Chinese Herbs aren’t shit? Why?
I had the pleasure of talking to a Chinese Medicine practitioner the other day, a good one at that. My past experiences with herbalists have been similar to my past experiences with 70 year old women working in naturopathic supplement stores, where they throw plants at me like cats while screaming nonsensical terms like ‘Qi’ or ‘manopause’ (Yes, manopause; a clever term for the decline in vitality men experience with aging? I don’t know, all I know is that my hairline isn’t so bad you should be saying that to a 22 year old…)
The practitioner I was speaking to had some grounds in Western pharmacology, and we were able to come to a few common grounds. A few interesting points of our discussion:
- Nonsensical terms like ‘feminine energy’, ‘masculine energy’, or ‘tonic’ are not nonsensical. They are a different vernacular, and although they may seem like bullshit to us I would imagine preaching to a group of herbalists about TGF-b signalling or nF-kB translocation would receive similar levels of blank stares.
- ‘Feminine Energy’ is just a term used to refer to a cognitive state related to observance, clairvoyance, but not characterized by actually wanting to act upon anything. ‘Masculine Energy’ is getting a raging metaphorical boner and wanting to change the world via fucking it. ‘Tonic’ is just a catch-all blanket term for a rehabilitative agent, so a ‘Liver tonic’ would be a herb which may help in rehabilitating a damaged liver. They aren’t the most precise terms, and I still don’t know what the hell Qi is, but they do refer to something.
- Best part, I was given a list of 22 ‘supertonic’ herbs. Chinese Medicine apparently has 50 base herbs used in different combinations, 22 of them are elevated to a higher level, and Reishi curbstomps them all as ‘The King’.
I made a page on Examine as a catch-all for Traditional Chinese Medicine, and am adding them slowly.
The list of 22 ‘supertonic’ herbs I was given are as follows (no particular order). This serves to both educate, and also in case I lose that kleenex I scrawled the shit on:
- Reishi (Ganoderma)
- Panax Ginseng
- Siberian Ginseng
- American Ginseng
- Astragalus Membranceus
- ‘Dang Gui’ (Angelicae Sinensis) (Note: 6+7 is ‘Dang-Gui Buxue Tang’; I think DBT is a pretty cool herb; eh heals kidneys and doesn’t afraid of anything)
- Prepared Rehmannia
- Lycium Fruit
- Morinda Fruit
- Schisandra Fruit
- Polygonum (He Shou Wu)
- Deer Antler
- Asparagus Root
- Codonopsis Root
- Eucommia Bark
- Licorice Root
A few WTFs in the above list. Epimedium is Horny Goat Weed (which is an awesome boner pill), I made a big fuss about Astragalus a while ago and have had good experience running it lately, Asparagus Root does indeed refer to the vegetable we eat, but the root (not sure if the same bioactives are in the veggie), the Deer Antler refers to the thing people thought you could snort IGF-1 and gain muscle (that claim is false, but apparently there is more to the herb? I admit I disregarded the entire plant and/or actual animal antler because the IGF-1 claim was bad) and Pearl does indeed refer to the clam-vomit jewelery; I have no clue how one consumes this. Interested how four ginsengs are four different positions, and I recently finished research into Shisandra chinensis (Shisandra Fruit) and it appears to be a very, very sexy compound (I had some and burped up a strawberry taste; I love it already). Perhaps you people remember something called ‘Schisandrol A’ in your Jack3d? That is a lignan from Schisandra.
