Are acupuncture and Chinese herbs safe?

Yes, acupuncture & herbs have been used for thousands of years.

Acupuncture and Chinese herbs have been used for thousands of years by billions of people throughout Asia. Today, acupuncture and Chinese herbology, or herbal medicine, remains a primary form of health care, along side Western Medicine, in China. As Oriental Medicine gains popularity in the United States, more and more people have found that acupuncture and Chinese herbology provide safe and natural remedies for numerous conditions, as well as health maintenance and disease prevention. In fact, in the 1997 Consensus Conference on Acupuncture Statement, the NIH estimated that more than 1 million Americans receive acupuncture each year.

The risks involved in acupuncture and Chinese herbal therapy are extremely low, if performed by a practitioner who has the necessary and appropriate credentials. According to the Council of Colleges of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (CCAOM), only ten incidents of injury resulting from acupuncture have been reported since 1965, when records began being kept in the United States.

As for Chinese Herbal Medicine, the quality of Chinese herbs varies greatly, thus, the safety for the end user varies. As a result, the herbs we use have been carefully and meticulously chosen from reputable herbal companies who grow their herbs without pesticides or GMO’s, are tested for micro-levels of mold and heavy metals, and are then formulated into pills, capsules, tablets or granules. I want you to feel comfortable in knowing that the herbs you ingest are safe and pure.

*Note: If you have or are taking herbal medicines in a pill, capsule, or tablet form, only use herbs from manufacturers who are cited as having Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) to ensure that the herbs you are taking are of the highest potency, quality and safety.

Do I need both acupuncture and herbs?

It is common, even standard, for TCM practitioners to prescribe an herbal formula in conjunction with an acupuncture treatment. There is, however, a time and place for Herbal Medicine.

In the classical philosophy of True Acupuncture, acupuncture outweighs herbal therapy as a treatment method—yet, there are instances where herbal therapy may precede acupuncture. Rarely will you be given both Acupuncture and Herbal Therapy together from the very start, for this blurs the boundaries in distinguishing which treatment method yielded effects.

When I do acupuncture, I want to know exactly what the acupuncture treatment did for you; when I give herbs, I want to know exactly what that particular herbal formula did for you. Otherwise, how could I accurately adjust subsequent treatments for a patient if I am not clear about whether the acupuncture or the herbs led to a particular outcome?


Why should I take Chinese Herbs?

Chinese medicinal herbs can help you

Did you know that Chinese Herbal Medicine can provide natural remedies to alleviate symptoms related to anxiety, insomnia, acid reflux, pain, headaches, urinary problems, digestive issues, menopause, PMS, and high cholesterol?

You may be thinking, "But I take herbs that I get from a natural food store, so how can your Chinese herbs help me?"

While the people who work in natural food stores may suggest herbs based on the symptoms you tell them, without feeling your pulses and understanding exactly what your unique system imbalances are, it is hard to truly treat you as a whole. 

With the classical philosophy that True Acupuncture is rooted in, acupuncture is a necessary first step to truly understand your energetic imbalances that play a role in your health issues, such as why you get sick all the time, or why you feel bloated after each meal. Once I understand your root (constitutional) energetic disharmony, I can then add medicinal herbs, if necessary, to supplement the effects of acupuncture. In acute situations-like the common cold, a sore throat, and food-poisoning-like symptoms-natural herbs can be used to eliminate the symptoms quickly.

The high quality natural herbs that I choose to use provide a safe way to take care of your health. This Clinic's herbal pharmacy consists of only plant derived substances that exist in a naturally and minimally formulated pill, tablet, capsule or granules.

* In Colorado, the NCCAOM National Chinese Herbal Board exam is not required to be a Licensed Acupuncturist or to dispense herbs. It is important to find a practitioner who has the necessary qualifications-look for the certification of Diplomate in Oriental Medicine (Dipl.OM) or Diplomate in Chinese Herbology (Dipl.CH). For more information on finding a qualified practitioner, please read about the licensing and training of acupuncturists and herbalists.


Will Chinese herbs help me and how do they differ from Western herbs?

Chinese herbal formulas are uniquely formulated and are different than Western herbal formulations.

