What is Chinese medicine?
Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is thousands of years old and has changed little
over the centuries. Its basic concept is that a vital force of life, called Qi, surges
through the body. Any imbalance to Qi can cause disease and illness. The imbalance,
in turn, is caused by an imbalance in the opposite and complementary forces that make
up the life force called yin and yang.
Ancient Chinese believed that humans are microcosms of the larger, surrounding universe,
and are interconnected with nature and subject to its forces. Balance between health
and disease is a key concept. TCM treatment seeks to restore this balance through
treatment specific to the individual.
To regain balance, the belief is that you must achieve the balance between the internal
body organs and the external elements of earth, fire, water, wood, and metal.
Treatment to regain balance may involve:
Moxibustion (the burning of herbal leaves on or near the body)
Cupping (the use of warmed glass jars to create suction on certain points of
Movement and concentration exercises (such as tai chi)
Acupuncture is a component of TCM commonly found in Western medicine and has received
the most study. Some herbal treatments used in TCM can act as medicines and be very
effective but may also have serious side effects. In 2004, for example, the FDA banned
the sale of dietary supplements containing ephedra and plants containing ephedra group
alkaloids due to complications, such as heart attack and stroke. Ephedra is a Chinese
herb used in dietary supplements for weight loss and performance enhancement. However,
the ban does not apply to certain herbal products prepared under TCM guidelines intended
only for short-term use rather than long-term dosing. It also does not apply to OTC
and prescription drugs or to herbal teas.
If you are thinking of using TCM, a certified practitioner is your safest choice.
The federally recognized Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine
(ACAOM) accredits schools that teach acupuncture and TCM. Many of the states that
license acupuncture require graduation from an ACAOM-accredited school. The National
Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine offers separate certification
programs in acupuncture, Chinese herbology, and Oriental bodywork.
TCM should not be used as a replacement for traditional treatment, especially for
serious conditions, but it may be beneficial when used as complementary therapy. Since
some TCM herbal medicines can interfere or be toxic when combined with Western medicines,
you should inform your doctor if you are using TCM.