As for why I am so interested in this category of herbs right now, it is a combination of a two thought patterns:
- Research on them is preliminary, but it is ALL COMING BACK POSITIVE. I haven’t seen a study stating that a herb used in the traditional manner was ineffective at its traditional claims yet. Granted these are not large scale human interventions and the body of evidence is still small (so conclusions that can be drawn are limited in validity) but it is very promising. This, however, is the inherent flaw of Western usage of Chinese Medicine. People just don’t look into them in large-scale trials, and without those trials we cannot integrate them into mainstream medicine (and it would be best to be cautious when integrating them into supplementation)
- Statistics has this phenomena where, no matter how awesome a sample of 1 is, it is pure shit inherently because it is a sample of 1. With a shit ton of n=1 samples, you eventually get reliable and valid data as inconsistencies and biases get smoothed out with bulk data. Anecdotes seem similar; no matter how extensive and pretty sounding a single anecdote is, it is still scientifically shit because it is a single anecdote. With more anecdotes, could the inherent biases and inconsistencies be smoothed out to be more reliable? (Rhetorical question, it does; the use of surveys and rating scales in some cognitive studies, or ‘anecdotes written on paper’, is evidence of this) I say this as Chinese Medicine has been going on for Millenia, I am pretty sure their n value is inconceivably high, and they do have a pharmacopedia to keep track of everything.
Since Western Science is my game, I need to play my cards in the form of scientific trials. On both the Astragalus Page and the Schisandra Chinensis pages of Examine please defer to the ‘Nutrient-Nutrient Interactions’ sections.
Astragalus was shown to be highly synergistic in many regards with Angelicae Sinensis, the combination is called Dang-Gui Buxue Tang. The specific ratio used was shown in one study to be the perfect ratio for extraction of Astragalus bioactives, with both higher and lower ratios underperforming.
On the Schisandra Chinensis page, the combination of Sheng-Mai-San (adding Panax and Ophiopogon japonicus (?)) was able to enhance the amount of bioactive components absorbed from the Schisandra; adding validity to the combination. Another interesting tidbit, Schisandra is touted to be a tonic for the whole body but specifically ‘Liver, Lung, Heart and Kidneys’. Guess what organs Schisandra was shown to bioaccumulate in most when fed orally to rats? Those exact ones and a bit in the Spleen.
I’d comment on Ninjin-Yoei-To, but that fucker has 12 herbs and I couldn’t care less for trying to delineate that guy right now.
So in the next few months, I will be devoting a fair bit of time to looking at these 22 herbs. Panax might be next because it is popular even among people who don’t know it is Chinese, and I might research Pearl because it is a god damn pearl!
Better than Western Supplementation?
No clue about that really. Combining the two would probably be awesome.
I just figure that with the whole ‘millenia’ aspect behind Chinese medicine and the fact they have all of China to procure herbs, there is probably something to a narrowed down list of ‘supertonic’ herbs. I’m not going to say that nature is ‘perfect’ and makes ‘perfect’ herbs because hemlock. That being said, I imagine nature is kind of like a huge and semi-retarded supplement company that throws out a new supplement every other day in a haphazardous manner. Eventually they will make an awesome supplement by nothing more than pure chance, and although you can pick and choose the awesome supplements and avoid the ones that give you liver failure you wouldn’t necessarily call the supplement company ‘good at making supplements’; they’re just good at making different things and eventually they strike gold. Sort of like nature, where there are 22 really cool herbs in china out of… 50,000 as a conservative guess?
These herbs tend to be synergistic with themselves, which is both odd and cool. Schisandra inhibits P-glycoprotein (so it increases bioaccumulation of compounds subject to P-gp) yet Shisandra itself is subject to P-gp. This is like jumping up onto your hands and using your hands as a base to jump higher, it logically shouldn’t happen but is really cool if it does.
And western medicine has a habit of isolating bioactive molecules and putting them in pills. Information from one molecule in a trial is definitely more valid than one herb (which contains upwards of 80 different molecules) but you could be missing out on a ton of cool shit by taking the molecule away from it’s family. Of course, introducing a molecule to a new family sounds nice and is why I have written this article after taking L-Tyrosine and Alpha-GPC with Schisandra Chinensis (2g, 600mg, 1.5g; respectively)
Euphoria and Focus are my everything and I want to cuddle my plushies now; Hydra out!