Traditional Chinese Medicine

What is it?

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) focuses on balance and energy work to treat illness. The two main concepts behind TCM are:

  1.  The energy force called Qi (pronounced “chee”) flows throughout the body along pathways called meridians. If the flow of Qi is blocked or unbalanced along these meridians, then illness occurs. Causes for imbalance can be external influences such as environment, internal forces such as emotions, and lifestyle factors such as diet, sleep, exercise, etc. 
  2. Opposing forces that encompass all life are called yin and yang. Yin symbolizes dark, night, coldness, feminine and the negative while yang is  light, day, warmness, positiveness and the masculine. Good health is dependent on these two forces to maintain balance.

TCM practitioners evaluate disease and illness by looking at how the body, mind, and spirit are balanced in a person. Their goal is to restore the qi flow and yin-yang balance, and they use this to guide to help them decide what treatment options to implement. 

Common TCM therapies include:

  • Acupuncture: thin metal needles are placed along the body energy meridians to facilitate flow
  • Acupressure: direct pressure using hands and fingers are used along body meridians to help with energy flow
  • Chinese herbs: formulations that include herbs, roots, powders and animal substances are used to restore balance physiologically
  • Cupping: uses warm air in glass jars to create a suction effect, facilitating qi energy flow throughout the body meridians
  • Diet: foods considered high in yin or yang are recommended to create physiological balance in the body
  • Massage: helps release tension and blocked energy flows in certain parts of the body
  • Moxibuston: uses small amounts of heated moxa or Chinese mugwort on specific areas of the body or on acupuncture needles to help stimulate qi energy flow
  • Qi gong and Tai Chi: uses movement, breathing and meditation to facilitate energy flow and create balance

Brief History:

TCM is considered an ancient form of medicine, dating back more than 3,000 years ago. Evidence in writings have dated back to 200 BCE. Throughout the years, TCM has evolved from being practiced by local healers and verbally passed onto families, to its own modern medical system. In the 1950s and 1960s, the Chinese government formally recognized TCM, and in the early 1970s TCM was introduced to the United States. Today, most hospitals in China offer a Western and Chinese medicine approach, with acupuncture and massage most commonly utilized. In the United States and other parts of the world, some TCM practices have been recognized and even referred to as adjunct therapies.

Does it work? 

Out of all the complementary therapies around, TCM has been the most rigorously studied, notably around acupuncture and herbal therapies. Although we still don’t completely understand the mechanism of how acupuncture works, and most studies have been inconclusive due to differences in study design, sample size, and other factors, there is growing evidence that supports that acupuncture is safe and effective. The NIH Consensus Development Conference concluded that acupuncture is an effective treatment for a wide range of conditions, including postoperative and chemotherapy related nausea and vomiting; however, more studies need to be done that demonstrates effectiveness in well-designed, randomized, and controlled trials. The same can be said for herbal medicines used. Chinese herbal medicine has been studied for medical conditions including stroke, heart disease, mental disorders, and respiratory disease, yet there is a lack of high quality studies that can definitely  conclude it’s effectiveness. 

Who is it for?

Although studies conducted have not been consistent in regards to quality, according to News Medical, an estimated 1 million people turned to TCM in the US  in 1997, with this number growing throughout the US and other Western countries. Many people who have turned to TCM have done so when conventional treatments proved ineffective. Those who are open to TCM should find an experienced and trained practitioner to work with and consult their physician before engaging in any new treatments.