Chinese Alternative Medicine or most commonly known as traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is the use of different mind and body practices as well as herbal medicines to prevent and treat various health problems. It is over 2,000 years old and originated in Eastern Asian regions like China, Vietnam, Japan, Korea and Tibet. These are ancient practices that are usually designed to restore balance and harmony in the human body. TCM stimulates the body’s natural curative powers. Today, many people use it as a complementary health approach.
Key principles/concept behind Chinese alternative medicine
Practiced for several thousand years in Asia, Chinese alternative medicine was born out of the theory of Yin and Yang. An example of Yin and Yang in nature is the dynamic balance between the moon (yin) and the sun (yang). Their perfect 24-hour rhythm and overall balance perfectly describes our body’s parts and functions. Our body’s parts and functions, like yin and yang, are in a constant state of dynamic balance and harmony. When diseases come in, the balance is disrupted so an expert uses Chinese alternative medicine to restore the harmony that has been lost. Yin, in the body, is expressed as form, stillness and blood while Yang represents function, activity and Qi (life force or energy).
The advocacy in Chinese alternative medicine, both medically and philosophically, is the moderation of all things while striving for harmony and balance. In TCM, the life force or Qi (pronounced as chi), is an invisible energy that is blocked when a person has a disease but is free-flowing when the person is healthy. Chinese alternative practitioners then perform different techniques to take off the blockage, thus cure the patient.
Chinese Medicine Techniques - There are different methods employed by traditional Chinese medicine which include:
- Acupuncture - Basically, Acupuncture uses very fine needles that, when inserted on the body’s surface, can influence the physiological functioning of the body. The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine, known to be the oldest medical textbook in the world (4,700 years old), records the first act of Acupuncture. The father of Chinese Medicine, Shen Nung, is said to have written it down. The human body has 2,000 acupuncture points which are connected together by 12 main pathways, and 8 secondary pathways called meridian. These pathways are believed to conduct chi (life force) between the surface of the body and its corresponding internal organs. It is also assumed that every acupuncture point corresponds to different internal organs and systems in the body. The theory behind how acupuncture works stands on acupuncture being able to stimulate the nervous system after an illness has caused pain impulses to be blocked from reaching the spinal cord or the brain. When the points are inserted with needles, it connects acupuncture points thus allows the flow of chi to break those blocks, making the person healthy again. Although acupuncture uses needles, they are not designed to hurt or cut the skin.
- Moxibustion - Moxibustion is a Chinese traditional medicine that uses mugworth over acupoints. Acupoints are baked with burning moxa wool and is based on two aspects: the roles of moxa and fire and the actions of the meridian system. This is used to stimulate your body’s flow of chi and get rid of pathogenic influences. They can be applied two ways: direct or indirect. Practitioners use acupuncture needles for indirect way of burning mugworth. But others also directly burn the dried plant on the patient’s skin. In most pregnant women, the herb Artemesia vulgaria is usually burned close to the skin of the fifth toes of both the feet with the aid of a moxa stick.
- Tui Na Massage - Tui Na Massage uses Chinese Taoist principles and is a hands-on body treatment. Practitioners usually rub, or press the eight gates or the 8 specific areas between each of the joints. This is performed to get rid of the blockage in chi and get the energy flowing in the muscles and meridians. It comes from two action words Tui and Na which means to push and to lift or squeeze.
- Cupping/Scraping - Scraping or Gua sha is a Chinese alternative medicine that applies the method of scraping the skin so as to produce light bruising. It is believed to stimulate blood flow and healing as well as release unhealthy elements caused by injury in some areas of the body. Cupping, on the other hand, uses a cup applied to acupuncture points and in certain body parts that are affected by pain, either by heat or suction.
- Chinese Nutrition - Through comprehensive medical study, Chinese alternative medicine practitioners have laid down their unique dietary plan and recommendations. This mostly centers on five tastes- bitter, sweet, sour, spicy, and salty. They believe that each taste is drawn to specific organ systems of the body.
- Chinese herb - Most TCM practitioners use treatments out of herbs. The most popular herbs used are Ginseng, Ginkgo, Wolfberry, Astragalus, Mushrooms, Cinnamon and Ginger.
Concept of disease and eight principles of diagnosis
In Chinese Alternative medicine, the symptoms in diseases are grouped in eight principles:
- Exterior- Diseases that are caused by exogenous pathogenic factors invading the body’s surface.
- Interior- Diseases that are caused by pathogens entering the interior part of the body.
- Cold- Symptoms include cold limbs, pallor and cold urine.
- Heat- Symptoms include a warm body, constipation and flushed face.
- Deficiency (Xu) - Symptoms include weakness, lethargy and sleepiness.
- Excess (Shi) - Diseases caused by an overabundance of something in the body
- Yin- People with quiet personalities. Cold and deficiency belong to Yin.
- Yang- People who are outgoing and dynamic. Heat, Excess and Exterior belong under Yang.
Effectiveness as per research studies
The NIH (National Institutes of Health) has conducted a conference in 1997 that provided sufficient proof of acupuncture’s physiological and clinical value. The trials they conducted achieved positive results on the effectiveness of acupuncture. FDA (Food and Drugs Administration) has also deemed acupuncture needles as safe for general use by certified practitioners. Although researches have focused on acupuncture and the effectiveness of Chinese herbs in prevention and treatments, more studies are still ongoing for moxibustion, tui na massage and other TCM techniques, in its safety and value.
Side effects and risks
- Acupuncture needles are being regulated by the Food and Drugs Administration as medical apparatuses that need to be nontoxic, sterile and can only be used by professional licensed practitioners. Non-sterile needles may bring adverse effects on patients’ health and well-being.
- Moxibustion have also caused, in some cases, allergic reactions and burns to patients.
- Cupping leaves mark on the skin which is usually temporary and should not be mistaken for signs of disease.
- Some Chinese herbal medicines which are branded as safe can be toxic when contaminated with other drugs. One example is Ma Huang, a Chinese herb that has been linked to trigger heart attack and stroke.