Traditional Chinese Medicine
What is traditional Chinese medicine?
Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) has been used for centuries as a way to address health issues. The practice of TCM is based on Qi (chi), which is the vital force of energy that flows through the body. Qi is composed of opposite and complementary forces called yin and yang. Traditional Chinese medicine teaches that an imbalance in these forces results in illness. TCM seeks to restore any imbalance to promote healing and wellness.
TCM treatments include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Acupuncture stimulates specific points on the body by insertion of thin needles into the skin.
- Moxibustion is a process of burning herbal leaves on or near the body.
- Tai chi involves a combination of postures, deliberate movements and deep breathing techniques.
- Chinese herbal products are available in a variety of plant-based dietary supplements.
- Cupping uses warmed glass jars to create suction on specific parts of the body.
Safety and effectiveness of TCM
Individuals should always speak with a physician before beginning any type of TCM treatment. Numerous studies have been done on the safety and effectiveness of certain TCM practices with varying results.
Some research trials have shown that acupuncture stimulates the release of the body’s natural pain killers and affects the part of the brain that processes pain. Acupuncture is particularly effective for chronic pain conditions such as back pain, osteoarthritis and tension headaches. While acupuncture is a relatively safe practice, complications can result due to improper treatment delivery or the use of unsterile needles. Individuals should make sure their practitioner is certified through the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health’s website contains information on the credentials, education and licensing of complementary health care practitioners.
Tai chi has been found to help individuals cope with medical conditions ranging from osteoarthritis to fibromyalgia. Tai Chi is a safe practice but may result in minor aches and pains.
Chinese herbal products
The number and quality of studies completed on Chinese herbal products are not sufficient to draw conclusions about their effectiveness. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not test these substances in the same way as Western medications. Since the production of herbal products is not regulated by the FDA, cases in which they have been contaminated with toxic compounds, microorganisms, pesticides or heavy metals have been documented. Mistakenly replacing one herb with another during the manufacturing process has also been documented. Even when not contaminated or incorrectly labeled, some herbal treatments can have serious side effects. For example, the FDA banned the sale of supplements containing ephedra in 2004 due to complications such as heart attack and stroke.
It is important to note that individuals who are considering traditional Chinese medicine as a treatment should discuss it with their physician.