The Cleveland Clinic, one of the country’s top hospitals opened an herbal clinic in January. Patients must be referred by a doctor, and are monitored to make sure there are no drug-herbal interactions or other complications. The clinic is part of the hospital’s Center for Integrative Medicine, whose offerings also include acupuncture, holistic psychotherapy, and massage therapy. The following is an excerpt from an article in the Wall Street Journal….

“Western medicine does acute care phenomenally…. But we’re struggling a bit with our chronic-care patients and this fills in that gap and can be used concurrently,” says Melissa Young, an integrative medicine physician at Cleveland Clinic.

While acupuncture programs have sprouted across the U.S., there are only a handful of herbal clinics. Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at Northwestern University and NorthShore University HeealthSystem, affiliated with the University of Chicago, both include herbal medicine among their offerings.

“I’m getting more and more physician referrals (for herbal treatments), which to me is a sign of greater acceptance,” says Leslie Mendoza Temple, medical director at NorthShore’s Integrative Medicine Program.

Jamie Starkey, lead acupuncturist at the Cleveland Clinic who got the herbal clinic started, says there is little scientific research outside Asia on using herbs as medicine. Ms. Starkey says she had to translate studies to convince the Integrative Medicine’s former medical director an herbal clinic could be effective.

“The evidence base for these approaches using modern rigorous methods of randomized trials is quite thin,” says Josephine Briggs, director of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, part of the National Institutes of Health.

There are thousands of herbs – primarily plant parts but also some animal and mineral products – that are used in Chinese medicine. Herbs are usually used in combinations and can be taken as capsules, tinctures, powders or tea. Herbs can be toxic if taken in the wrong dose.

Quality and potential contamination are issues. At Cleveland Clinic, premade herbal formulas are bought and ordered through KPC Products, a subsidiary of Taiwan’s Kaiser Pharmaceutical Co. Custom-blends are made by Crane Herb Co., based in Massachusetts and California.

John McGeehan, a tennis instructor in Lakewood, Ohio, who suffers from chronic nausea says he has tried different medications and had “pretty much every test known to man.” After his doctor referred him to the herbal clinic, the 57 year-old was prescribed two herbal formulas. A few weeks later he switched to a different formula. He hasn’t noticed a change in his condition but says, “I’m hopeful.”

Maged Rizk, a gastroenterologist at Cleveland Clinic who referred Mr. McGeehan, says Chinese herbal medicine is still being critically evaluated. “In the past it wasn’t even considered seriously,” Dr. Rizk says. “At this point there is a thinking, ‘Some of the things we’re doing now aren’t very effective. Should we really be looking at alternatives a little more seriously?’ I think the verdict is still out,” he says.   4/22/14


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