TCM Tradidtional Chinese Medicine

Understanding TCM

What is traditional Chinese medicine?

Based on over 3,500 years of accumulated knowledge and skills, traditional Chinese medicine, or TCM as it is often called, is an alternative health system that is used widely all over Asia and especially, of course, in China itself. There are several different disciplines within TCM, which include herbal medicine, massage, exercise regimes, acupuncture, bone-setting, cupping and coining. The origins of the sorts of traditional forms of Chinese medicine we see being practised today go all the way back to the Shang dynasty. Although some western physicians have little time for traditional Chinese medicine, a number of western-style field trials have shown success despite this not being universal by any means. Overall, TCM is continuing to win support and even admiration outside of its traditional heartland in China.

 What are the five essential substances in traditional Chinese medicine?

 In Chinese philosophy, all things are made from elemental substances. Namely, these are wood, fire, metal, earth and water. The same applies to TCM, as well. In the TCM world view of health, it is when these five essential substances get out of kilter with one another that ailments occur. By intervening with a patient's five essential elements, a practitioner can restore their balance or alignment and hence cure the patient. Therefore, despite the many different approaches to TCM mentioned above, the idea is always the same – to restore elemental harmony.

How is traditional Chinese medicine different from western medicine?

Given that western medicine is largely based on observations and sometimes mass studies of thousands of patients, there is very little it has in common with traditional Chinese medicine. However, it is increasingly common for some of the approaches to herbalism and acupuncture, for example, to be utilised in the fields of nutrition and mental well-being in the west. Although TCM is considered to be more of an art than a science, there are similarities. Increasingly, for example, westerners are seeking to treat patients' bodies and minds as a single entity, something that is at the heart of TCM.

What is the vital force in life in TCM?

When the five elements of Chinese philosophy are in good balance, so chi – sometimes also called qi – will flow. This is the Chinese term for the vital force, the vital energy that sustains all things. In traditional Chinese medicine, chi is said to flow through the human body via acupuncture points. It is for this reason that acupuncturists manipulate the body at these points in order to promote better chi flow.

Does traditional Chinese medicine really work?

For some people, the successes shown in traditional Chinese medicine are down to psychological effects and have no more power to heal than, say, a placebo. That said, powerful international bodies, such as the World Health Organisation, are moving towards more acceptance of some aspects of TCM. Certainly, there are more practitioners in countries other than China than ever before, so its popularity is on the rise.

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Also known as herbal medicine, herbalism is the term that covers the use of plants as medical treatments. This means that traditional medicine – which has been practised all over the world for centuries – is a part of herbalism. In modern medicine, some aspects of herbalism persist, usually because an active ingredient within a particular plant is isolated in the laboratory in order to make a drug therapy. In some cases, materials that are not derived from plant life are considered to be a part of a herbalists toolkit, too. This includes some minerals derived from shells or animal parts as well as honey extracts and fungi. Sometimes herbalism is used to make specific therapies for conditions. In other cases, it is used to fashion dietary supplements which help to prevent ailments from occurring in the first place.
Also known as complementary medicine, alternative medicine covers a wide range of treatments that people use all over the world to deal with their symptoms and to seek cures for their conditions. Although it lies outside the orbit of conventional, western medical science, certain alternative therapies are gaining ground in some hospitals. In places where western medicine is restricted or unavailable, alternative medicine is still the mainstay of healthcare for many people. Although some people are quite happy to accept two different medicinal frameworks, others deride alternative remedies as nothing more than quackery.
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