In China, an individual seeking medical help will often consult an herbalist in the same way that people in the West would turn to a doctor. Chinese herbalists practice in many hospitals and command the respect normally associated with medical doctors.
In the United States, Chinese herbalism is still considered a fringe practice and has yet to gain the acceptance and popularity of another Eastern import, acupuncture, which in conjunction with herbalism, make up the basis of traditional Chinese medicine.
Marcie Mueller, of Integrated Health Care in Vineyard Haven, is a nationally board-certified Chinese medical practitioner who treats patients with a combination of individualized herbal formulas and acupuncture.
“I think Western medicine is great for what it does,” Ms. Mueller said in a recent interview, “but most people’s problems are more complex than Western medicine can deal with.” Her patients include people suffering from a variety of ailments ranging from the common cold to chronic Lyme disease.
Ms. Mueller said that some of her greatest successes have been in treating pain, injuries, digestive disorders, skin conditions, allergies, menstrual issues, and infertility. She also provides adjunctive care to cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
Although some of the herbs used in traditional Chinese medicine will be familiar to Westerners — ginseng, ginger, astragalus — most are not to be found in the average health food store, and their effectiveness depends entirely on how they are combined, she said.
“I’m always happy to tell people what’s in a formula and give them a print-out, but it’s like looking up the ingredients of any recipes,” Ms. Mueller said. “Maybe you’ll come up with bread, maybe you’ll come up with playdough. It’s a very synergistic alchemy that happens when you create formulas. My formulas are made for the the individual. Your constitution in unique.”
Each diagnosis takes into account a number of factors that include an individual’s existing conditions, general physical and mental health, and current medications.
Ms. Mueller tailors a formula of raw herbs for each case and orders the appropriate mix from an herbal company in New York that decocts (extracts) raw herbs and creates personalized liquid formulas. While some of her clients prefer mixtures made of granulated herbs, which are easier to use and more palatable than raw herb tea (or tang), Ms. Mueller prefers to use raw herbs, the way they have been used for millennia in China for their increased potency.
Ms. Mueller said she has devoted herself to Oriental medicine since she was introduced to the concept in the book, “Between Heaven and Earth: A Guide to Chinese Medicine.” At the time, she had completed a pre-med degree in biology, was traveling the world, riding and working with horses. Although she was determined to pursue a career in medicine, she was unsure of exactly where her future lay.
“I knew that I didn’t want to get into Western medicine,” she said. “It has always seemed to me that using drugs to cover up or fix problems that are already critical is not a very effective way of practicing medicine — cleaning up existing messes. There should be a way of preventing those messes from happening.”
She added, “Chinese medicine deals with the body’s own innate ability to heal.”
Ms. Mueller spent three years, more than 4,000 hours, completing an intensive master’s degree program at the Seattle Institute of Oriental Medicine. She spent a month studying in hospitals in China. The curriculum included the mastery of medical Chinese, since much of the most comprehensive and current information in the field is to be found in Chinese medical journals.
“I’m constantly taking classes and keeping up with my education,” said Ms. Mueller. She started a private practice on the Island in 2007 and joined the practitioners at Integrated Health Care in 2008.
“The beauty of Chinese medicine is that it enables you to look at the whole person,” said Ms. Mueller. “Recognize the imbalance and come up with a formula that will overcome that. I don’t see myself fixing the person. I see myself fixing the balance so the person can become healthy and whole again.”
Chinese herbal medicine is slowly gaining credibility in traditional medical circles. “They’re now discovering how Chinese herbs are actually working to treat things like Parkinson’s disease, how they are affecting the various systems and body chemistry,” she said.
She thinks that Western acceptance of Eastern medicine will require a paradigm shift. “The fundamental way that Westerners view the world is absolutely different from how an Asian person views the world,” she explained. “They look at things with a view of many to one. We see it as one to many. We’re very Cartesian. We break things down into little boxes and pieces and take them apart and see how they work. In Asia they look at the whole – how everything works together, not in isolation. That’s one of the biggest challenges to introduce to Western minds. It’s not that we’re not capable of it, it’s just not part of our culture.”
For more information, call Ms. Mueller at 508-696-1863.