East Asian Medicine for the Person Who Takes a Variety of Different Medications

In today’s American society, an alarming percentage of people are taking pills. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control, as of their latest survey in 2002, almost half of the population had a record of prescription drug use within the past month (1). Sometimes, especially in the senior population, people can end up taking several different medications, some of which are supposed to treat the same conditions. The main problem that can result is that with most any pharmaceutical drug, there is a risk of side effects.

In contrast to the magic bullet approach to managing health maladies, East Asian medicine supports the body’s own natural healing mechanisms. Within this system, the body is observed as it is, with the practitioner taking into consideration what some experienced practitioners say about trends that show up for the overmedicated patient, such as a gray tongue coating from the use of antibiotics and an unusually strong pulse for those taking steroids. True diagnostic signs may be masked by the use of drugs, but the practitioner has the challenge to see through the mask and tailor the treatment to the individual who shows up at that particular time. Overmedication can yield a constellation of symptoms, some of which will be unique to the individual’s drug list. Adverse drug reactions are more of a possibility as the number of prescriptions increase. When I see new patients, I ask them to bring their list of prescribed drugs so that I can have an idea as to what each drug is supposed to address in general. I then translate the function of their medication into the language of East Asian medicine. For instance, if my patient is taking a diuretic, I realize that there could be a problem with the body’s process of water transformation, and I can do a palpatory exam to narrow my treatment principle down from there (i.e., does the pulse suggest an issue with the Kidney system, the Spleen system, the Urinary Bladder, or the Triple Burner? Is the problem in multiple systems or meridians?) Eventually, some patients are able to reduce or eliminate some or all of their drugs with the assistance of their physician. I do not get involved in that aspect and would not advise any patient to change their dose or just stop taking any medicine without the approval of their physician. Sometimes there are herbal substitutes for certain conditions, but sometimes, there are not. There is an interesting article on Subhuti Dharmananda’s ITM Online website about how certain classes of drugs interact with certain dietary factors (2). Herbs work differently than pharmaceutical drugs, but they can provide an alternative in some cases; again, please check with a licensed herbologist and your physician. It can be helpful for all involved when there’s a dialogue among the parties – patient, physician, and herbologist.


United States, 2006. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/hus.htm, p.350.(2). Dharmananda, Subhuti. “The Interactions of Herbs and Drugs.” http://www.itmonline.org/arts/herbdrug.htm


Kerri Winston, Ph.D., L.Ac., is a licensed acupuncturist with a practice in Atlanta, Georgia's Buckhead area. If you are interested in learning more about how acupuncture can help you or your loved ones, please call 404-949-0550 or send email to kerri@acuworks.net.