Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), or Oriental Medicine as it is sometimes called, evolved in China over a 5000-year period of consistent use, making it the oldest system of medicine still in use today. It also forms the traditional medicine of countries such as Korea and Japan and is widely practiced throughout the Western world in America, the United Kingdom, and parts of Europe and Australia.
TCM incorporates acupuncture, herbal medicine, massage, dietary therapy, and exercise systems such as T'ai Chi and Qigong to prevent and treat a wide range of acute and chronic conditions. We've already explored T'ai Chi and Qigong in the earlier chapters of this book, and in the third section of this chapter we'll explore each of the segments of TCM in more detail.
The underlying principle of TCM is that all living plants and animals contain a life force or energy that circulates continuously through them until they die. In humans, our life force (called Qi) circulates throughout channels or meridians, the main ones connecting with our internal organs. Basically, "perfect" health may be regarded as the smooth and unobstructed flow of Qi (and blood) throughout the body. When Qi and blood flow are obstructed, ill health results. Many factors contribute to this; hereditary, dietary, and environmental and lifestyle factors such as overworking and stress may all impede the flow of Qi and blood.
One of the major differences between TCM and Western medicine is that the former views the body from a holistic viewpoint. Mind, body, and spirit are inseparable, interconnecting with and influencing one another. Western medicine in comparison looks at the body from a scientific, microscopic point of view, isolating and treating each part as a separate entity with little recognition of its relationship to the whole.
TCM regards each of us as completely unique individuals. The TCM doctor looks for "patterns of disharmony," which are groups of symptoms and signs that are uniquely yours. Treatment is specifically tailored to suit your particular condition at that time. In contrast, the Western medicine doctor gives every patient with the same condition the same treatment without recognition of the fact that each patient is totally different from the next in virtually every regard.
Treatment for any complaint whether by acupuncture, herbs, or massage aims to restore inner harmony to the body by balancing energy and blood flow. When you visit a TCM doctor, he or she will ask you questions not only about your main complaint but also about other seemingly unrelated aspects of your health and lifestyle. What you eat, your sleeping patterns, bowel movements, type of work, emotions, menstrual irregularities, and many other details are noted during the initial consultation. Inspection of your tongue and palpation of the radial pulse on each of your wrists also provides important information with which to make a diagnosis.
Your initial visit can last up to an hour and may include acupuncture or massage therapy depending on your complaint. You may be prescribed a relevant herbal formula and be advised on appropriate dietary and lifestyle changes. We'll explore what is involved in TCM diagnosis in more detail later in this chapter.
TCM is increasingly being used by people in Western countries looking for alternatives to invasive and, in some cases, unnecessary surgical procedures, as well as for alternatives to modern pharmaceuticals that often produce unwanted side effects.
It may appear that I'm advocating TCM as the "one and only" healthcare system. Not so. Both TCM and Western medicine have advantages and limitations, and, in fact, the best results are often obtained from combining the two. For example, in Chinese hospitals, cancer patients are treated with chemotherapy and radiation but they are also given herbal medicine to combat the debilitating side effects of their treatment. This means that higher doses of chemotherapy and radiation can be tolerated by the patient, making the overall treatment more effective. To use another example: If I broke my leg, obviously the first place I would want to go to is a hospital. But I would make use of TCM modalities such as acupuncture to reduce the pain and speed up the healing process.
TCM works by stimulating the self-healing powers of the body and eliminating the root cause of a disease or ailment. Natural methods take time though, and while they lack the dramatic impact of modern medicines, they work in harmony with the body; therefore, the benefits are long lasting and side effects are rare.
In Western countries, acupuncture is probably the most widely recognized of the TCM modalities. The following is a list of conditions generally thought to respond best to acupuncture treatment:
^ Acute strains and sprains of muscles and joints.
^ Chronic neck and back pain.
^ Menstrual irregularities.
^ Post-stroke paralysis.
^ Addictions such as overeating, smoking, and drug dependence.
An increasing number of experts from different areas of healthcare believe that the most effective medicines of the future will combine the "best of both worlds." By utilizing modern Western procedures and traditional therapies such as acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine, more effective results can be achieved.
Privately run multi-modality clinics of this nature have been operating in countries such as America and Australia for some time, but until we see signs such as "TCM Department" in the corridors of our major hospitals will we know that true acceptance of natural therapies in the West has arrived.
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