Understanding Traditional Chinese Medicine

Understanding Traditional Chinese Medicine

You might have heard of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), but you may not be sure of what it involves and if it is right for you. Although TCM may not be right for every condition, it can be a good option for people in many circumstances. The first step is learning more about what TCM is and how it is used.

The Basics; What is Involved in Traditional Chinese Medicine?

The practice of Chinese medicine has been in existence for thousands of years, and originated in ancient China. It is one of the oldest healing systems on the planet. Although many facets of TCM have evolved over the years, the primary philosophies remain the same.

TCM involves a system of therapies that encompasses a variety of methods to treat illness and disease. Although the illness being treated may vary, the goal of treatment is to restore balance in the body. By restoring balance, it allows the body and mind to heal itself.

One of the unique aspects of TCM is that it takes a more holistic approach to treatment than conventional western medicine. Chinese medicine is intended to create wholeness within a person. Western medicine often treats specific symptoms or conditions, but may not focus on the entire body.

Practices used in TCM may vary and can include Chinese therapeutic massage (Tuina), acupuncture and Tai Chi. Herbal remedies may also be used to treat various conditions. Herbal medicine may include combinations of formulas derived from flowers, seeds, leaves and roots. The herbs are given in capsules, extracts, liquids, powders and teas.

Nutrition (TCM food therapy) and exercise are also used in TCM. Although some practices, such as massage and acupuncture, are mainstream and well known a few other therapies may not be. For instance, the practice of moxibustion may be unfamiliar to most people. It involves burning an herb near the skin to treat various conditions.

Benefits of Traditional Chinese Medicine

TCM can be beneficial for several reasons. One of the most obvious benefits is it can help you feel healthier and treat your ailments. But there are also additional benefits. For instance, TCM does not just focus on the physical body. Instead, it pays attention to the mind-body connection associated with disease and healing. For example, various practices of Chinese medicine can help you manage emotions that may affect physical health.

Another benefit is that TCM takes a natural approach to treating many conditions. It focuses on improving well-being through living a healthy lifestyle, such as with exercise, relaxation and eating nutritious foods. The result may not only improve a specific medical condition or disease, but it can mean an overall healthier life and further disease prevention.

TCM also teaches you how to understand what your body is telling you. It is common not to recognize or to ignore the symptoms and signs of illness until something more severe/complicated develops. But TCM also incorporates the importance of being in tune with your body.

It is also helpful to understand that some aspects of TCM can be used in conjunction with conventional Western medicine. For example, acupuncture and tai chi can be used along with common modalities such as chiropractic and massage therapy.

There are a wide variety of conditions that TCM may treat. These include diseases and illness such as:

  • Asthma
  • Low back pain
  • Headache
  • Arthritis
  • Bronchitis
  • Gastritis
  • GERD
  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Fertility problems
  • Symptoms of menopause
  • Ulcers

Safety and Considerations

Whether you are seeking treatment from a conventional doctor or a TCM practitioner, it is important to keep several safety tips and suggestions in mind including:

Don’t delay lifesaving emergency treatment.

TCM may not be appropriate in every situation. For instance, if you are having symptoms of a heart attack, such as chest pain or shortness of breath, emergency medical care is needed. Although TCM had been used for a wide variety of emergency care for many decades, it may not be the best option to treat emergencies or life-threatening conditions in this day and age.

Not everything that is considered “natural” is safe.

Although many aspects and practices associated with TCM are safe, there is not a lot of research yet on certain herbal remedies. Herbal remedies do not go through the same review or regulation process as pharmaceuticals. Don’t assume that something is safe just because it is made from a root or a plant.

Find a qualified Chinese medicine practitioner.

Just as you would with any doctor or dentist, it is essential to make sure a TCM practitioner is well qualified. In the United States, you can visit the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine website to locate a certified practitioner in your area. In Canadian provinces such as Ontario, visit the College of Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioners and Acupuncturists of Ontario.

Make sure your healthcare providers are on the same page.

Always talk with your doctor about any herbal medicines that you are taking, and also be sure to talk with your TCM practitioner if you plan to start taking a new medication. In some cases, herbal remedies and supplements can interact with medication and cause unwanted side effects.