Herbal medicine is very different from our modern concepts of nutrition science. A good example is how oyster shells are regarded as a supplement. I had a patient who unfortunately found this out the hard way.
The patient complained of anxiety and sweating and when asked, said she felt warm at times. This is a well understood dynamic in herbal medicine. The basic concept is that the body is weak or "low on energy" resulting in not enough energy for will power and emotional control. In Traditional Chinese medicine it is understood that this is tied to the movement and control of water in the body, thus the increase in sweating and the warm feelings. The treatment involves herbs that nourish and strengthen the body to help bring this under control. Many of these types of formulas contain heavy dense materials that provide an anchoring feel to the body. Sometimes various minerals are used. In this case I determined that the best choice was a specific herbal formula to nourish her body, but that it needed to be modified with oyster shell to provide the "heavy anchor" to help stabilize the immediate concern of the anxiety. Wanting to use the convenience of pill form herbs, I prescribed the main formula and told the patient to take the herbal pills with commonly available oyster shell calcium supplement.
When the patient went to buy the calcium supplement, the vitamin expert at the store told the patient that oyster shell supplements were the worst form of calcium, that it doesn't absorb well into the body, and that anyone who would tell her to take oyster shell supplements was an idiot. The anxious, confused patient came back to me wondering what to do. I told her that the person was right that oyster shell does not absorb well, and that is why I prescribed it. Unlike those who are looking for more calcium I was trying to use a heavy herb to calm her system. I sent her to another store.
There are several seashells and even the pearl coating of shells used in herbal medicine. They are generally regarded as "cold and heavy" in nature and are used to calm the stomach and also as a part of formulas for emotional control and infections. In all of these cases the absorbability of calcium is not the main concern, but rather the utilization of a material that does not digest well and has specific affect because of that poor absorbability. This is very different from the nutritional concept of why you should take various supplements, and points out the difference between a supplement and a medicine.
— David Bock
This article was from David's LakeCountryOnline.com column, "The Practical Herbalist"
David Bock, C. Ac., Dipl. OM, FABORM
Wisconsin Certified Acupuncturist
National Board Certification in Oriental Medicine
Fellow American Board Of Oriental Reproductive Medicine
Bock Acupuncture & Herbal Medicine
888 Thackeray Trail #206
Oconomowoc, Wisconsin 53066