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Expert Advice-Treatment of Infections in Traditional Chinese Medicine(TCM):

Treating Infections: Antibiotics or Chinese Herbs?

As a pillar of modern medicine, antibiotics play a tremendous role in dealing with infections. When the bodyís immune system is overwhelmed, antibiotics can be very useful. However, although more than a hundred different antibiotics have been developed since the discovery of penicillin in 1928, infections still plague us. Many bacteria develop resistance to the antibiotics that once killed them. While antibiotics can be lifesaving when used appropriately, overuse and inappropriate use of antibiotics can cause widespread health problems.

Wide overuse of antibiotics in the United States is recognized by both health professionals and the public as a cause for concern. This problem is much less prevalent in Asian countries. Do the Chinese and Asians have fewer bacterial infection problems? Why donít they have an antibiotic-abuse problem? As more people consider this question in comparative medicine, they find the answer in a natural and powerful substitute for antibiotics -- Chinese herbs.

Modern chemical antibiotics have been in existence less than a hundred years, whereas the natural herbal antibiotics prescribed by traditional Chinese healers have been used for more than 2000 years by millions of people. Classical Chinese medical textbooks such as Theory of Febrile Diseases and Synopsis of the Golden Cabinet, by Zhang Zhongjing, (150-219 AD), and Treatise on Differentiation and Treatment of Seasonal Febrile Diseases, by Wu Jutong, 1798, include effective formulas for "Clearing Heat," "Expelling Cold," and "Relieving Toxicity" which are used to treat infectious diseases. Although traditional Chinese medicine and conventional Western medicine are based on different philosophies, they share the same goal of curing their patients. Traditional Chinese medicine may be especially advantageous with modern complicated conditions where "bugs," "super-bugs," and "super-super-bugs" come in so many different forms that a single antibiotic fails to deal with them. The proper use of Chinese herbal formulas can not only inhibit bacterial, viral and fungal infections, but also minimize the need for antibiotics with their adverse side effects. This article is written for those who seek a natural, safe and effective alternative to antibiotics.

Conventionally, two theories dominate the practice of medicine on infectious diseases. One theory is that germs cause infectious diseases. The other theory is that diminished host resistance causes infectious diseases. The "great compromise" of these two theories is widely accepted by both the public and professionals. That is, infectious organisms are present in the host or the environment, but infection does not occur unless the hostís resistance diminishes. The implication of this compromise is that a strong immune system is fundamental if the body is to resist infections. A medicine which controls bacterial infection and sustains the immune system is always preferable to a medicine which kills bacteria but depresses the immune system. This article discusses a wide range of Chinese herbal formulas called formulas for "Clearing Heat," formulas for "Expelling Cold," and formulas for "Relieving Toxicity". These formulas can replace antibiotics in many cases, and they also benefit the immune system. This article does not intend to diminish the role of antibiotics in any sense. But, when antibiotics do not work and their prolonged use causes side effects, Chinese herbal medicine can be a very useful option.

Upper Respiratory Infections
Angela, a school teacher, came to my clinic two winters ago with pneumonia. It was her third case of pneumonia that winter. Her doctor had tried five different kinds of antibiotics on her. She told me she could not afford to be sick any more and was really frustrated with her condition because she could not see the end. Quite soon after she began Chinese herbs and acupuncture treatments, her cough was gone. Then we began to build up her immunity with Chinese herbs, acupuncture, and dietary modifications. Now she is in very good health. Last winter she got a mild cold with no cough, and got rid of it in a few days.

The most common type of infections are respiratory infections. Almost everyone has experienced a running nose, sneezing, sore throat, cough, sinus infection, etc. In China, Chinese herbal remedies are the first option for dealing with this type of problem.

Practitioners choose formulas for their patients based on the symptoms and the severity of the problem. Symptoms are differentiated into patterns by traditional Chinese medicine diagnosis, and the appropriate formula for that pattern is chosen. Among dozens of formulas, Cold & Flu Formula (Yin Qiao San) is the most popular. This hundred-year-old remedy is famous for both prevention and treatment of common cold, and is stocked in many familiesí medicine cabinets, even in the United States. Honeysuckle and forsythia, which are the leading herbs in Cold and Flu Formula, have a strong inhibitory effect against many pathogenic bacteria such as streptococcus and staphylococcus. Clinical studies have also proven the effectiveness of many other standard herbal formulas (see box) in dealing with upper respiratory infections.