Chinese Herbal Medicine is quite different then just taking store-bought, prepackaged “herbal supplements.” Western Herbal Medicine approaches herbal therapy quite differently: each herb is often extracted singly, or by itself. Then, the herbal extracts may be blended.

In Chinese Herbal Medicine, a balanced selection of herbs (based on flavor, temperature, direction or movement, etc.) is synergistically cooked together to create teas, or concentrated pills, tablets, capsules, or granules. 

The effects of each formula on the individual will be carefully monitored and adjusted accordingly, thus, Chinese herbal formulas can be a highly beneficial means to treat your unique set of health conditions.

Chinese herbal medicine has been used successfully for a wide range of conditions. However, herbal formulas are dispensed if & when appropriate and I will not insist that every patient take herbs at every visit. (please see the FAQ: "Do I need both acupuncture and herbs?")

With that in mind, yes, Chinese herbal medicine can be a very effective adjunct to your health care and will be recommended when appropriate.


Will Chinese Herbs Interfere with Western Medicine?

Chinese Herbal Medicine can work harmoniously with Western medications, but like anything, there can also be adverse side effects if certain substances are combined, or synergistic effects if too much of a similar class of substances are taken. This is why it is imperative to see a Chinese Herbalist who is properly trained.

Chinese herbal therapy has existed for thousands of years and as this medicine has evolved with the modern era or pharmaceuticals, obvious incompatibilities of the energetic properties of Chinese herbs and medications have been defined. Today, experts in our field continue to specifically study and identify herb-drug interactions.

The internet has a wealth of information that can make it seemingly easy to self-diagnose Chinese herbal formulas, but I guard against doing this. The intricacies in understanding how to properly combine herbs, and herbs and drugs, must be mastered before dispensing formulas. Also, when used properly, Chinese herbs are not just used symptomatically like other drugs, but address the bigger picture. Again, please consult a qualified Chinese Herbalist before embarking on any Chinese herbal supplement.

How do I choose an acupuncturist or herbalist?

More and more medical professionals, including Medical Doctors, Chiropractors, Physical Therapists, Nurses, Physician’s Assistants, Dentists and Naturopaths, are practicing acupuncture without the equivalent training as an acupuncturist. Before seeing an acupuncturist, make sure that he/she is licensed in the state (Colorado) and has extensive training. There are many types of licenses and credentials in this field.

Furthermore, many types of Holistic Practitioners and Naturopaths are dispensing Chinese Herbal Medicine formulas, or formulations containing Chinese herbs without proper study and knowledge. Please ensure that the Practitioner you choose has had proper education regarding any formula that is prescribed to you.

Before you dive into the technical qualifications of an Acupuncturist and Herbalist, don't forget that when choosing a practitioner, you want to make sure that you feel comfortable with him/her, your questions are answered thoroughly and the time is taken to address your specific needs. Do take advantage of free consultations as this gives you a chance to "interview" the practitioner before you make your decision.

Here’s some information to decipher the “Alphabet Soup” of acronyms related to the field of Oriental Medicine and details on the credentials an Oriental Medical professional should have.

L.Ac. = Licensed Acupuncturist

This is a common designation for a practitioner who provides Acupuncture and/or Chinese Herbal Medicine as part of the Oriental Medical practice. L.Ac. is a title given by the state upon fulfilling certain requirements – i.e. completing a program from an accredited school, passing the National board exams, etc. Each state has its own regulations and it is important to familiarize yourself with your state’s requirement of practitioners. (also see FAQ: "Are acupuncture & herbal medicine subject to any state or federal regulations?")

Instead of L.Ac., some states may issue equivalent titles such as Registered Acupuncturist (R.Ac.) or Certified Acupuncturist.

Go here for state laws regarding the practice of acupuncture.

Most Licensed Acupuncturists have graduated from an accredited training program in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) or Oriental Medicine (OM) and have passed the necessary exams. There are a number of states that do not regulate the practice of or who can perform acupuncture, and thus, practitioners who may not have the proper credentials may still practice acupuncture. Please visit this link for more information.

