Traditional Chinese Medicine or TCM is a centuries-old system for managing health and wellness. It originated in ancient China and provides a comprehensive and well-rounded route to medicine. It focuses on treating and preventing health issues. To date, throughout the world, it has been used as a complementary way of addressing a medical conditions rather than being the only solution. TCM involves a range of practices from acupuncture to Tai Chi.
For expats It can feel like a whole new world of medicine with so much to be learned and possibilities for enhancing your health. If you want to give it a try, here’s a breakdown of everything we think you should know about traditional Chinese medicine.
1. It is Very Different From ‘Conventional medicine / Western medicine’
Conventional medicine has a very different approach compared with traditional medicine in China. Conventional medicine has a more concrete and logical or scientific way to it whereas TCM is more about energy, nature and harmony. That is not to say it isn’t logical, perhaps it’s just that modern medical science is yet to uncover its secrets.
2. Balance is The Key
According to traditional medicine in China, Qi (气) is a vital force of energy that runs through your body by means of channels called meridians. The idea behind TCM is that it regulates and promotes the flow of Qi in your body, and that this is what helps maintain a healthy body and mind.
We’ve all heard of Yin and Yang, and western media tends to view it as good and bad – which isn’t a correct view. Yin and Yang are two opposites which describe the nature of Qi. Yin is feminine, hot, day, and hollow whereas Yang is the exact opposite: masculine, cold, night, and solid. Now, the belief basically states that everything in life has an opposite too and when they’re kept balanced, the course of life goes smoothly. So according to TCM, your body responds to balance and imbalance, so if the Yin and Yang of Qi are balanced, you have a healthy body, however if they are unbalanced this can cause health issues or exacerbate problems
3. You Have a Connection With Nature
TCM argues that you are in a prime way connected to nature. According to TCM, changes in nature are reflected in your body. Furthermore, TCM isn’t only about your body, it takes care of your entire self, your well being, mind and spirit.
4. Acupuncture in The West
TCM includes many practices, and one of them is acupuncture. Acupuncture is basically the careful placement of needles along the hundreds of meridians which then redirect the flow of Qi. These needles puncture the skin and therefore need to be well sterilized. Acupuncture is even provided in many European countries’ health systems, such as acupuncture in the UK’s NHS. It has shown in some instances to be able to alleviate certain problems and symptoms that conventional medicine can struggle with.
5. Herbs Are an Essential Part of TCM
Chinese Herbal Medicine is another form of treatment used in TCM. It is a joint term for thousands of medicines primarily extracted from plants, but some minerals and animal products are also used. For such medicines, different parts of plants are combined into formulas and are prescribed to the patient as teas, powders, capsules and blams etc.
This is actually no different from many conventional medicines in which active components originated from plants and even sometimes animals. Good examples are aspirin, opioids and antibiotics which originally all derived from plants or mould. However herbs in TCM are unique in as much as the extent to which the natural world is used and that many of the herbs are barely processed beyond grinding and dissolving in water.
6. TCM Isn’t One Type of Treatment
There are countless different treatments and practices used in TCM. Some appear strange, and many you might not have heard of. A few examples are:
7. Like Conventional medicine, TCM Also Has Its Risks
A common concern which people raise is whether or not it is safe to use. Tai Chi, meditation, and qi gong are considered generally as safe practices, however since herbal medicines are marketed as dietary supplements, the criteria for regulating them is not as strict as, per se, an over-the-counter drugs. This translates to a potential risk of them being contaminated with toxins and other substances. Having said that we are unaware of any reported instances of quality problems.
8. There Can Be Side Effects
Another common query is whether or not they have any consequences or side effects. Practices such as moxibustion and cupping result in marks on the skin which are mostly temporary. Moxibustion, rarely, has been reported to result in burns or allergic reactions. Currently there is no fixed data for the occurrences of these symptoms. If you have an illness or are taking medication you should always check with your doctor before taking additional or supplemental treatment before proceeding.
9. Whether TCM Works or Not is a Controversial Topic
The scientific method and the few randomized trials conducted on certain aspects of TCM haven’t given strong evidence of its efficacy. However millions of patients who have been helped would disagree and argue it has helped them greatly. Some western doctors and researchers acknowledge that TCM does work in some instances although they do not understand the reasons why.
There is still a lot conventional medicine is yet to understand about human health and the body. Maybe TCM provides some clues. China’s Tu Youyou won a nobel prize in medicine for her work in antimalarial drugs inspired by TCM treatments and herbal medicine.
10. Last But Not Least
Actually I’ve run out of topics and ideas. I should do some more research. However, personally, I believe TCM isn’t in a competition with conventional medicine, but instead they are complementary of each other. And I hope that more research can be done on TCM so we can unlock its secrets and improve the health of humanity.
TCM in China
Now that you know where TCM originated from, what it is, the idea behind it and the treatments it includes, you may be able to make a decent judgment about whether or not you want to go for it. It is only fair to want to know where you can get TCM treatments done.
TCM in China is protected by China’s constitution, and it is promoted by the government as well. The State Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Pharmacology is a bureau which actually has taken the responsibility to promote and develop Traditional Chinese Medicine. It is a common practice and a rather successful one in the cities of Shanghai, Beijing, etc. There are many well-trusted businesses offering these services, and some of them are linked below: