Dr. Li and Her Chinese Herbal Remedies

in Features, Food Allergy
Published: December 15, 2015
Dr. Xiu-Min Li of Mount Sinai Medical Center at her lab in New York.Dr. Xiu-Min Li of Mount Sinai Medical Center at her lab in New York. Photo: Robert Caplin/The New York Times/Redux

Dr. Xiu-Min Li has a devoted following for her food allergy and eczema remedies. The question is: Can she overcome the skeptics to create a sanctioned therapy? From the Fall 2015 edition of Allergic Living magazine.

ANARIE MATCHETT developed severe allergies at the age of 14. “I ate nuts my entire life, and then one night, after cheerleading, my dad brought me to a Thai restaurant. When I went home, my face started swelling. We went to the hospital and I was anaphylactic.”

Despite avoiding nuts and peanuts as best she could, Anarie, from Collingwood, Ontario, continued to have reactions. She found herself in the hospital every couple of weeks, missing many days of school. Anarie’s worst reaction was on a canoe trip on a bay of Lake Huron, when she ate a piece of pita bread and suddenly got a sharp pain in her throat. Soon she was in full-blown anaphylaxis.

The teen had four epinephrine auto-injectors with her that a camp counselor administered in succession until she could be rescued by firefighters — who arrived in a canoe and got her to an ambulance that raced to hospital. “I was hooked up to all these IVs in the middle of nowhere. The doctors said it was a close call and I almost died.”

Anarie’s mom, Theresa Gregory, desperate to improve her daughter’s quality of life, took her to doctor after doctor. “I remember she took me to a big hospital in Toronto, and an allergist told her there was nothing on the horizon to help me for the next 30 years,” recalls Anarie. Gregory kept searching, and came across a doctor online, Xiu-Min Li, based in New York City, who was using Traditional Chinese Medicine or TCM to address food allergies. The family drove down, and Anarie was soon a patient.

In her Manhattan clinic, Li treats allergic patients with herbal medicines that she has taken from Traditional Chinese Medicine practices, and tweaked for eczema, food allergies and asthma. She gives patients tablets to take by mouth as well as body creams and teas to drink. She also employs other TCM practices, like acupuncture, to treat these diseases.

“I didn’t invent this,” says Li. “I just adapt what TCM already has, and use it for our purposes, with the new knowledge gained from our research.” Families come from all over the United States, from Canada, and some even cross the ocean in the hopes that Li can either rid their children of food allergies — or at least greatly reduce allergic sensitivity. Her patients are committed, even devoted to the unorthodox treatment plan. But can a 21st century disease be treated with methods that originated in ancient China?

FLORIDA MOM Danielle Bollettieri is a firm believer in Li’s Work. Her daughters, Willa Bay and Addie, have both grown up with food allergies. As they approached their teen years, Bollettieri wanted to give them some defense against accidental exposures to their allergens. “They are going to be in college before I know it, and I really wanted to send them off with some protection.” In January 2013, Bollettieri started bringing them to see an allergist, Dr. Scott Nash, for oral immunotherapy in his private practice in Raleigh, North Carolina.

A few months into OIT, in which tiny amounts of an allergen are consumed in gradually increasing amounts, Bollettieri heard, through a Facebook group, about Li and her herbs. Intrigued, in October 2013, nine months after starting OIT, she flew her daughters to New York to meet with Li.

Bollettieri was smitten. “She was so calm, so accepting. She understands the anxiety of being a parent of a kid with food allergies. She gave me a huge hug. Within a minute of meeting her, I just broke down and started to cry.”

When Li begins seeing a new patient, she asks them to bring blood work results, including complete blood count, liver and kidney function, total IgE antibody levels and IgE to specific foods and, at the first meeting, Li goes over their history and determines how she will treat them. Li develops a personalized “protocol” for each patient, which typically includes specific herbs a patient takes orally, as well as creams and herbal baths. If a patient has eczema, the doctor treats that first, and then moves on to other conditions. If they have indigestion, she’s got herbs for that, too.

Bollettieri’s daughters’ initial appointments included a physical exam (looking for eczema), an oral history and 15 minutes of acupressure. From there, Li sent the family home with herbs to take orally, herbs for the bath, and a body cream. For 14 months, they had monthly phone consultations with Li, during which the doctor tweaked their protocols when needed. Since then, they’ve touched base every two to three months.

Next: Questions about Dr. Li’s work