Personalized Medicine

There has been a lot of talk about where the future of medicine is going. Someday soon, medical doctors will be able to test your genes to determine what drug could provide you relief. While genes can help predict your risk of certain conditions, many other factors play a role. Epigenetics is a field of research that has found that your genes do not lock in the type of health you will experience, but that the type of life and environment in which you live will dictate which genes are turned on or off. Herbal formulas account for our genetic makeup, lifestyle, environment and emotional well-being to provide truly individualized medication.

Health care and herbal medications being tailored specifically to you, the patient, has been around for a long time. Think about when you take honey to help deal with local allergens or use evening primrose to find relief from night sweats. Holistic medicine does the same thing, just on a larger scale.

Herbal Medicine

Trained herbalists are taught to look holistically to understand that everything going on with a person’s health and life is a piece of the puzzle that makes them a beautiful individual. We can and should honor that uniqueness through our health care.

Traditional herbal formulas can be constructed anywhere from two to 20 herbs. Depending on an individual’s constitutional makeup and current condition, herbs can be added, subtracted, increased or decreased in order to find the best combination. If only a portion of your symptoms are relieved, or there are some side effects, again the formulation can be tweaked or modified so that it is the best fit for you.

The beauty of herbal formulas is the fact that each combination of herbs can be tweaked to exactly how a condition is manifesting for you. Ted Kaptchuk, professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, provides a great example of how a standardized application of Western medicine doesn’t always fix the problem. For example, there are two patients diagnosed with peptic ulcers. The first patient has pain when pressure is applied, as well as after eating. He has a robust constitution, reddish complexion, is constipated and has dark yellow urine. His symptoms are relieved with cold compresses. The second patient is frail and reports that pressure, massage, heat and eating can alleviate some of his pain. He wants to sleep a lot and has frequent clear urination. Peptic ulcers are often treated with the same medication, but this is a great example of when the same drug might not be best suited for both parties.

The Wall Street Journal recently ran an article highlighting one of America’s top hospitals, Cleveland Clinic, which now offers herbal treatment for patients where Western medications haven’t provided relief. Leslie Mendoza Temple, medical director at NorthShore’s Integrative Medicine Program, said they are receiving more and more physician referrals for herbal formulas. When the general go-to drug doesn’t work for everyone, it is a perfect opportunity to see the power of tailored herbal formulas.

Individualized medication has been around for a long time. The good news is that it is slowly being incorporated into our current medical system. If you are interested in learning more about how an herbal formula can be tailored to help you lead a healthier, happier life, please consult a trained herbalist. Herbalists can be trained in Western herbs, traditional Chinese herbal medicine and/or Ayurvedic.

Chinese Herbal Medicine

As an acupuncturist, I have seen firsthand the benefits in my patients who have incorporated herbal formulas into their health plan. While I believe that a holistic approach is a key for a healthy life, I am not advocating that you stop taking prescription drugs without consulting your doctor. I believe Western pharmaceuticals are crucial in many instances and have been life-saving for thousands. 

Written by Kathryn Coppola
Originally published in Nature's Pathways.