Dipl. Ac. = Diplomate in Acupuncture and Dipl. C.H. = Diplomate in Chinese Herbal Medicine

The National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM) administers certification tests specifically for practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Oriental Medicine. Prior to 2005, practitioners received the Dipl. Ac. and/or Dipl. C.H. titles separately upon passing the respective sections of this exam.

As of 2005, the exam offers 5 modules: Foundational Theory, Acupuncture, Point Location, Chinese Herbology and Biomedicine. If practitioners choose to only practice Acupuncture (and not Chinese Herbology), the 3 modules specific to Acupuncture (Foundational Theory, Acupuncture, and Point Location), as well as the Biomedicine module, must be passed in order to receive the title of “Diplomate in Acupuncture (Dipl. Ac.).”

If practitioners choose to only practice Chinese Herbology, or to practice this in conjunction with Acupuncture, the single Chinese Herbology module must be passed.

As mentioned above, some states do not regulate the practice of or who can perform acupuncture, and thus, practitioners who may not have the proper credentials may still practice acupuncture in these states. Further, Herbal Medicine is an integral part of TCM training programs in most states. Here, state regulations also vary: some states require a practitioner to only have a Dipl. Ac. (and not the Dipl. C.H.) and still be able to practice both Acupuncture and Chinese Herbology.

Dipl. OM = Diplomate in Oriental Medicine

The Diplomate in Oriental Medicine is the newest title issued by the NCCAOM. As mentioned above, in 2005 the NCCAOM began issuing the title of “Diplomate in Oriental Medicine” to those who passed all 5 modules: Foundational Theory, Acupuncture, Point Location, Chinese Herbology, and Biomedicine.

Prior to 2005, this title was not offered to practitioners and separate titles of Dipl. Ac. and Dipl. C.H. were given. One particular title is not necessarily better than the other. As always, it is important to do the proper research in choosing a practitioner and to ensure that one’s credentials parallel the services provided.

M.A.O.M (or M.Ac.O.M) = Master of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine

Becoming an acupuncturist entails completing a typically 4 year graduate program from a school accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (ACAOM). Upon completion, there are various versions of the same “Master” title that is issued, such as MAOM (Master of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine), MSOM (Master of Science of Oriental Medicine), or MTCM (Master of Traditional Chinese Medicine), to name a few.

Some accredited schools will issue a graduate level Diploma of Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine instead of a Masters Degree following the completion of a similar program.

*Please note that there are some organizations that will offer a Diploma to current medical professionals (Physicians, Chiropractors, Nurses, Dentists, etc) after only completing 100 hours of Acupuncture training. These “courses,” or sometimes called “weekend courses,” allow a medical professional to include Acupuncture in their practice. Obviously, one hundred hours is not comparable to the training an individual receives from a 4-year (approximately 3000 hours) program from an accredited school.

NCCAOM = The National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine

This is the primary National certifying entity for Acupuncturists, Chinese Herbalists, and Asian Body-worker therapists in the United States. NCCAOM certification signifies that the practitioner has met nationally recognized standards of competence and safety. The NCCAOM not only gives Board exams, which must be passed in order to receive certification, but also requires practitioners to acquire 60 Continuing Education Units (CEUs) [also known as Professional Development Activity (PDAs)] for recertification every four years.

CCAOM = Council of Colleges of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine

This entity was established to advance acupuncture and Oriental Medicine by promoting educational excellence within the field. You may frequently see the CCAOM as awarding Clean Needle Technique (CNT) Certification to practitioners. Typically, a student at a TCM school must pass the CNT exam&mdas;in order to prove understanding and proficiency of safety standards in the application, storage, and disposal of acupuncture needles—before practicing as an intern in the Student Clinic. This exam is required in order to receive NCCAOM Diplomate Certification. Go here for more information.

AOBTA® = Americal Organization for Bodywork Therapies of Asia™

This is a professional membership organization representing instructors, practitioners, schools & programs, and students of Asian Bodywork Therapy (ABT). In order to become a member, one must complete the necessary coursework in a particular style of Asian bodywork, as well as foundational Oriental Medical training.

Did these definitions help or confuse matters? This is only a general list of the common terms used in the field, but hopefully this helps you to feel more comfortable when reading about acupuncture, herbs and practitioners