Much Better—Thanks for Asking (Chinese Medicine Dept.)

By James Fallows

Three days ago I mentioned that, in the slough of the normal mid-winter phlegm-fest, I'd decided to look for relief to .... magic Chinese "Yin Chiao" herbal pills, as below.

Thumbnail image for ChinesePills.png

I am happy to report that I have survived (a) the cold and (b) the pills. Several reactions below.

From a student of history:

>>Mr. Fallows, Are you aware that Bruce Lee (yes, that Bruce Lee) died from an allergic reaction to Chinese medicine taken for a headache?<<

From a college classmate, now a big-shot medical authority, and himself from a Chinese family background:

>>Infectious diseases are something that I know something about, and I advise against taking anything like this.

Nontraditional remedies sold in health food stores and similar places this country are not regulated by the FDA and may contain potentially harmful adulterants (eg, a toxic enantiomer of tryptophan caused problems several years back; many products are spiked with anabolic steroids and/or stimulants). Products from China are even riskier, in my opinion. Remember the melamine-containing baby formula that killed many infants just a few years ago? [Yes! We were looking suspiciously at the milk we'd bought in Chinese supermarkets at the time.]

Viral infections get better by themselves, so the benefits of any proposed remedy cannot be assessed reliably except in the context of controlled experiments (ie, placebo-controlled clinical trials). Even the best available remedies (eg, molecularly-engineered neuramindase inhibitors osteltamvir (Tamiflu) and zanamavir (Relenza) reduce the duration of influenza symptoms in healthy people by less than 1 day. The Pharmaceutical industry has spent many tens of millions of dollars looking for effective treatments for other respiratory viral illnesses (eg, common colds), all without success.<<

Both of those notes arrived shortly after I'd washed down another handful of the pills. Some "look on the brighter side" messages, from others who have taken the pills and lived, after the jump.

From a reader in Arizona:

>>Years ago I had an acupuncturist who was a big fan of Yin Chao pills. In those days (late '80s, early '90s) they came with an instruction sheet that proclaimed Yin Chao to be (and I swear I'm not making this up - I saved a copy and have it front of me) "efficacious to Spanish Grippe and mumps" and recommended it when "one is liable to infetion of clods" (sic). Do contemporary Yin Chao pills (the boxes, by the way, look exactly the same as they did back then) have a less memorable instruction sheet? [Sadly, no "clods" to be found.]<<

From a reader with a Chinese family name:

>>I have taken the same brand of pills you displayed throughout my childhood some 30 years ago, and I have survived. (My parents continue to take them to this day, eschewing free Canadian health care and prescription drugs.) So it is quite likely that you will survive them as well, but as with most Chinese medicines, the effect is likely to be slow.<<

And from a reader with the family name of Cohen:

>>What's with the Chinese medicine? You never heard of chicken soup??? Even western medical "science" admits it has benefits, though they ignore it since they can't find a way to put it in a pill and monetize it - yet. (Ask your doctor if Dr. Tyson's miracle chicken pills are right for you.)

I've had several experiences with cupping, as a child. When I had a chest cold, my Russian grandfather would appear with his cupping kit and administer the bahnkes (pronounced bonk us). The kit consisted of an old black leather briefcase filled with many shot glasses, alcohol and cotton swabs, all arranged meticulously. It was a sight I dreaded because the procedure was very painful. I don't remember any benefits.

I've also had many acupuncture sessions for migraine, and it was simply miraculous. One episode was stopped in 20 minutes after suffering for two days. In fact, years after my last treatment, my migraines are much less frequent. I think your choice of practitioners makes a difference, though. Mine was an MD (internist) from Pakistan. A good man. Insurance didn't cover acupuncture, so I created and maintained a web site for him.<<

Thanks to all -- and to my friends who originally offered me the Yin Chiao pills.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/personal/archive/2010/12/much-better-thanks-for-asking-chinese-medicine-dept/68732/