There is no panacea for all conditions, nor is there a panacea for a single condition. If there were, then the Chinese would have well nigh discovered both. That said, Chinese medicine possesses a sophisticated understanding of how herbs play within human physiology to balance physical conditions, conditions that have left Western-medicine (aka biomedicine) flummoxed. One such herb is hawthorn, a red berry that closely resembles and tastes like a crabapple, and interestingly enough is highly regarded in traditional Western herbology.
Traditionally, haw is used in Chinese medicine for indigestion of fatty foods. This has made it a favourite for treating high cholesterol, since a cholesterol imbalance is viewed as a product of poorly metabolized fat. However, hawthorn has wide-ranging effects beyond just the liver, including the heart and lung.
A couple weeks ago when doing English language research on heart arrhythmia, I ran across a case of an individual who took haw to great benefit. Noteworthy was that the individual had taken a number of isolated minerals in pill form with no result. In other words, XYZ amounts of magnesium and selenium among others did not abate his arrhythmia, whereas hawthorn did. This is why I shall forego any listing of the “nutrient facts” surrounding haw, or to put it another way, forego reducing haw’s efficacy to supposed active ingredients when haw itself is the active ingredient. Perhaps in 8 out of 10 cases the reductive approach will work, bit has its limitations, not the least being the cost in time and money determining the right form of said nutrients, as well the amounts and form of other nutrients with which it should be taken.
Arrhythmia in Chinese medicine is viewed from a number of perspectives. One closely mirrors biomedicine: blood stagnation. This is where the blood is so thick that it chokes the heart engine. Other times, however, the heart itself is weak and no matter how thin the blood, it still skips beats or beats quite rapidly because it is pumping so inefficiently. Inefficiency of the heart may not have to do exclusively with the heart. The capacity of the lungs plays an important role in powering heart function. A rapid heartbeat may be indicating that the heart is picking up the slack of weak lungs. The opposite is also the case, where a weak heart can affect lung function. Haw strengthens both the heart and lungs. That said, it is unlikely that haw will carry the day. Let’s look at a case involving a former smoker with heart arrhythmia in his mid 70s.
Cornelius, as we shall call him, is on blood-thinners and some other meds which have not rectified his heart arrhythmia. After a few acupuncture sessions that addressed blood viscosity, possible viral infection in the connective tissue (also a cause of arrhythmia), and pulse strength, I directed attention to formulas that focused on clearing the lungs, given his history of smoking a pack a day for 30yrs. After more than two months we were able to slow the heart rate, enough to encourage him to delay heart ablasion. Some acupuncture sessions proved very effective in increasing heart efficiency but the treatments did not hold for more than a week.
Haw is not at the top of the Chinese list for the heart, but as alluded to earlier it is in Western herbalism. I tested Cornelius on the only set of pills I had containing haw and the results were positive, so I gave him enough for four days. His response was emphatically positive. That is to say that he stated immediately that his lung symptoms of cough and phlegm were decidedly diminished. His pulse also read strong. In the interim, I had ordered another formula strictly for digestion, where the primary herb was also haw. Compared to the other pills he seemed to test stronger, so I gave that to him for three weeks. The results were less favourable. I want to convey a sense of how the process with patients works. Muscle-testing produces good results but it is not always perfect. The company that originally produced the first set of pills had since changed their formulation, so I placed an order with my local provider for a customized formulation swapping out one herb and estimating the ratios for the whole. The results were equally positive as the first, both in terms of lung and heart function. Clearly, although haw was an essential constituent in addressing his condition other herbs that functioned upon the liver and blood were also important.
There are some conclusions that we may deduce from the following case regarding the efficacy of haw, not the least being that haw in itself is insufficient to carry the day for heart arrhythmia. It is also reasonable to infer in some cases involving heart and lung pathology that regulation of liver is the lynchpin for success. At risk of being overly theoretical, it can be said that there is an explanation for why this is the case according to the figuring of mutual relationships amongst the organs in Five Element theory. The simplest observation to make that is generally true is that symptoms that manifest in certain organs may have another organ imbalance at its root. There is ample clinical evidence to support this conclusion. For example, asthma is a lung pathology that is best addressed by treating the kidneys in conjunction with the lungs. Cornelius has previously complained about “stress,” which is associated with the liver, so the first formulation that primarily addressed the liver corroborates the Five Element perspective in this case.
We can also conclude that addressing heart arrhythmia naturally is often a process of elimination that requires a drawing from a range of perspectives. Haw in Chinese medicine is generally not highly regarded for its effects upon the heart, which is in contrast to its status in Western herbalism. The master who I follow most in terms of acupuncture provided a perspective toward arrhythmia that echoed biomedicine, but if blood-thinners and what-not proved ineffective, then acupuncture that seeks to affect the same mechanisms is likely to prove equally ineffective. The cause of imbalance needs to be reconsidered in light of other possibilities. In the case of Cornelius blood viscosity was not the issue. Organ pathologies cannot be reduced to one cause. Not all heart arrhythmia is the result of thick blood. Therefore, a practitioner needs to be non-dogmatic, paying careful attention to the signs that the patient provides. Liver may be a critical component, especially when acupuncture techniques geared toward thinning the blood and boosting the pulse prove marginally effective.
Finally, there is the matter of nutrient isolates. Many individuals respond well to them, but there are those who do not. There may be a number of reasons for this. Suffice it to say that Chinese medicine is the antithesis of the reductionism expressed in isolate supplementation. Herbs in themselves are the ingredient, but they do not stand apart from a group of herbs that are included to effect the interaction between organs.