Cold and Flu Formula (Yin Qiao San)

Forsythia (Lian Qiao)

Honeysuckle (Jin Yin Hua)

Platycodon (Jie Geng)

Mint (Bo He)

Bamboo Leaf (Dan Zhu Ye)

Licorice (Gan Cao)

Schizonepeta (Jing Jie)

Soy Bean (Dan Dou Gu)

Arctium (Niu Bang Zi)

Commonly Used Herbal Formulas for Upper Respiratory Infections

Cold & Flu Formula (Yin Qiao San)

SinusEASE (Xin Yi Wan)

Notopterygii Nine Formula (Jiu Wei Qiang Huo Tang)

Wind-Heat Clearing (Sang Ju Yin)

Ephedra Decoction (Ma

Huang Tang)

Cinnamon Decoction (Gui Zhi Tang)

Lung Cleansing (Xie Fei San)

Lung Heat Clearing (Ma Xing Shi Gan Tang)

Gastrointestinal Infections
One of my patients told me about the diarrhea, stomach pain, and vomiting she experienced when she traveled to Mexico last year, and that she took a lot of antibiotics to deal with these symptoms. She is going to the Caribbean soon, and is looking for some herbs that can prevent her from suffering the effects of contaminated food and water. Gastroenteritis and dysentery are common not just in developing countries; we see many cases each year in the United States. Antibiotics can be very effective if the diarrhea is caused by certain bacteria, but bacteria are not the only cause of diarrhea. Gastroenteritis symptoms can also be caused by parasites, amoebas, toxins, certain medications, and even food allergies, so antibiotics are not always effective. When people are looking for a preventive treatment, I always recommend herbs. One of the most important herbs for dealing with these problems is coptis (huang lian). Many studies have shown that coptis strongly inhibits many bacteria such as shigella, salmonella, and other bacteria that cause dysentery. Salmonella is the most common bacterium in the United States that can cause gastroenteritis and typhoid fever. Every year, more than two million new cases of salmonella infection are reported. Every traveler in China puts coptis or a coptis formula in his suitcase when he takes a trip.


Chinese Herbal Formulas for gastrointestinal Infections

Coptis Decoction (Huang Lian Jie Du Tang)

Damp Heat Clearing (Long Dan Xie Gan Tang)

Patchouli Combination (Huo Xiang Zheng Qi San)

Intestine Clearing (Qing Chang Yin)

Pueraria Combination (Ge Gen Qin Lian Tang)

Peony Decoction (Shao Yao Tang)

Pulsatilla Decoction (Bai Tou Weng Tang)

A group of formulas including Coptis Decoction (Huang Lian Jie Du Tang), Peony Decoction (ShaoYao Tang) and Pulsatilla Decoction (Bai Tou Weng Tang), which have coptis as one of the main ingredients, have been widely used in dealing with gastrointestinal infections. Coptis is traditionally used for clearing Damp Heat in the stomach or intestines. Besides its inhibitory effect on bacteria such as shigella and salmonella, coptis has also been scientifically proven to have a strong inhibitory effect on streptococcal infections and staphylococcal infections. Studies also show that coptis is effective against some bacteria that have developed resistance to the antibiotics streptomycin, chloramphenicol, and oxytetracycline hydrochloride. Coptis is also the leading natural herb for combating serious viral and fungal infections in traditional Chinese medicine.

Urinary Tract Infections
Urinary tract infections including bladder infections, urethral infections, and kidney infections account for ten million visits to the doctor annually, and are second only to respiratory infections in frequency. Women are more prone to urinary tract infections than men. They are among the most common health problems for women, increasing in frequency as a woman goes through menopause. Statistically, twenty percent of women who have had a urinary tract infection will develop a second infection. A variety of standard antibiotics such as Trimpex, Bactrim, Amoxil, and Macrodatin are the medications most often prescribed for urinary tract infections by conventional medicine practitioners. For someone with chronic or recurrent infections, however, the constant use of antibiotics can eventually diminish the bodyís natural capacity to fight off infection. In this case, natural herbal remedies can be a safe and effective alternative to the use and overuse of antibiotics.

Recently, I saw a woman with a chronic bladder infection who was referred to me by her physician. This woman had a five-year history of frequent bladder infections. Sometimes she experienced a new infection every few weeks. She had tried many different antibiotics, which were effective in the short term, but the infection would always return. At this point, I felt that Chinese herbs would be a better option for her. A balanced herbal formula will not only combat the current infection, but will also benefit the immune system, improving the bodyís chances of warding off the next infection. Another important reason for using Chinese herbs is that many of them can be very effective in dealing with the "super-bugs" which have developed a resistance to existing antibiotics.

There are many time-tested Chinese herbal formulas (see box) available for dealing with urinary tract infections. A formula will be prescribed depending on the pattern of the symptoms presented by the patient. For example, UrinClearing (Zhi Bai Di Huang Wan) is used to treat bladder infections with the Deficiency pattern called "stranguria complicated with hematuria." The clinical manifestations of this pattern include chronic illness, pink blood in the urine, painful urination, low back soreness, and fatigue.

Let me mention again that I do not encourage people to self-prescribe. A standard formula such as the Cold & Flu Formula may be taken as indicated, but for more serious or chronic health problems, it is best to consult a Chinese medicine practitioner in order to get the proper formula for your condition.

Herbal Formulas for Urinary Tract Infections

UT Clearing (Ba Zheng San)

Aquilaria Powder (Chen Xiang San)

Cephalanoplos Decoction (Xiao Ji Yin Zi)

Aristolochia Powder (Dao Chi San)

UrinClearing (Zhi Bai Di Huang Wan)

Dioscorea Formula (Cheng Shi Bi Xie Fen Qing Yin)