Published: June 4, 2019

tcm practitionerPerhaps you are just beginning to explore the option of improving your health and wellness with Traditional Chinese Medicine. Or perhaps you are looking to find a practitioner who can help you make educated decisions about your wellness plan. Even those more familiar with using herbs will still find themselves seeking more information as different formulas get included in their treatment plan. Whatever the case may be, you’re probably eager to learn more about TCM but might not know just what to ask to get the answers you’re looking for. To help make this process easier — so you can quickly begin to reap all the benefits that TCM has to offer — here are 10 great questions to ask your practitioner.

Licensing and Certification

1. Are you a licensed TCM Physician or Acupuncturist?

This is the first and most important question you should ask your practitioner, and the key factor you need to take into consideration before moving ahead with any procedures or taking any supplements. The increasing prevalence of dry needling performed by physical therapists, chiropractors, naturopaths and even medical doctors highlights the growing popularity of TCM procedures, but their lack of specialist training in the area can be dangerous for patients.

A licensed TCM physician or acupuncturist will possess the necessary training and experience, compared to someone practicing Chinese medicine outside their scope of expertise. Acupuncture needles may be inserted too deep, or in the wrong points, which at best will have no effect, and at worst potentially cause serious injuries. Without understanding the ins and outs of TCM, it would also be dangerous for non-licensed practitioners to prescribe herbal formulas, which may involve different contraindications based on your unique diagnosis.

TCM: Sourcing and Safety

2. Are the Chinese herbs you are prescribing safe? And do they actually work?

These are the two biggest questions that most people who are considering taking herbal supplements often ask first. The answer to both these questions should be a resounding yes. Like all health and pharmaceutical products, however, stringent verification, testing and quality control are crucial to having a safe and beneficial experience. When buying Chinese herbs, look for indicators that these steps have been taken by the product manufacturer.

As far as efficacy is concerned, people have relied on the benefits of Chinese herbs for thousands of years and there is strong evidence to support their ability to improve a variety of health concerns. Since the use of Chinese herbs predates modern, scientific clinical research, much of this supporting data is anecdotal; however, users today confirm and experience these benefits.

3. Where are your Chinese herbs sourced and manufactured? Are vegetable or animal caps used? What other materials go into herbal products?

Ethical manufacturers partner with farmers from around the world, selecting those who adhere closely to sound growing practices. These companies will also verify that all the herbs that they buy are not endangered. While products may be produced in a number of different locations depending on the company, the location of these facilities should be clearly identified. All ingredients included in a formula should also be listed, including those in used to make the capsule which contains the herbs. For example, KPC Herbs makes its capsules from 100% natural vegetable material, which it clearly states.

4. Are the herbal formulas you are prescribing gluten-free?

What excipient is used? Consumers use Chinese herbs to improve their health, so it’s especially important to avoid rare but unwanted allergic reactions. For example, some individuals with celiac disease may have a particular sensitivity to gluten. While the herbs themselves are often gluten free, the excipient used during the formulation process may be made of wheat. KPC Herbs’ products never include gluten to enhance consumer safety. Instead, only non-GMO potato starch is used as an excipient in its products. Whomever you get your herbal formulas from, make sure they, too, offer gluten-free options in their herbal product line.

5. Have the herbs you are prescribing been tested for harmful heavy metals and micro-biomes?

Herbal products manufacturers have a responsibility to their consumers to offer the safest possible products. This commitment begins with stringent testing of all the herbs it uses prior to production. For example, a reputable company, like KPC Herbs, will test for heavy metals in addition to harmful chemicals and toxins. Results of these tests will be retained indefinitely for the added safety of the consumer. The manufacturer of the herbs you buy should clearly identify its testing and quality control processes.

Things to Note During Treatment

6. If I introduce Chinese herbs into my health regimen, how long will I have to take them for?

There is no quick and easy answer to this question, but your TCM practitioner should be able to provide you with an answer based on your individual diagnosis. The answer depends on your health condition, its severity and the type and amount of herbs you are taking. How the body responds to herbs is also highly individual, but note that TCM formulations are not designed to be taken indefinitely – every prescription needs to be based on a thorough diagnosis. The best way to understand the impact that Chinese herbs will have on your health and set reasonable expectations about your course of treatment is to consult with the licensed acupuncturist or TCM practitioner who prescribed your herbs. In virtually every case, your practitioner will be your best resource for questions about Chinese herbs, your diagnosis and the appropriate course of care, and the results you can expect.

The Role of Acupuncture in Healing

7. Do I even need to take Chinese herbs? Is acupuncture enough to help me with my problem?

The process of healing can be complex, and you should consult with your Western medical doctor, licensed acupuncturist or both before beginning or ending any course of herbs or acupuncture procedures.

A good licensed TCM practitioner will ensure that whatever Western medications you are currently taking do not contraindicate their planned treatments. Depending on your concerns, you may find sufficient relief and benefit from acupuncture or herbs alone, but this is not a conclusion that can be reached without professional medical advice. Talk to your doctor and TCM physician about the treatments that will help you most.

Herbal Formulas and Purchasing TCM Herbs

8. What ingredients are included in my prescribed formula and what is it for? Will I have to take it in the long term?

A good practitioner will be able to tell you about the different ingredients used in the formula they have prescribed, and explain why they have prescribed a certain formula for you. It is important to understand that in TCM, any herbs prescribed are not meant to be taken indefinitely – a formula is prescribed based on your body’s needs at the time of diagnosis, and work to bring the body back into balance. As the body changes, a new diagnosis will be required after a time, and a new course of treatment will be recommended based on that.

9. Can I buy my herbs in Chinatown — or from Amazon?

You may notice that a particular formula you have been prescribed can also be found online or at a Chinese Medicine Hall. You can potentially obtain Chinese herbs safely from these locations; however, you should only buy from sellers who have close relationships with their herb manufacturers, know the sources of their herbs and can verify their testing and quality. If a seller is not transparent about any of these details, you should consider buying from somewhere else, or simply purchase your formulations from your practitioner if they have full confidence in their herb manufacturers.

Getting More Information About TCM

10. Can I trust the answers found on the Internet if I have more questions?

It’s very likely that you will have even more questions about Chinese herbs than the ones listed. The good news is that you can find helpful and accurate information online, including details about the most common formulas and ingredients. However, the best source of information will always come from a licensed practitioner. While you can find general information about Chinese herbs readily online, you should always rely on a practitioner to determine your course of treatment, prescriptions and dosages.

KPC Herbs Is Committed to Making the World of Traditional Chinese Medicine Approachable for Everyone

Any question you have about an issue that concerns you is a valid one. We hope that we have provided some valuable information to help get you started on your TCM journey. However, we strongly encourage you to talk to a licensed practitioner in-person about your specific concerns to get the most accurate and useful information and to get a prescription that will work for you. Most individuals who do their research and purchase herbs with care have a safe and healthful experience with TCM. We hope you do as well, and we wish you the very best health.

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