Dr. Jahn – what do you think of the claims made by some people that using Chinese herbs is the key to vocal health?
Greg, a healthy voice can only come from a healthy body (and a healthy mind). This is a fact that is beyond conjecture and, to those who pause to think about it, it is simply self evident.
The replacement of a harmful diet, one that is low in nutrients, antioxidants and roughage with a healthy one is the first order of the day. The healthiest diet is a vegetarian or vegan diet, full of dark leafy greens, fresh fruit and complex carbs, a diet which avoids animal fats (often full of organically dissolved heavy metals and other toxins) and animal protein in general.
Traditional Chinese Medications
Regarding Chinese herbs, this is a complex and somewhat murky area in my opinion. Dietetics in Traditional Chinese Medicine is an important method of health maintenance – the Chinese treat food as medicine, and use specific foods to treat specific conditions.
The problem, however, comes when origin, contents and processing of herbal medications is not known. The Chinese have been known to use plants which are contaminated, and have even secretly added Western type medications to herbal compounds to make them more effective. So, Chinese herbs that lower cholesterol have may have been adulterated with statin type drugs. I am therefore uncomfortable with a flat-out assertion that Chinese herbs can fix the voice.
Vocal production is complex, with many physical and psychological aspects – things can go wrong for many reasons, including the singer’s intrinsic constitution, the vocal task, the environment, and others. Adding the Western tendency to think that, if a little bit is good, a lot is better, and you have a potential problem. For example, a number of Chinese foods (such as tree ear mushroom) thin the blood – good if you want to avoid a blood clot, less good if you are concerned about potential vocal fold hemorrhage.
For most vocal problems, there is no single cause and no single method of treatment. Any treatment needs also to be monitored to obtain optimal results without side effects or unintended injury.
-Anthony F. Jahn, MD, FACS, FRCS(C)
This discussion is for general information and not to be construed as specific medical advice that you should obtain from your own physician.
Dr. Jahn is an internationally renowned otolaryngologist based in Manhattan with a sub-specialty interest in the professional voice. His practice includes classical and popular singers. He holds academic appointments at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and Westminster Choir College in Princeton. He is Medical Director at Jazz at Lincoln Center, and former Director of Medical Services at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Dr. Jahn has published several books for vocalists, including “Vocal Heath for Singers” (Singdaptive) and “The Singer’s Guide to Complete Health” (Oxford University Press).