Dr. Li is among a group of doctors who believe that traditional Chinese medicine can help treat food allergies and asthma. In fact, some doctors argue that these Chinese treatments may do a better job of treating asthma and food allergy than the regimens currently prescribed by doctors in this country.
Traditional Chinese medicine has used botanical sources - plants like ginger, rhododendron and forsythia - to promote health for thousands of years. "In China, the system is different from ours," says Li. "Traditional Chinese medicines are used in the hospitals, and physicians are trained in using them. Here, traditional Chinese medicine is treated like a dietary supplement."
Food allergies and asthma are huge health problems in this country, especially for kids. Of the 12 million Americans with food allergies, 3 million are children. What's more, the problem is growing: The incidence of food allergy has doubled over the past 10 years. And asthma is even more common: 38 million Americans have it, including 6 million kids.
Meanwhile, the Chinese system seems to work better for responding to these two problems. "Food allergy in China is rare," says Li. "Asthma is not rare in China, but it is much less common than in the United States. In China, 3% of the population has asthma. That number is 10% in the U.S."
Who can benefit: The people who have the most to benefit from the aggressive research being done on traditional Chinese medicine are people with persistent or severe asthma that makes them steroid dependent, and people who have food allergies to peanuts, fish, shellfish or tree nuts.
Traditional treatment: Traditionally, the treatment for food allergy has been straightforward and low-tech: avoidance. "If you are allergic to a certain food, then you avoid that food," explains Li. If you're allergic to peanuts, then you fastidiously avoid eating peanuts and all peanut products; if you're allergic to shellfish, you avoid eating shellfish. When avoidance fails and patients consume the banned food, they can use a liquid antihistamine to control their allergic reaction, and then use an EpiPen to inject epinephrine if necessary.