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Acupuncture Today – May, 2014, Vol. 15, Issue 05

Enhancing TCM with Enzymes

By Mary Jennings, DC, LAc

Herbal formulations are an integral component for most Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioners. One of the best ways to enhance their effectiveness is the addition of plant-based enzymes.

Enzymes are energy and energy is defined as the "capacity to do work." Enzymes have the energy to perform the biochemical and physiological reactions that occur in all living things. The other components of our food supply, namely protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals, are only building blocks. They do not perform work. (Think of it this way: a bowl of rice is nourishing, and has nutrients for the body to use. By itself, the rice cannot break down and be used by the body. It requires "something more.") Enzymes are the something more. Enzymes digest food past an incompetent digestive system.

TCM is not only acupuncture. Most of our patients do not know this and most do not care. Patients only want a few things from us:

  1. Can you help me?
  2. How long will it take?
  3. How much will it cost?

Patients want results and they want to know we can help them reach their goals. Sometimes there are other questions:

  1. Do I "have to" do anything to feel better? (i.e. do I have to change?)
  2. Will this (the needles) hurt?
  3. Will insurance pay for any treatments?
  4. How "bad" (i.e. sick) am I really?
  5. Why couldn't anyone else help me? (This question is unusually later after they have made progress with their health issue.)

These last five questions may not even be verbalized right away, if ever.

When I consider my patients and their understanding of TCM, I liken it to my visits with my car mechanic. I know enough about cars to be dangerous – the location of my key ignition, and the difference between my accelerator and brake pedals. After this, I struggle quite a bit in understanding my "car care." When my car needs work, I do not always grasp what my mechanic is telling me. (But I trust he knows what my car needs and how to get it running again.) Sometimes, I just want them to fix the car and get on with my life. So, is this how my patients think when they initially come to my office?

We know TCM is acupuncture and herbal formulations. It is both treatments. Ted Kaptchuk in The Web That Has No Weaver discusses this approach from a yin/yang perspective. He writes, "The goal of all treatment methods in Chinese medicine is to rebalance those aspects of the body's Yin and Yang whose harmonious properties and movements have become disordered." The insertion of acupuncture needles, moxa, tuina, or GuaSha is considered a Yang treatment because it moves qi (energy) from the exterior (yang quality) to the interior (yin quality). We have the insertion of needles being an exterior event that affects the body's interior. In a similar fashion, herbs become the Yin treatment. Herbs are ingested, brought to the interior (yin quality) to nourish (yin quality) and move from the interior to the exterior. Looking at TCM, with both its exterior (acupuncture) and interior (herbs) branches, we see the balance and focus of yin and yang being preserved in these two core treatments. The primary goal of my TCM treatment is to increase the patient's qi and its harmonious circadian rhythm through the 12 primary meridians.

Herbal formulations nourish our body, but herbs cannot increase qi or energy. Herbs provide support for the meridians, but herbs cannot increase qi or energy. Herbs contain the building materials (proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals) for our bodies to use, but these alone cannot increase qi or energy. Herbs are very important, but what is missing? Enzymes.

Enzymes are the construction workers of the body. Enzymes are found in all living things. Plants use enzymes to bring the plant to maturity or ripeness. They are the driving force behind the vast majority of every biochemical process in the body. These enzymes will also digest the food (and herbs) we ingest. Howard Loomis in his book, Enzymes: The Key to Health, states, "But very few people know about the vital role nature planned for food enzymes to play in the digestion of our food."

So, how do enzymes and herbs work together? In order for the herbs to be used by the body, they must be completely digested and this process requires energy. Digestive enzymes are required to break the herbs into their fundamental building blocks for the body to use them efficiently and easily. Many TCM herbal formulations are not fresh, off-the-vine herbs. These medicinal herbs and plants are dried; some are prepared in different ways using heat and/or liquids (water extracts, alcohol tinctures). Temperatures above 118 degrees Fahrenheit destroy the enzymes found in our plants.

Adding plant-based enzymes to medicinal herbs enhance their healing properties. There is less digestive stress. The herbs are completely broken down to their basic building blocks. And this happens without my patients using their precious Stomach/Spleen Qi to do it. The body can use these nutrients to regain its qi and balance. Getting the most from my herbal formulations is key in helping my patients heal. They are coming to me sick and broken. It makes perfect sense to help them get the most from my recommendations as possible.

My treatment protocol includes:

  1. Education
  2. Acupuncture
  3. Whole herb formulations with plant-based enzymes.

This is the most effective way to help them get well and stay well. Once they see (even a small) success in their health and well being, they are excited and motivated. These are the patients who will want to know more about their health. They will bring family and friends to my office. I may not know much about cars, but I do know a great deal about clinical success with enzymes.


  1. Enzymes: The Key to Health, Howard F. Loomis, pp. xxi – xxii, and 85
  2. The Web That Has No Weaver, Ted J. Kaptchuk, pp. 79-83

Mary Jennings, DC, NCCAOM, LAc is a graduate of Palmer College of Chiropractic and a NCCAOM Diplomate, has been in practice for 21 years. She taught acupuncture as a post-graduate faculty member with National University of Health Sciences. She has a passion for improving her patients' health starting with the Earth Element and their digestive health. She can be contacted at .

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