with most drugs, though, aspirin will not cause anything particularly good or bad for the vast majority of people who take it. That is the theme of the medicine in your cabinet: It likely isn’t significantly harming or helping you.

We're all so anxious about being sick and so desperate to receive a treatment that we are massively over-treated at huge expense and no significant benefit.  It's a bit like our compulsion to religiosity from our fear of mortality.

I'd love to see this topic developed further.  Perhaps they are too pessimistic, but it seems like we as a society are sleepwalking to the pharmacy.

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Posted (edited)

15 hours ago, Iskaral Pust said:

But their central claim that most medicines are over-used 

To be honest, I think that bit is stretching it. The article gives specific examples in cases; like the one with the stent, that example is for a patient with stable angina, as opposed to someone with more severe forms of acute coronary syndrome.

Furthermore, even the abx example is for some lyme disease study that I can't even access because of the ridiculous NEJM access issue ( a whole other discussion, btw). The author is disagreeing based solely on that study, which makes zero sense to me. The efficacy of antibiotics is not the issue facing medicine right now, rather antiobotic stewardship is what health care professionals should be more vigilant about. 

I'd be wary of claiming that they provide a 'strong' argument, but I will concede that there are many decent points in that article. I'll probably leave a longer reply when I've got more time. 

Edited by Raja

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Posted (edited)

DP

Edited by Raja

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Is there an empiricial explanation for how Acupuncture does what it does?

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16 hours ago, kuenjato said:

What kind of nerve problems were they, i.e, how did it manifest? Mine started as intense hot throbbing from the hands and feet, but had now become much milder, *mostly*... though it flares 1-3x a day and becomes uncomfortable. Were you able to eventually heal these issues?

Pain in my forearms and especially along my pinkie fingers and ring fingers with subsequent numbness. Lost of grip strength and dexterity in my fingers. It was a what one might call a classic case of RSI due to computer overuse and stress. The acupuncture helped with the pain and numbness, enough that I could still function, but it was really a change in how often I do stretches and get away from the keyboard that has had the most lasting impact. 

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3 hours ago, Iskaral Pust said:

arthroscopic partial meniscectomy (APM surgery to fix damaged knees)

I've had that actually so it's interesting to see it listed. I think the article's overselling it's a little bit though, what proportion of the surgeries are for knee pain over the age of 45? I had the surgery at 25 because of issues with the function of my knee (it certainly seemed to be pretty effective). Perhaps it's different in the US but in the UK I didn't get the impression that surgery was very likely to be on the table if they could fix the issue with physio.

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1 hour ago, ljkeane said:

I've had that actually so it's interesting to see it listed. I think the article's overselling it's a little bit though, what proportion of the surgeries are for knee pain over the age of 45? I had the surgery at 25 because of issues with the function of my knee (it certainly seemed to be pretty effective). Perhaps it's different in the US but in the UK I didn't get the impression that surgery was very likely to be on the table if they could fix the issue with physio.

I think that is a big cultural difference here.  In my experience, Ireland, with nationalized health care, has much, much lower consumption of health care than US.  I assume UK is similar to Ireland.  America's higher consumption could stem from many factors around low barriers/friction to the insured, greater supply of health care provision, incentives for health care providers, generally higher levels of wealth/income, generally higher levels of consumption of everything, possibly higher expectations of or confidence in health care outcomes, and possibly a stronger cultural expectation of good health and vigor and defy natural aging. 

National health care providers in the UK have an incentive to limit surgery to only the highest value situations, but health care providers in the US have an incentive to provide the surgery to everyone who can afford it.

I don't know if this article is right or not.  They made an interesting case and had enough stats to back up their specific claims, but it should be tested much wider than cherry-picked examples.

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Posted (edited)

4 hours ago, Iskaral Pust said:

 

I don't know if this article is right or not.  They made an interesting case and had enough stats to back up their specific claims, but it should be tested much wider than cherry-picked examples.

The issue isn't whether or not the article is right--most of us know that there should be shift toward a more preventative-based model of healthcare, especially in the United States--it's that the article doesn't support, or even attempt to make the hyperbolic claim you made in this thread: that "vaccinations, sanitation, and nutrition are the only reliable sources of health and longevity improvement in modern society," which is clearly not true.

