Kanpō — Chinese Herbal Medicine — is making a comeback in Japan.  Thought to strengthen the body’s defenses during acute illnesses, kanpō’s role in Japanese medical care is more than just complementary:

A 2011 survey commissioned by the Japan Kampo Medicines Manufacturers Association showed that 89 percent of 627 doctors polled said they had some experience of prescribing kanpō for a wide range of complaints that included colds, constipation and menopausal difficulties. Many university hospitals have recently opened kanpō gairai, outpatient kanpō clinics, some of which have become so popular that patients have to wait for weeks to get an appointment.


Tomoko Otake points to the changes in medical school curricula with the adoption of kanpō (referred to as kampo in the West) by doctors in Japanese clinics and hospitals:


Doctors say that, on top of mounting patient demand for milder and less drastic approaches to ailments, the 2001 revisions to the “core curriculum” for the nation’s medical schools have changed doctors’ attitude to herbal treatments. The revised medical curriculum mandates that basic theories of kanpō medicine be taught to all medical students, which means that younger generations of Japanese doctors — all of whom must also be trained in Western medicine to practice medicine of any kind — are comfortable prescribing kanpō on a routine basis.

This is all good news for people seeking the best of Western and Oriental medicine — but it’s even better news that many kanpō treatments are covered by Japan’s national health insurance.


Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is very popular in the United States.  Broadly defined, CAM includes the use of common methods — individual and multi-vitamins for general well-being, hot tea and honey for sore throats, grandma’s chicken soup recipe for the flu, yogurt (and probiotics) for diarrhea, and other herbal and homeopathic remedies — as well as popular treatment modalities, such as deep tissue massage, acupuncture, chiropractic care, aromatherapy, and faith healing.

A recent Canadian study, published in Pediatrics and describing the use of CAM among chronically ill children, concluded:

 Results of this study indicate that CAM use is high among pediatric specialty clinic outpatients and is much greater in the western than in the central hospital. Most respondents felt that their CAM use was helpful with few or no harms associated. Many patients, using CAM alongside their conventional medicines, are still not discussing their CAM use with their physicians and are increasing the likelihood for potential interactions and preventable harms.


Those of us who practice conventional medicine should clearly see that we are being held out of the loop — by our patients who are reluctant to share the CAM therapies they are using as well as by our own ignorance.  We can blame it on our training:  there is no CAM training in most medical schools in the U.S.  We can blame it on arrogance:  hanging our hats on evidence-based methods, which produce gold standards of care.  Who would want anything less?

It turns out, a lot of people do.  For many people, less is more:  More control over the care they receive; more peace of mind that their treatments won’t cause nasty side effects; more savings that would otherwise be spent on expensive conventional treatments for illnesses that might just improve with a tincture of TLC and time.

It’s important to share with your child’s pediatrician the healing methods you prefer to use at home as well as the concerns you may have regarding the conventional tools we commonly use (like antibiotics, fever reducers, and vaccines) because CAM could potentially interfere with conventional suggestions (and visa versa).  Conversely, we need to keep an open mind to the possibilities that CAM treatments can work synergistically with conventional treatments.  There’s a lot we can both learn by just having a conversation.

Read article from The Japan Times here.

Read study in Pediatrics here.