My Conversation with Dr. Friedman About Traditional Chinese Medicine
Creams and ointments fill our cabinets and dressers. We have more prescription papers with illegible scribbles than helpful results. The battles fought with our insurance companies leave us staggering. Each failed attempt to assuage our skin cripples our resolve. Where to turn next?
New therapies to treat eczema
Now, more than ever, patients are forsaking traditional doctors' offices and embracing new ways of managing their skin. We grow weary in faith and need new reasons to believe again. Some turn to diet, others MedSpas.
One new yet extremely old process in managing skin disease is Traditional Chinese Medicine, or TCM.
At first, I thought this way to be expensive and unsophisticated. How can herbs clear a lifetime of skin ailments? To my surprise, many patients have proclaimed utter gratitude and cherish the nourishment granted from herbal formulations that speak specifically to their needs.
Finding a qualified doctor
While choosing doctors for my documentary about topical steroid withdrawal, I included Dr. Xiu-Min Li, a highly regarded immunologist who specializes in TCM. Speaking with her and her patient, Beth, only amplified that this must be a favorited path for eczema sufferers.
Since my interview with Dr. Li in 2017, TCM has increased in prevalence. But what makes it so special?
What is TCM?
While seeking answers, I connected with another gracious and knowledgeable dermatologist, Dr. Olivia Friedman. She is based out of Chicago, IL, and carries a slew of impressive titles. With a Doctorate in Acupuncture & Chinese Medicine, a Certificate of TCM Dermatology, and Masters of Oriental Medicine, there is no denying her medical expertise.
"TCM was developed thousands of years ago before cadaver labs and microscopes," Dr. Friedman explains. "As a result, practitioners looked to nature to explain how the body functioned and thought of the human body as a microcosm in the world macrocosm."
It is all about connection and the flow of our body's needs. Many terms, such as "wind" and "heat," are used to describe symptoms in our bodies. What a beautiful lexicon juxtaposed to "ooze" and "redness."
A focus on the individual
"TCM is founded on the notion that every person has an innate constitution that can influence how a health condition can manifest," she proceeds. "Since everyone's constitution is different, TCM addresses each person as an individual and customizes treatment to best match that person's host of signs/symptoms as well as any contributing factors such as lifestyle choices."
What a concept. That we, as humans, are all different and have various needs. A blanketed topical steroid prescription is not the end-all-be-all in our journey. We are not fast food meals on a prescription conveyer belt. Our bodies need intimate, precise care. TCM fits that bill.
"The premise of TCM is that human beings have an innate ability to heal. TCM helps to promote and support the healing process until TCM is no longer needed and normal function (without any intervention) is re-achieved," Dr. Friedman concludes.
Again, unimaginable! The thought that a doctor wishes to rid you as a patient, not keep you on pills or creams forever. The role of TCM is to get you better and set you free.
TCM's role in eczema
"In simplest terms, every form of eczema arrives with a host of symptoms that fall into 1 of 7 patterns. Once a patient's general pattern is determined, TCM providers treat that pattern based upon the combination and severity of symptoms," Dr. Friedman addresses.
To begin, we have our skin assessed thoroughly. Ranging from 'heat' on one end and 'damp' on the other, our practitioner can find where our skin needs lie. A mixture of herbs is then combined for our specific symptoms and concerns. Dr. Friedman also delves into the amount of herbs necessary, which is determined by the severity of symptoms.
"Every eczema patient typically has a unique ratio of heat, damp, wind, and dryness that presents in their eczema picture. The TCM treatment goal is to bring each element back to normal levels by choosing a combination of ingredients that work best for that patient,"she states.
Which herbs are beneficial?
Many herbs in use for our skin ailments are mysterious to us. They are not usual in our medical vocabulary but are used frequently for TCM eczema patients.
First, we have Ye Ju Hua or wild Chrysanthemum. This is the most familiar one to me! However, I had no idea that its use in eczema is so potent. "It's an antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antiviral and it can also reduce itching," says Dr. Friedman in one of her website articles. It also plays a distinct role in reducing fluid underneath the skin.
Chinese Trumpetkreeper flower
Second is the Ling Xiao Hua or Chinese Trumpetkreeper flower. This can be used in formulas to help with latent heat, especially in stubborn skin conditions. It will hopefully reduce skin lesions on your journey to better health.
Are some herbs harmful?
In the past, licorice root was seen as 'treacherous' for eczema and TSW (topical steroid withdrawal) patients. That theory still circulates around today.
"There are no herbs that eczema patients should stay away from just because they have eczema," Dr. Friedman asserts. "Instead, patients should avoid herbs that fall into the same category of their allergies or sensitivities. Herbal medicine uses all parts of the plant, including seeds, nuts, flowers, etc. Therefore, for example, people who are allergic to pollens may not be able to handle herbs that are flowers."
Makes sense. She also shows us that other medications being prescribed need to be taken into consideration.
"If the patient is taking some supplements or pharmaceuticals, they may not want to use certain herbs that can make those substances stronger/weaker."
This is why an extensive history must be taken. No one should receive such treatments without one.
As for licorice root?
"There has been a misguided fear of licorice due to its steroid-like characteristics. What eczema patients need to understand," she explains kindly, "is that the human body is largely managed by the body's production of many different steroids. Without them, we could not live. However, because of TSW, patients assume all steroids are the same and equally damaging. Thus, avoid all of them. Licorice does not have the same steroid properties as topical steroids."
It helps to have a clear voice amongst the madness. Eczema is already hard enough. But, a doctor like Friedman is worth every penny.
TCM and Western medicine
"TCM is best used when patients are not getting desired results from pharmaceuticals," Friedman concludes.
She adds that it is also there for other pressing reasons, such as weaning off pharmaceuticals due to unwanted side effects.
When the narrow path of topical steroids, immunosuppressants, and biologics isn't cutting it, give TCM a try. What is there to lose?
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