Traditional Chinese Medicine
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Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is the name given to the collective holistic therapies of Chinese medicine. It is one of the most popular complementary and alternative medicines.
It's been used in China and other parts of East Asia as a health care system for thousands of years for a variety of health and disease problems. Acupuncture, herbal medicine, gua sha, tai chi and qi gong are all ancient forms of health care and disease prevention systems.
Although the name implies that it originated from China, it's actually the same form of medicine practised in the whole of Asia and should really be referred to as oriental medicine.
It's use has seen a dramatic increase in western countries over the last few decades and is being accepted by western medicine.
TCM practitioners believe in vital energy, called qi, which is different to conventional medicine. They use various therapies to boost and regulate this energy force to improve health and disease. It's core theory is that of yin and yang and the believe that mind, body and spirit are one.
At the core of TCM theory is the concept of yin and yang. Yin is female, moon, night time and water, whilst Yang is male, sun, daytime and fire. It represents the duality of our universe and the world we live in. Most things can be divided into either yin or yang. By understanding if there is too much Yang or not enough yin, TCM practitioners can restore ill health.
The Five Elements or Phases is one of the most important theories in Chinese medicine after yin and yang theory. Each internal organ has an element, for example, the Heart is Fire and generates Earth, the Spleen. Earth in turn generates Metal, the Lung, which generates water, the Kidney and that generates wood, the Liver which then generates Fire. By understanding which Element is too much and which is too little, TCM practitioners are able to rebalance them and thereby restore good health.
Each internal organ also has an associated emotion, for example the Heart has joy, the Spleen worrying, the Lung sadness and grief, the Kidneys fear and will power and the Liver frustration and anger. Each of these emotions will affect it's associated internal organ.
4. Types of traditional Chinese medicine
There are 9 different TCM treatments that are used on the human body and include:
- Acupuncture treatment
- Moxibustion therapy
- Cupping therapy
- Gua sha
- Chinese herbal medicine (herbal remedies)
- Tuina (massage)
- Chinese food therapy (dietary supplements)
- Chinese lifestyle optimisation
- Exercises such as tai chi, qi gong and kung fu
Most qualified practitioners of TCM will know these different forms of TCM.
5. Regulation and training
Regulation and training into TCM varies greatly outside of China. Some countries such as Canada and Australia regulate TCM and have standardised training. However, the USA and most of Europe are still behind and haven't regulated acupuncture or Chinese herbal medicine.
My education and training was a full 5 year degree, which is the same as in China. However, this level of education is rare and most acupuncturists just do a 3 year part time degree.
Research has shown that acupuncture, cupping, gua sha and tai chi, qi gong are very safe. There have been some reports of incorrect herbs being used by non-professionals which have caused problems. Otherwise, herbs are safer and have less side effects than pharmaceutical drugs.
There is a growing body of high quality clinical trials that supports the effectiveness of acupuncture for a wide range of conditions, such as chronic pain. Tai chi and qi gong are well known for their de-stressing properties. Chinese herbs have been used for thousands of years to treat a wide range of health problems. A lot of pharmaceutical drugs originate from herbs.
8. Research into TCM
The National Institutes of Health list evidence based systematic reviews that support it's therapeutic benefits for many health problems.
9. Video introductions to TCM practices
Chinese herbal medicine video
Watch the video below which explains how Chinese herbal products work.
Watch the video below which explains how acupuncture works by affecting the flow of qi.