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Expert Advice-Treatment of Genital Herpes in Traditional Chinese Medicine(TCM):

A Safe and Effective Approach to Genital Herpes

One Woman’s Story
Ann is a 46 year-old woman with genital herpes who initially came to my clinic last year. She contracted the herpes virus when she was in her early twenties, and has experienced frequent outbreaks over the past 25 years. The outbreaks tend to occur especially when she is under stress, tired, emotionally upset, coming down with a cold, or when she is pre-menstrual. Ann has also noticed that what she eats can make a difference. After a restaurant meal of hot, spicy food, there will be increased discomfort. The constant recurrence of itching and soreness also make it more difficult for her to concentrate at work, leading to more stress and fatigue, leading to more outbreaks. Over the years, Ann has tried every kind of treatment for her condition, including prescription drugs such as Acyclovir, without much success. When she came to my clinic, she was experiencing an acute outbreak. To get this under control, I recommended an herbal decoction (herbs boiled in water). The decoction was used as an external wash to the affected area, and also taken orally. The acute outbreak rapidly cleared up with this treatment. Then it was time to concentrate on treating her internal imbalance to prevent further outbreaks. I recommended that she change her diet, continue to take herbs, and get a course of acupuncture treatments. This reflects the classic Chinese medicine approach: "When it is acute, we treat its symptoms; when it is recurrent and chronic, we treat its root cause." Ann has been pleased with the control that the Chinese medicine approach has given her over her disease. The frequency of recurrence has been significantly reduced, and she feels that her quality of life is much improved.

Genital Herpes in the United States
Genital herpes is an acute inflammatory disease caused by infection with the herpes simplex virus. This virus has become extremely common because of its ease of transmission. Sexually transmitted diseases(STDs), including genital herpes, are on the increase in the United States both among heterosexual people and among homosexual people. An estimated 40 million Americans are thought to have genital herpes, with more than 500,000 new cases expected each year. Some typical signs and symptoms of genital herpes include: small, fluid-filled sacs (vesicles), lesions around the genital area, shallow and painful genital ulcers, redness, marked edema, and tender lymph nodes in the inguinal area. In the United States, approximately one in every five 30-year-old white females has the herpes simplex virus, which is a member of the family of viruses responsible for chicken pox, shingles, and infectious mononucleosis.

Genital Herpes in TCM
In traditional Chinese medicine, genital herpes is discussed in the categories of "hot sores" (re chuang) or "genital carbuncle" (yin chuang). Because sexual contact is the primary factor in contracting genital herpes, you are more likely to get herpes if you or your partner have multiple or casual sexual partners. Traditional Chinese medicine does not have a "germ theory" of disease, but perceives pathogens as environmental factors such as cold, heat, dampness, dryness, etc. The internal organs of the body are divided into Yin organs and Yang organs. Each organ system tends to be more or less susceptible to the various pathogenic environmental factors, as well as being susceptible to characteristic emotional disturbances.

In the case of genital herpes, the most common pathogenic factors are dampness and heat, and also the emotion of anger. The key internal organs are the Liver and Gallbladder (Yin/Yang partners), and the Kidneys (with their Yang partner, the Urinary Bladder). The overall Chinese medicine diagnosis of genital herpes is active toxic damp heat. Within this larger category, three specific patterns are differentiated: damp heat pouring down; toxic heat accumulation; and Liver and Kidney deficiency.

Blistering and erosion of genital tissue, plus burning and itching are the key symptoms of the pattern of damp heat pouring down. Outbreaks are considered to be precipitated by the over-consumption of candy and sugar, which promote the formation of active damp heat. Recurrent outbreaks are due to poor dietary habits, including the eating of hot, spicy foods, heavy, greasy foods, and alcohol. The leading Chinese herbal formula to treat this pattern is Damp Heat Clearing (Long Dan Xie Gan Wan).

Erosion of genital blisters and fever are the key symptoms for the pattern of toxic heat accumulation, in which the outbreaks are triggered by unexpressed anger and emotional upset, as well as the over-consumption of hot, spicy foods. A time-tested Chinese herbal formula for this pattern is Toxin Clearing (Wu Wei Xiao Du Yin). This is a powerful formula for the acute stage of genital herpes.

The Liver and Kidney deficiency pattern has less fluid-filled blisters, but is characterized by frequent outbreaks, back pain, and joint soreness. The recurrent outbreaks are caused by constitutional weakness, stress, fatigue, episodes of cold or flu, menstruation changes, and seasonal changes. A renown formula for this pattern is Water Fire Balance (Zhi Bai Di Huang Wan). This is also an excellent preventive formula for recurrent outbreaks of genital herpes.

Leading Herbs for Genital Herpes
This section contains a list of Chinese herbs which are of proven effectiveness in dealing with damp heat conditions such as genital herpes, urinary bladder infections, skin conditions, etc. Several of these herbs have scientifically documented anti-microbial effects. When used externally, the herbs are boiled, and the liquid is then strained off and used as a wash to the affected area. When taken internally, the herbs are usually used in a formula with other herbs and can be taken as capsules or as raw herbs that are boiled in water. It is best to consult with a Chinese medicine practitioner or an herbologist before using herbs to treat any condition.

Woad Root (Ban Lan Gen). As a top antiviral herb, woad root has a very broad spectrum of antimicrobial activity. Studies have shown that woad root has an inhibitory effect against Shigella dysenteriae, Shigella flexneri, Salmonella typhi, and Salmonella enteritidis, and hemolytic Streptococcus.

Philodendron (Huang Bai). As one of the most widely used herbs in Chinese medicine, phellodendron has been proven to have properties of inhibiting and containing bacterial, viral and yeast infections. It is a powerful herb for stopping genital itching.

Dittany Bark (Bai Xian Pi). As one of the most popular herbs for external use, dittany bark works wonderfully for many skin problems ranging from itching and eczema to inflammation.

Sophora (Ku Shen). Renowned for "clearing up heat, drying up dampness, reliving itch and destroying worms" in classical Chinese herbal medicine texts, sophora is extensively used for external applications. This bitter-flavored and cold-property herb is widely used to treat furuncles, carbuncles and genital itch in women.

Wild Chrysanthemum Flower (Ye Ju Hua). This autumn blooming flower has a property of clearing heat and relieving toxicity. It has shown an inhibitory effect in vitro against Staphylococcus aureus, Shigella spp., and some ECHO viruses.

Smilax (Tu Fu Ling). As a leading herb of relieving toxicity and eliminating dampness in Chinese medicine, it is widely used for recurrent ulcers and skin lesions due to damp-heat.