Edited by IamMe90

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My family use both traditional Chinese medicines (TCM) and western medicine. As an example: when I fell during PE class and strained my wrists badly, we went to get xray to show that it's not fracture. Then my mom took me to TCM to get a splint and a herbal dressing. In contrast, when my sister fell from a bike and broke her forearm it was a fracture and my mom let the doctors put a cast on her in the western style. For routine colds and fevers we went with TCM, unless it was a persistent high fever, in which case we went to western doctors. 

 

Was TCM effective? For the most part. There were clear effectiveness in many cases that I personally experienced. That includes herbal concentrates that we cooked up at home (you obtain the ingredients from the doctor's office first then you brew it at home), acupuncture, and traditional chiropractice. In some of the cases where it worked, it's possible that it's placebo, or coincidence. In some of the cases, I don't think so. I think something about the treatment did work as intended. Of course, there are cases where it didn't seem to work, too. 

 

In general, I am hesitant to draw equivalence in efficacy between TCM as used in China and chinese medicines as used in the West. In the West, most of what I see did not look like the TCM that's familiar to me. For herbal medications, I see a lot more of taking extracts of one plant or the other, instead of a full mixture. The acupuncture I saw was often very few in numbers. In my experience, the needles usually amount to about 6 to 10, but in the western use I more commonly saw about 4. Also, acupuncture in the west is more likely to focus on the area of problem, whereas in the TCM that I know it is less closely correlated. 

 

As for why it works - there are very few empirical studies done, though more recently than before. The old explanations from TCM relies on a completely different way of understanding the world. I don't know TCM as a whole can withstand scientific empiricism without having much of it fail to live up to that standard. But I do know that it's been used for millennia, and the side effects of toxicity to the liver are extremely rare. More likely is, imo, the treatment being ineffective. For many people, for many cases, it simply does work. But clearly there are variations and sham "cures" around, too. Then again, Western medicine doesn't empirical work on every person in identical ways, either, even if we are typically led to believe so. 

 

TL;DR: I recommend finding an actual TCM practitioner who's been trained in the traditional way and try not to Westernize it. 

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On 4/11/2017 at 7:46 PM, kuenjato said:

According to Chinese Medicine, the cause of my form of neuropathy is interior damage to "organ meridians" or the organs themselves due to long term exhaustion, and the issue can be resolved, albeit with long-term lifestyle changes and intake of herbs for a long period of time (potentially a year+). 

There is much we do not know. However, I can say with certainty that pre-scientific concepts like "organ meridians" or notions of organ "exhaustion" have nothing to do actual physiology let alone your neuropathy. That doesn't mean nothing in TCM can be effective - there is always a role for long-term experience in some respects here. Once again, though, that doesn't mean there's anything more than a placebo effect, nor that any improvement isn't confounded by as you say lifestyle changes. 

But meridians and qi are better termed religious or spiritual ideas about medicine. 

On 4/11/2017 at 11:35 PM, Iskaral Pust said:

My wife used acupuncture at various times for relief from allergies and digestive problems.  Both are autoimmune inflammation problems, if that is significant.  She would use it still if she had an acupuncturist she trusts but even she, who is so open to alternative medicine that I call her Placebo, thinks that most are charlatans and effective acupuncturists are few and far between. 

Her mom is even more invested in alternative/traditional East Asian medicine and routinely, and they're always swapping tips on health supplements and personal care.  FWIW my wife is generally in very good health (apart from pollen allergies) and looks much younger and healthier than her peers, which she happily abscribes to her various treatments and interventions.  

I, on the other hand, am skeptical of most medicines, including western pharmacology.  The Atlantic had a riveting article a few weeks ago that completely vindicated my lifelong skepticism.  The rate of benefit conferred vs rate rate of harm inflicted for almost every modern medicine is next to useless, including antibiotics, aspirin, statins and chemotherapy.  Vaccinations, sanitation and improved nutrition are the only reliable sources of health and longevity improvement in our modern society.  

