Testing Chinese Herbs

Having been involved with martial arts for most of my life I have had a fair amount of exposure to so-called 'alternative' medical treatments for some time. Chinese herbs, in particular, I have found useful in helping restore a sense of vigor when stress, a cold or just too much activity starts to wear me down.

When I turned 50 I made a commitment to myself to hit the reset button, drop the unnecessary weight I had accumulated and stay on a healthier track. Naturally, I looked into supplements to help me out and decided to contact Dr. John (pictured left) to see what he would recommend. You see DJ is one of those guys who looks better with his shirt off than on. Ever since I have known him he has been lean, fit and strong. Who better to put me on the right path?

I started off by quizzing the good doc on protein shakes and various supplements to support muscle growth and promote fat loss. I was expecting him to help me pick the latest (and usually most expensive) products for my upcoming reset, to help me navigate the tidal wave of information that chases you around life after running a couple of innocent Google searches.

Come to find out Dr. John had all but given up on that stuff, only really using a bit of creatine supplementation to keep himself from getting too lean. His primary regiment was, you may have guessed by now, Chinese herbs. He explained to me that most of what was in all those fancy products was better gotten from a decent diet and therefor most of what I would likely purchase would be a waste of money......unless buying that stuff helped me commit to staying on my program.

He explained to me that supplementation is only necessary when the body cannot get or synthesize what it needs from its regular inputs. The diversity of organic compounds and their bioavailability make Chinese herb supplementation an ideal way to make sure you body has what it needs by providing a broad spectrum and letting the body choose. Further, his basic formula could be augmented to address my specific concerns and adapted as my goals change (for example, moving from a weight loss focus to a focus on increasing flexibility).

I figured why not give it a try!?


My high expectations for my new Chinese herb supplementation regime were quickly crushed when I put the first spoonful of that vile shit in my mouth. It was disgusting and left such a bitter aftertaste it took like an hour for it to go away....and the burps!

In fairness I must disclose that none of my herb jars has been as bad as that first one. You see, I had recently finished months of taking an antifungal medicine to get rid of toenail fungus the topical stuff couldn't touch. That medicine really messed up my gut. Dr. John had included some herbs to fix that and they were particularly nasty tasting.

Despite the taste I choked the stuff down every morning and before long my digestive system started recovering and helped me kick off my health reset. At some point I remembered what DJ told me about all the fancy supplements I was thinking of taking and how their primary benefit would be to keep me on my routine, the primary benefit would not actually be what was in the shake but my intentional commitment to my goal that religiously taking my supplement represented.

So I got to thinking, if a nice chocolate flavored shake can induce a placebo effect, wouldn't a vile herbal concoction that must be choked down be like placebo squared? Could there really be some value in medicine being 'bitter', that it be an act of will to ingest it?

I think so. In addition to the inherit value of having a diverse set of bioavailable organic compounds available to your body the mind is strongly reminded and incented to heal, recover, repair and/or develop with the unpleasant physical experience of 'taking its medicine'. Perhaps the unpleasant taste of Chinese hers is not a detriment, but an aspect of the approach that has been overlooked by western eyes?

The Results

Given that I have no way of separating what benefits of Chinese herb supplementation is coming from the power of my intention (aka the placebo effect) vs. what benefits are coming from the bioavailability or organic compounds I have decided that I don't care. The benefits are what the benefits are and those I am quite happy with.

To begin with, Dr john's herbs helped me through those side-effect digestive problems quickly and the restored gut health certainly aided in me peeling unwanted pounds from my frame. I found that sucking down that disgusting concoction at strategic times effectively killed my appetite for a time and allowed me to consume fewer calories throughout the day without feeling a lack.

I also noticed an overall decrease in my appetite. My understanding on this is that many food cravings are not about the body demanding calories but seeking specific nutrition. I think the herbs provide those compounds and, as a result, food cravings decrease. I found I could go longer between meals and simply ate less at each meal simply because I was not as hungry.

Now that I am back to a much healthier weight for my body type I have shifted my focus to restoring functional flexibility. I have always been on the more flexible side of the equation, at least in relation to my martial arts peers. However, years of focusing on developing my standing practice and developing Integrated Strength inadvertently caused me to somewhat neglect my flexibility.

My experience is the Chinese herb supplementation has assisted in helping me restore much of my lost flexibility (I dare say I am further than ever in some areas, even with my oldness). The main reason for this, I think, is improved recovery time. I notice the same thing whether from stretching or calisthenics, the soreness and stiffness just does not last as long and I am therefor able to increase the frequency I can train.

My Recommendations

Chinese herb supplementation is something I can highly recommend if you are looking to give your health routine a kick in the pants. Once you get over the unpleasant taste and experience the benefits you will see what I mean. I do have a few pieces of advice:

Get your herbs from a reputable source. Be very wary of stuff being sold on sold online, particularly by the big retailers, you simply don't know what you are getting. When his schedule permits, Dr. John will be posting some of his recommendations as to good sources.

Tune to your needs. One size does not fit all and what you need may change depending on your goals, your health and your genetics.

Use as part of a wholistic program. Chinese herb supplementation is no substitute to diet, exercise and proper recuperation but can and will enhance the benefits you get from your routine.

Embrace the bitter. Use the nasty taste to remind and reinforce your commitment to your goals, remember why you are choking that stuff down.

Be consistent. Chinese herbs are not like a pill where the effects can be felt after a single dose. Herbs are gentle nudges on the rudder and take time to have their impact.

Track your progress. Its just too easy these days to track how you are going on the program. Anything from a Fitbit to a journal will help you look back and see what king of impact the changes to your routine are making.

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