Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)
What is Traditional Chinese Medicine?
Everything you want to know
Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is an ancient form of healthcare that has been practiced for thousands of years. It is a holistic approach to health and wellness, with an emphasis on the use of natural remedies such as herbs, acupuncture, and massage to treat a wide range of conditions.
TCM can be used to treat everything from headaches and allergies to depression and anxiety.
Let’s explore the power of Traditional Chinese Medicine and how it can help.
Traditional Chinese Medicine
Ancient traditional medicine that utilizes acupuncture, cupping, herbal remedies, massage, and movement to restore balance and treat illness.
The Power of Traditional Chinese Medicine
Traditional Chinese medicine is based on the principles of energy that are part of your constitution, your innate makeup, and the factors that influence that energy. Our bodies are composed of two opposing forces—yin and yang—which need to be balanced in order for us to achieve optimum health.
Health is achieved with the balance of external forces, such as nutrition to stress to sleep, and your internal forces.
In TCM, yin and yang represent the two opposite but complementary forces of energy that make up the universe. Yin is associated with cold, dark, passive energy while yang is associated with hot, bright, active energy. These energies are constantly interacting and influencing each other in the world around us.
Yin and yang are seen as two halves of a whole — a unified power that can be used to maintain balance in the body. By understanding and utilizing these energies, we can work to restore balance in our lives and prevent illness. This is why TCM views wellness as an ongoing process of managing energy levels through diet, exercise, meditation and other lifestyle changes. By striking the perfect balance between yin and yang, we can achieve optimal health and well-being.
Five Basic Elements
In traditional Chinese medicine, the five elements—wood, fire, earth, metal and water—represent the various types of energy in nature. These elements are believed to be connected with different organs in the body, and each type of energy has its own unique qualities which can have an effect on our health.
The five elements are related to health and illness in that each element is associated with certain characteristics—such as growth, development and balance. Imbalance of any of these elements can lead to physical and mental issues.
For example, an imbalance in fire energy could cause insomnia or excessive anger while too much metal energy might be expressed as depression or anxiety.
By understanding the relationships between the five elements and their associated organs, TCM practitioners can design treatments to restore balance in the body.
Five Vital Substances
The five vital substances in Traditional Chinese Medicine are QI, Xue (Blood), Jinye (Body Fluids, Jing (Essence), and Shen (Spirit). Qi is the life force that powers the movement of the body, while blood nourishes the organs. Body fluids lubricate the joints and nourish the tissues. Essence is made up of hormones and other substances that help to regulate the body’s functions, while spirit helps to give us mental clarity and emotional balance.
By understanding how these substances interact in our bodies, TCM practitioners can use treatments such as herbal remedies or acupuncture to restore harmony and balance.
These elements are believed to be directly related to health and illness. Imbalance of any element can lead to an unhealthy body, mind, or spirit. The goal of traditional Chinese medicine is to balance the elements in order to maintain good health and prevent disease. This is done through diet, exercise, meditation, acupuncture, herbal remedies, massage
TCM treatments start with an evaluation of your overall health and includes a comprehensive medical history. Then, the practitioner will use various diagnostic tools such as pulse and tongue diagnosis, palpation of the abdomen, and physical examination to determine what type of treatment is needed.
Six Traditional Techniques
We often think of acupuncture being synonymous with TCM. However, acupuncture is just one component of a TCM practice. There are six traditional Chinese medicine techniques.
The six traditional Chinese medicine techniques are:
- Acupuncture – Inserting thin needles into specific points on the body to stimulate energy flow and address health issues.
- Herbal Medicine – The use of natural herbs, roots and plants to treat illness or restore balance in the body.
- Moxibustion – Burning moxa, a dried herb, over acupuncture points to stimulate energy flow.
- Cupping – Placing heated glass or bamboo cups over the body to create suction and increase circulation.
- Gua Sha – Using a special tool to scrape or rub the skin surface in order to improve circulation and relieve pain.
- Movement and concentration – Tai Chi and Qi Gong are two forms of exercise which combines physical movements, meditation and breathing exercises to promote holistic healing.
Evidence to support TCM
There is a growing body of evidence to support the use of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) as an effective treatment for health and wellness. Studies have found that acupuncture can be used to effectively relieve pain, reduce stress, improve digestion, and help with insomnia, fatigue, depression, anxiety and headaches. In addition, some studies have found that herbal remedies can help to reduce inflammation, improve immunity and even prevent certain diseases. Acupuncture for infertility has been studied and shown effective.
Most reviews and studies of TCM conclude similarly: there is evidence to support its use in many conditions but there need to be more high-quality studies. This leads to the question of funding this research.
The 2023 NIH Research Budget for Complementary and Integrative Medicine is $583 million dollars. Traditional Chinese Medicine is included as part of this category, along with other integrative medicine practices such as chiropractic, mind-body medicine, and nutritional therapies. This is approximately 1.2% percent of the NIH annual $45 billion dollar budget. The amount of money allocated specifically to TCM is a fraction of that 1.2%.
The consistent conclusion for more, high-quality studies to support the efficacy of TCM indicates this may not be enough funding to adequately support the necessary research.
The need for research is great and there is promising evidence that TCM may be a safe alternative or complement to traditional therapies. However, it will most likely be a very long time before TCM is adequately evaluated using our current funding system.
The other inherent challenge with studying acupuncture and TCM is in the individualized approach that is the foundation of treatment. Science requires constants to evaluate cause and effect. Since TCM is based on an evaluation of the individual and an understanding that their symptoms, though possibly consistent with another individual’s symptoms, may require different treatment, it is therefore an inherent challenge to research based on diagnosis and treatment.
What should you do in absence of high-quality research?
Traditional Chinese Medicine has been a medical approach for over 3000 years. While not considered scientific evidence, this is also not something to dismiss lightly. Research is also meant to evaluate risks as well as benefits and acupuncture is largely a safe treatment. It comes with risks as any treatment, but the most common risks of acupuncture treatment are bruising or soreness at the points where needles are inserted.
Other rare but more serious risks include infection, punctured organs, and nerve damage. As with any medical procedure, it is important to research potential practitioners and make sure they are properly trained before undergoing treatment.
Many people are drawn to integrative medicine practices, such as TCM and acupuncture because they have limited answers with conventional medicine or want to complement their existing health plan with more holistic, natural remedies.
If you are interested in acupuncture, make sure to work with a licensed and certified practitioner who is experienced in the field. Ask questions and discuss your options with them before committing to any treatments.
In the end, it is up to you to decide what type of care works best for you. What questions do you have about acupuncture and TCM? Any success stories you’d like to share?