Healing Through Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)

As I mentioned previously, for several years after I was stung by the wasp, I had been hearing compelling stories of children with food allergies, asthma and eczema being healed with Chinese herbs. All of these families were seeing one doctor, Dr. Xiu-Min Li, who currently has dual professorships in the Departments of Microbiology and Immunology and Department of Otolaryngology at New York Medical College.

Her biography on the New York Medical College website states: “Dr. Li was educated in both TCM and Western medicine initially in China. She was a Visiting Scientist at Stanford in Pediatric Allergy, followed by a post-doctoral fellowship in Clinical Immunology at Johns Hopkins. She then moved to the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York as part of the founding team of the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute. Dr. Li has investigated the immunopathogenic mechanisms underlying food allergy and novel therapies for treating food allergy. She developed the first botanical investigational new drugs (INDs) approved by the FDA for clinical studies, one for treatment of food allergies and one for asthma. Both these drugs are still being studied and refined.”

Because of her vast amount of knowledge regarding food allergy and immunology, I determined that seeing a local Chinese medicine doctor was not going to give me the expertise that Dr. Li has. I contacted her in the summer of 2015 to ask if she would “take on” a highly sensitive adult patient in her private practice who not only has food allergies and a history of eczema, but also diagnoses for EoE and MCAS. Thankfully, she was brave and willing to do so! I was one of the first adults that she began to treat.

Most of Dr Li’s private practice patients travel to New York City to meet with her before they start treatment. However, it is VERY difficult for me to travel, with my limited number of foods where all have to be cooked prior to eating. And I was still very sick that year, and wasn’t sure I could travel that far by myself. Being an adult, she was willing to consult with me via telephone after receiving my battery of blood tests and endoscopy results for my diagnoses. I did go meet with her in person, in New York City, after several months of being a patient, and it was like meeting a rock star. She and I had developed a wonderful relationship through our monthly phone calls, and we hugged like old friends. She is always so patient and kind, and continued to encourage me to not push my body too much. She wanted for me to get better, and going slowly was the path that worked from her experience.

The first thing I learned was that Chinese medicine does not need to know my various diagnoses, such as MCAS. She viewed all of my issues (food allergies, eczema, EoE, MCAS) as inflammation, and that’s where we started.

The first herb I tried was called Digestion Tea. Given that I hadn’t been able to add anything new to my diet in years, I was very cautious about trying to swallow something new. She understood this, and had me start with 1/10 of the dose that she generally suggests for her new patients. Also, we started with just the one tea, and not with the numerous other herbs that she gives other new patients in pill form. Sadly, I wasn’t able to tolerate the tea, without those old familiar gut reactions. Here’s the benefit that I immediately saw with Dr. Li – she was able to switch me to topical application herbs in a cream that I put on my skin, the biggest organ of my body! Because of her vast knowledge of herbs and immunology, Dr. Li creates an individual protocol for each of her patients, and all of her herbs come directly from China.

I started slowly with the herbal cream, which had the consistency of guacamole, and the same color. I joked that I looked like Elphaba from the Broadway Musical, Wicked, when I applied the cream on my skin each morning after showering. Once again, I started very slowly, applying the cream to one small spot on one ankle. And then slowly increasing the area where I applied the herb. It took months to get up to the application of a thin layer of the herb over my entire body. Then, I began to apply a thicker layer over my body each morning after a shower. It took two years of applying just that herb before my body was calm enough to try another topical herb – this one in a foot patch that I applied overnight.

Once again, we started very slowly with just a few granules of the new herb for about 10 minutes. I slowly increased the amount of the time that the herb was on the bottom of my foot, and then slowly increased the amount of the herb. Then, I was able to add a second herb to the foot patch, using this same slow introduction. It took several months of this slow introduction before I was able to put the two herbs together in a foot patch overnight.

Once the summertime came around, I could feel the difference in my lack of reactions to the pollens in the air. I knew that the cream and the foot herbs were changing my body’s response to pollens. I could feel it! And that was so exciting to have some improvements without having to try to swallow a pill.

After one year of being on the foot patch overnight, I again tried the Digestion Tea, which is a combination of five different herbs. This time I started out with only a few granules in a drop of water. I wanted to start VERY slowly this time, even slower than before so that my body wouldn’t react. My body had calmed down enough to be able tolerate the tea! The experience of tasting something new in my diet – I had only been able to drink spring water prior to this – was so exciting!

I began to slowly increase the number of granules that I put into the tea, and also increase the amount of water in the tea. I drank the tea with breakfast and dinner every day.

There are a lot of herbs to manage on a daily basis with TCM, and exact measurements are necessary when you have a body as sensitive as mine is. I purchased a scale that can measure the herbs down to the milligram, which has been very helpful. I take the herbs exactly as prescribed by Dr. Li and I am 100% compliant. I really want to get well and to feel better.

I continue to have bi-monthly appointments with Dr. Li via telephone to discuss any issues that I’m having and the successes! I began to realize how much better I’m doing when I was asked by Dr. Li to rate my improvement. I’m far less reactive to smells and contact with the environment. I have much more energy. (That’s the real issue with mast cell degranulation for me – it zaps my energy). I’m far less anxious, and I’m sleeping so much better.

For me, TCM is more about how I feel than any blood test result. We aren’t trying to cure any food allergy. I’m willing to not eat the few foods that I’m allergic to. I’d like to be able to eat all those other foods that currently I can’t tolerate because of the MCAS/EoE issues, and we are going slow to begin to introduce new foods back into my diet!

My daughter has also been in Dr. Li’s private practice since the fall of 2017 to manage her symptoms of MCAS. She started with the foot patches first because she couldn’t tolerate the creams! Every patient is different. Her body began to calm down, and she’s now able to apply the herbal cream twice daily. She too has seen a dramatic decrease of her mast cell activation issues, has more energy and can eat a much wider variety of foods in her diet.

Dr. Li provides acupuncture when you visit her in person. Since she is in the New York City area, and I’m in Colorado, I found an acupuncturist in my city to give me regular acupuncture treatments. Dr. Li approved of this, and in fact encouraged it. I only received Chinese herbs from Dr. Li though. My local acupuncturist was fine with this arrangement.

To contact Dr. Li’s private practice and to become a patient, please see the Facebook page, Chinese Herbs for Allergies.

To read about More Healing and Setbacks, click here.