I do use deep tissue massage to help process cellular metabolic waste from intense exercise, for which my sedentary workday has insufficient motion to process naturally.  It's possible that's just a placebo effect. 

I suppose it's a reasonable article for a lay audience. And it's true that public health interventions have the greatest effect on population health and things like infant and maternal mortality. 


Certainly the article hardly shows that antibiotics, aspirin, statins, or chemo are "next to useless" and I suggest such a blanket statement indicates that you don't know what you're talking about here. 

17 hours ago, Iskaral Pust said:

I agree that insulin is a good example of a very effective medication, and some specific surgery is highly effective at extending life, e.g. removing an appendix or gall bladder, while many are effective at just improving quality of life, e.g. joint replacement or resurfacing.

But their central claim that most medicines are over-used despite evidence of very low efficacy is well argued and I'd love to see a deeper investigation and debate on that with clinical data.  I had always thought that antibiotics were one of the single most effective health innovations in human history, and yet this author appears to disagree. 

This article makes focuses specifically on a few common medications and procedures, namely stents for arterial/vascular obstruction, beta-blockers for high blood pressure and arthroscopic partial meniscectomy (APM surgery to fix damaged knees) and a new chemotherapy -- with a strong conclusion that they are widely over-used and most patients receive little benefit.  Antibiotics and sleep aids are addressed to.

The example of daily aspirin for heart disease prevention is very illuminating (emphasis below is mine):

We're all so anxious about being sick and so desperate to receive a treatment that we are massively over-treated at huge expense and no significant benefit.  It's a bit like our compulsion to religiosity from our fear of mortality.

I'd love to see this topic developed further.  Perhaps they are too pessimistic, but it seems like we as a society are sleepwalking to the pharmacy.

The article hits upon a number of good points about the overuse of expensive diagnostic and therapeutic procedures in the United States. Mostly, however, it shows how evidence evolves over time and that we abandon things that have been shown to be of no benefit (or net harm). 


Coronary stenting is quite literally life-saving in the context of an acute coronary syndrome. The article discusses it exclusively in the context of stable angina, however, and that is where things get controversial. In fact, optimal medical therapy alone has been to be equivalent to stenting or surgery, such that revascularization (as the procedures are generally termed) is indicated only where patients have significant, refractory symptoms despite maximally titrated medical therapy. Incidentally, the usual therapy for stable angina in ischemic heart disease is comprised of beta blockers, nitrates, aspirin, and possibly a statin. 


Second, the example of the poor man with bleomycin lung toxicity following ABVD chemo for Hodgkins is very sad, but also indicative only of the overuse of stents for "soft" indications. Guidelines recommend against this, but a profit-driven system will still produce such results. They also could have taken him off dual antiplatelet therapy transiently for an "urgent" case if they really wanted to. But whatever. 


Antibiotics for lyme "symptoms" following acute lyme disease have always been controversial, especially since there is considerable debate about whether "chronic" lyme disease even exists (infectious disease specialists don't generally think so). That's a very poor example of the "ineffectiveness" of antibiotics, though, as is the sinus infection example (since most are viral!). Pneumonia, sepsis, bacteremia, endocarditis, meningitis.... I hope you're not suggesting these are typically self-limited conditions for which antibiotics are "useless". 


Beta blockers are bad antihypertensives and are not recommended as first-line agents for hypertension. Lots has changed since 1981, you do realize? They are essential medications in ischemic heart disease, stable angina, and heart failure. 
Similarly, aspirin is not recommended for "prevention" of vascular disease. Its role is in the secondary prevention of cardiovascular events and the acute treatment of MI and stroke. It's true that the NNT isn't appreciably different from the NNH in all-comers, but just because people are on it does not mean that it's appropriate. 


Conversely, public health interventions are to some extent underemphasized, but the larger point is that the social determinants of health are critical for the population as a whole. If you want to prevent chronic disease and premature mortality and morbidity, take measures to reduce inequality and invest in universal social and community programs. That's something of a more political answer, but it also happens to be true. 


People will still get cancer and lupus and strokes. Everyone will die of something one way or the other. 

 

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