Traditional Chinese Medicine for Children

An Alternative to Antibiotics

By Kathleen Rushall

Originally published in Body Sense, Spring/Summer 2009.

In today’s world, even healthy children are vulnerable to common allergies, illnesses, and viruses, and, more often than not, antibiotics are used to treat them—a practice that can lead to overuse. Bacteria can become resistant to antibiotics when they are over-prescribed, leaving these children susceptible to stronger, more resistant bugs.

One alternative to antibiotics is traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). With its Chinese herbal therapy, massage, acupuncture, and specific dietary guidelines, TCM offers a gentle, subtle approach for working with pediatric health concerns. Some of the problems TCM can address include colds, ear infections, allergies, and skin problems such as eczema.

In a 2004 study performed by the University of Michigan and the Beijing Heart, Lung, and Blood Vessel Research Center, 102 children who took Chinese herbal medicine for their mild, intermittent asthma were compared with 109 children with similar asthma who used only Western medicine. The latter were three times more likely to make hospital emergency department visits, twice as likely to report symptoms, and five times as likely to use bronchodilators as children using Chinese herbal medicine.1

Parents can learn techniques used in tui na massage, a practice meant to reenergize a person’s qi (life force), open the body’s defensive abilities, and get the energy moving in both the meridians and the muscles. When it comes to massage, the therapeutic power of touch, especially in infants and very young children, is an often underestimated form of healing.2

Pediatric Enuresis

TCM can extend to conditions such as bed-wetting, also known as pediatric enuresis. In fact, this is a common condition effectively addressed by TCM. In 2002, Dr. Zhao Ling performed a study using Chinese herbs to aid pediatric enuresis. His findings were published in the Sichuan Journal of Chinese Medicine (#8, 2002), and were extremely positive. An herb formula called Yi Qi Suo Niao Yin (Boost the Qi & Reduce Urine beverage), composed of 15 different Chinese herbs, was applied to 20 children, with each formula personalized to the child’s age, size, and level of the condition. Each treatment took seven days, and in 15 of the 20 cases, symptoms disappeared after just one treatment. There was an obvious decrease in bed-wetting in the 15 children after five treatments; after 20 treatments, 10 of the children were cured altogether.3


Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is another common condition in children that can be addressed with TCM. According to TCM theory, ADHD is caused by the deficiency of kidney yin energy. Chinese herbal formulas with yin energy tonic herbs are often used. The herbs commonly used include Acori graminei root, Anemarrhena root, Dioscorea opposita, Phellodendron bark, Polygala root, and Rehmannia root.

In the late 1980s and early ’90s, Yonghong Zhang and colleagues performed a series of studies testing the effects of TCM on children with ADHD. One such study treated 326 children ages 4 to 16 with a Chinese herbal formula called jing ling extract. The herbal extract was given to the children twice a day for three months. They reported that 31.9 percent of the cases were cured (this includes the disappearance of all clinical symptoms, significant improvement in school records, negative coordinate movement test, and no recurrence for six months). Including improved cases, the effectiveness rate was 94.8 percent. Zhang also tested a similar formula, jing ling pill, in a separate open trial with 557 children (454 males and 103 females) ages 4 to 16. The pills were given twice a day for up to six months. They found that 144 cases (25.8 percent) were cured with an effectiveness rate of 92.8 percent.4

Acupuncture and Diet

TCM’s acupuncture for children is performed with great care and is a more moderate version of that given to adults. Usually only two to three points on the body are attended, fewer than the average adult treatment. Children are actually more responsive to acupuncture than adults, so the length of treatment is shorter. If the child or parent has an aversion to the use of needles, there are a number of related treatments that don’t require the actual insertion of needles. One is a Japanese style of pediatric acupuncture (shonishin), which involves brushes, combs, and rollers to stimulate various acupuncture points and channels of the child’s body. The skin is never pierced and the child’s qi is still balanced. Many children find this treatment very soothing.5

Dietary changes are another important element in Oriental medicine. Breast milk is highly encouraged for infants, and if a breastfed baby has health problems, the mother’s diet is often examined as well. Dairy products and food additives are believed to create phlegm and toxicity and are some of the first irritants to be evaluated. In Chinese medicine, the lungs and large intestine are yin/yang-paired organs, meaning that one affects the other. For a child with breathing difficulties, a dietary change and improvement in the large intestine could greatly aid the lungs as well. Getting children to drink water at a young age is encouraged, especially in place of high fructose fruit juices.6

Using Western and Eastern medicine in tandem can provide optimal health for kids of all ages. Both parents and doctors are becoming more aware of the benefits that this ancient wisdom can offer to the smallest of patients.

Kathleen Rushall is a public relations editorial assistant at the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine in San Diego, California. Contact her at


  1. 11th Annual Symposium on Complementary Health Care 2004. (accessed December 1, 2008). 2. Soma Click, “Treating Children with Oriental Medicine,” Acupuncture Today 3 (October 2002): 110. 3. The Children’s Clinic. (accessed December 1, 2008). 4. YH Zhang et al. “Clinical studies of 326 cases of ADHD children with Chinese herbal medicine,” Proc. Beijing Coll. Traditional Chinese Medicine 10, 3 (1987): 27. (accessed December 1, 2008). 5. Rebecca Wilkowski, “Creating Healthy Children with Chinese Medicine,” Lightworks (September 2000). 6. Soma Glick, “Treating Childhood Eczema with Acupuncture and Chinese Herbs,” Acupuncture Today 6, 3 (March 2005).