Traditional Chinese Medicine

What is Traditional Chinese Medicine?

Traditional Chinese Medicine is a very broad term. In the United States of America, many people may take acupuncture alone as Chinese or oriental medicine. But this medical system with a history of thousands of years includes, apart from acupuncture, herbology, moxibustion, Tui Na, cupping and Qi Gong and so on.

Traditional Chinese Medicine has been around for over four thousand years. Over the last 1500 years, doctors of traditional Chinese medicine have developed very logical and effective models for using TCM in the treatment of diseases and promotion of health. Recently there has been lots of research that has confirmed the effectiveness of Chinese traditional medicine in the treatment of chronic conditions, for example, chronic fatigue syndrome, certain types of cancer or malignant tumor, arthritis, allergies. I have some abstracts of research publications here that describe the results of such clinical studies. One study has found that acupuncture therapy affected natural killer immunoactivity in the peripheral blood of patients with malignant tumors. I’d be very happy to share the references with you if you are interested.

How did the patients say about TCM? I have a nationwhide survey of 575 acupuncture patients. Almost all of them say that they were very happy with acupuncture care, with its cost, and with their providers. Specifically, 91.5% reported disappearance or improvement of symptoms after acupuncture treatment.

  • 84% said they see their medical doctors less.
  • 79% said they used fewer prescription drugs.
  • 70% say they avoided surgeries.
  • 78% said that some symptoms or complaints had improved.
  • 7.8% said symptoms or conditions had not changed.
  • Only 0.7% said that a symptom or complaint had gotten worse.


Principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine

There are a few basic assumptions that are fundamental to the understanding of Traditional Chinese medicine. Please allow me to spend a few minutes on those most important ones. First is the five elements theory, second is the Yin and Yang theory, third is Qi and functions of Qi, and finally blood and blood functions.

· The Five Elements Theory:

As with early Greek philosophy, the Chinese tradition is based on a theory of elements, which is used to explain every interaction between people and their environment. The Chinese five elements theory refers to the five elements of Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water. They are seen to be related, with wood encouraging fire, fire resolving to earth, earth yielding up metal, metal producing water, and water giving birth to wood by encouraging the growth of vegetation.

Each element has a number of associations, ranging from emotions and parts of the body to human sounds, the seasons, colors and tastes, all underpinned by a simple logic. Wood, for instance, relates to spring and the color green; fire to summer; and water to the kidneys. For good health to prevail, the elements need to be in harmony; if one elements becomes too dominant, illness may result. Chinese practitioners often look for the cause of illness in a related element: weakness in the liver (wood), for example may be due to deficiencies in the kidneys (water). A weak stomach (earth) might be caused by too much wood (liver) failing to be controlled by deficient metal (lungs).

· Yin and Yang Theory:

Complementing the basic model of the five elements is the Chinese theory of opposite – Yin and Yang. According to this theory, everything in the universe both contains and balanced by its own polar opposite. The original meaning of Yin-Yang was the bright side- dark side. Yang is the bright side and Yin is the dark side. Everything in the world can be described, explained and further divided into the Yin-Yang phenomena.

Those with the basic properties of heat, brightness, activeness, outwardness, hyper function belong to Yang. The basic properties of coldness, darkness, stillness, inwardness, downwardness, hypo function functions belong to Yin.

Yin and Yang oppose each other and at the same time have an interdependent relationship. Without Yang there is no Yin, without Yin there is no Yang. In traditional Chinese medicine, Yin and Yang need to be in balance to maintain health, and many ills can be attributed to a deficiency or excess of either factor. When the body is in balance between Yin and Yang, health is predominant. When the Yin and Yang are unbalanced, diseases occur.

· Blood and its Functions

In Oriental or Traditional Chinese Medicine, blood is viewed as a fluid manifestation of Qi. The spleen and stomach are considered to primary sources of Qi and blood as they the starting point of the transformation process which turns our food and water intake into blood. After the stomach receives the food, the spleen extracts the Qi from the food and sends it upward to the lung where is mixes with the Qi from the air and is then sent to the heart to be mixed with Jing and the body’s primary Qi to produce the end result: blood.

The function of the blood is to circulates through the body from the five zang and six fu in the interior to the skin, muscle, tendons, and bone at the exterior level. It is blood that nourishes and moistens those organs and tissues. Blood is also viewed as the material foundation of mental activity.

Basic Diagnostic Methods

· Observation

Most of us form opinions about people upon speaking to them for the first time. We notice the appearance of their hair, their skin, their demeanor, the sound of their voice and so on. They are all of the things that an OMD will observe as well, only in a more systematic manner. The practitioner will not only examine the special part of the body but also observe the general features of the patient.

The tongue is one of the major diagnostic tools in the human body. It is a window into our internal environment. The tongue is separated into areas which corresponds to organ structures. Pathology is any of the human organs will be indicated by various signs on the tongue. Your provider will look at your tongue each visit to measure your progress and monitor your state of health. They will be looking for such things as the tongue’s color, shape, and texture.

For instance, a normal tongue should be pale red with a thin white coat. If the tongue should become red, this would indicate a heat syndrome; if it is pale it may indicate Qi or blood deficiency. If the tongue is purple, it signifies stagnation.

The tongue coating, like the tongue body, has a system of internal organ correlation related to its location on the tongue. It is also important to note the many qualities of the coating. For example, a tongue coating may be greasy in appearance. This would indicate dampness. In addition, this greasy appearance may have a color involved wit it. This color may be yellow, white, or gray. Each of these colors in combination with greasiness indicate different diagnoses. A tongue may have a geographic coat. This is a term which used to describe a person with Yin deficiency.

· Listening and Smelling

There are many sound the human body makes that a doctor of Chinese traditional medicine will be paying attention to. The sound of the voice, the sound of breaths, the pitch or tone of a cough, and their strength or relative weakness.

Like sounds, smells are of equal importance. Smell may come from a patient’s breath, from their body, from their sweat, vomit and etc.

· Questioning

The initial consultation in Oriental medicine is quite detailed. The questions may include things regarding heat or cold; sweat; location and degree of pain, sleep patterns, digestive process, menstruation for women.

· Palpation

The body is palpated at certain points to help and determine a diagnosis. There are points on the human body that relate to different internal organs. The palpation of these points may indicate their conditions and pathologies. Your first visit should usually include the palpation of your body to determine which areas area tender. Body temperature, moisture, skin condition, and organ enlargement are all important aspects of the palpation process.

· Pulse-taking Position

In TCM the doctor checks the pulse in three different positions at three different levels. They will measure not only the speed but also strength, depth, and quality of each pulse. Each of these locations correspond to your body’s organs. Syndromes my be concluded upon the pulse qualities as well.

For example a rapid pulse is fast. The beats are usually more than 90 per minute and signify a condition of heat in the body. A slow pulse is usually below 60 beat per minute and may indicate cold conditions.

· Qi and its functions

Qi is the word that encompasses the meaning of all vital activities and substances in the human body. It is the “Life Force” of all living things as well as representative of all energy within the universe. In short, Qi is the foundation of Oriental medicine and traditional Chinese medicine. While it is not easy to fully understand the concept of Qi, let’s try to understand it by its functions such as nutritional, warming, protecting, promoting and checking.