Chinese herbs can be used to effectively minimize lymphedema in many cases.  However, it’s definitely not a quick fix.  It takes time, usually months.  If you’ve never used Traditional Chinese Medicine before, the process may seem unusual.  Here’s some tips to help you learn more and maximize the chance of a good outcome.

#1 Do not try to do it yourself (!)

Traditional Chinese Medicine requires you to take Chinese herbs.  These herbs are real medicine.  You will likely end up taking them in large quantities to get results.  You cannot and should not try to do this yourself, unless you’ve got years of training in Chinese medicine.

You must make an appointment with a Chinese medicine doctor or practitioner, get diagnosed, then get a “prescription”.

Most of the time you’ll get a custom mixture of several different herbs.  Trying one or two on your own is not likely to work, and could even make you worse.

What will work is finding a qualified provider, then following the instructions they create specifically for you.

#2 Don’t expect a quick fix

Chinese herbs take time to work.  Per the University of Minnesota, Traditional Chinese Medicine is evidenced-based and safe.  But instead of taking a drug to treat a symptom, you take herbs (plants) to help treat the actual cause.

That’s a big deal, so it’s not something that happens overnight.  It will take weeks or months instead of hours or days.  But that’s the value in it.  It’s a natural fix of the actual problem, not just treating individual symptoms.

With lymphedema, they often give you herbs to improve circulation and to remove “dampness” from your body.  Really it’s a way of progressively correcting imbalances and supporting your body to heal itself.

And it’s likely a progression.  First the herbs need to optimize the lymphatic function you have, reduce the swelling, then increase circulation so your system can work efficiently again.  It takes time.

Give it at least about four or five months to see any results.  I’ve taken Chinese herbs twice for lymphedema. The first time was after I had lymphedema for over 15 years.  It took four months of herbs before I saw any improvement, then it improved steadily.  But up until month four, I was skeptical.  That’s natural of course, but to me you have to hang in there because the results are so worth it.

Second time, a few years later, my legs started to swell again.  This time it only took me about three weeks to get a reduction in swelling, probably because I was starting from a much better position.  I’m hoping I can continue it long enough this time to see if I can get rid of it altogether.  That remains to be seen, but the message is, you need to give it time.  It’s worth it!

#3 Don’t just try acupuncture

Acupuncture had always been my go-to health tool.  However, it is not enough to help reduce lymphedema long-term.  I went to see three different acupuncturists and didn’t get any meaningful results.

While it might temporarily relieve the swelling and increase lymph circulation, you are looking for long term results, not symptom control.  Save your resources and time for Chinese herbs.  Tui na massage can help too, but it seems the herbs are the main tool here for this condition.

#4 Do screen providers carefully 

Just as if you were finding a new doctor, be sure to choose carefully.  Some providers will be better than others.  It’s also important that you can communicate with your provider.  At times that can be difficult if they are from China, but just try to find someone who you feel comfortable with.   I like to consult Yelp! and other review websites to read any reviews out there.

And, ideally find someone who has experience treating lymphedema.  That may help you get results faster.

I recommend emailing or calling ahead and asking if they’ve treated anyone with lymphedema.  It’s not a deal breaker if they haven’t, since not many people think of Chinese medicine for lymphedema, but if you can find someone who has treated it successfully then that’s all the better for you.

#5  Ask providers how they can assure herb purity

There’s not a lot of risks with Chinese medicine as there are with surgery, for example, but that doesn’t mean it’s totally risk free.  The biggest risk I am aware of is getting herbs that are contaminated with pesticides or heavy metals. This can be extremely dangerous, so it’s vital to research.

Always ask a prospective provider where they get their herbs and how they can assure you that the herbs are free of lead and other contaminants.  Ideally, ask them to put it in writing.  Yes, it’s that important..,there have been instances where people are healed by Chinese herbs, but the herbs were high in lead, so the people ended up getting poisoned by lead.  Fortunately it’s rare but the stakes are high, so do your homework and ask.

#6  Support your body in healing while being treated

For those of us with lymphedema, no matter how you got it, there’s something we all have in common:  we suffer from a compromised lymphatic system. So to support your healing, you’ve got to do the best you can to make things easy for your body.

What can you do?

  1. Eat well…and ideally that means plant-based, but if not do everything you can to eat a lot of veggies and fruits every day. Emphasize green veggies like spinach, broccoli, kale, swiss chard, etc. that are incredibly healing.  If you aren’t comfortable cooking with them and don’t like them, blend them up in a green smoothie.
  2. Don’t smoke and remove yourself from areas where there’s second hand smoke or pollution, when possible.
  3. Don’t get tattoos, since those have been shown to impact your lymph nodes. If you’re already dealing with a compromised lymphatic system, is it worth the risk?
  4. Minimize the toxins that enter via your skin by using natural cleaning and beauty products.
  5. Stay active—keep your lymph moving by walking more, sitting less. Every day.  You’ve got to keep moving.

Basically, do everything you can to help support your body in getting better.  That will help build the momentum necessary to help your body better deal with lymphatic issues.

#7 Give your provider feedback

Because they are attempting to heal you and not just address the symptom, you need to be an active participant in your treatment.  That means giving your provider feedback.  Are you feeling better or worse?  While it’s not uncommon to feel worse before you feel better, keep on the lookout for reactions.  If you have a bad reaction, you might have an allergy.  Stop taking the herb and contact your provider.

In general, Chinese herbs should make you feel better all around: you should feel more energy (or calmer if you’re stressed out), sleep better, etc.  if that’s not occurring be sure to communicate so your herbal formula can be adjusted accordingly

Good luck!

Have you had experience with Chinese herbs for lymphedema?  Please share your experience!