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Chinese Medicine

What is Chinese medicine?

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is a system of medicine that has been used for thousands of years. It has not changed much in that time. Its basic concept is that the vital force of life (called Qi) moves through the body. It does so in a well-balanced way. Any imbalance to Qi can cause disease and illness. This imbalance is often thought to be caused by the 2 different forces that make up Qi. These are called Yin and Yang.

The ancient Chinese believed that humans are small forms of the larger universe. And that we are linked to nature and its forces. Balance between health and disease is a key concept of TCM. When an imbalance occurs, people who follow TCM will seek out a TCM provider. TCM providers use treatments to restore the Qi balance. Treatments will vary for each person. 

With TCM it is believed that to regain balance, you must reach a balance. This balance must be between your internal body organs and the external elements of earth, fire, water, wood, and metal.

Treatment to regain balance may include:

  • Acupuncture

  • Burning herbal leaves on or near the body (moxibustion)

  • Using warmed glass jars to create suction on certain body points (cupping)

  • Massage

  • Herbal remedies

  • Movement and focus exercises (such as tai chi)

Acupuncture is a part of TCM. It has made its way recently into Western medicine. It's been studied the most of all the alternative therapies. Some herbal treatments used in TCM can act as medicines. They can work very well. But they may also have serious side effects. For example, ephedra is a Chinese herb. It is used in dietary supplements for weight loss and performance enhancement. In 2004, the FDA banned the sale of dietary supplements with ephedra. It also banned the sale of plants with ephedra group alkaloids. The FDA did this because of complications such as heart attack and stroke. But the ban does not apply to certain herbal products made under TCM guidelines and intended only for short-term use. It also does not apply to over-the-counter and prescription medicines or to herbal teas.

If you are thinking of using TCM, a certified provider 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 conventional treatment, especially for serious conditions. But it may be helpful when used as complementary therapy. Some TCM herbal medicines can interfere or be toxic when used with Western medicines. Tell your healthcare provider if you are using TCM. This will give your providers a full picture of your health. And it will help ensure safe, effective, coordinated care.

Online Medical Reviewer: Bianca Garilli MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Daphne Pierce-Smith RN MSN CCRC
Online Medical Reviewer: Marianne Fraser MSN RN
Date Last Reviewed: 2/1/2019
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