Ancient Chinese Medicine

Ancient Chinese medicine, also known as traditional Chinese medicine (or TCM), is seen as an alternative medicine. These traditional medical practices developed in China over several thousand years. TCM uses acupuncture, moxibustion, massage and herbal medicine to effect cures.

Ancient Chinese medicine got its beginnings with Taoist philosophy. For millennia, the ancient Chinese studied medicine. While traditional Chinese medicine was banned in China for many years, its popularity made a comeback in the 1960s under Mao Zedong. Today, TCM is taught and practiced in China, North America, and around the world.

TCM was influenced by Buddhism, Taoism, and neo-Confucianism. Despite these wide influences, Chinese medical professionals shared some basic ideas about the human body. The universe undergoes constant change, and humans, as part of the universe, are constantly changing as well. By living harmoniously, patients can maintain a balance. If the balance is lost, illness may result.

Unlike Western medicine, traditional Chinese medicine believes that the human body works as an interconnected system, with all the parts working together. Western medicine tends to divide the human body into many parts. So while Western medicine can treat your kidney problem, TCM is more likely to see your kidney problems as being related to all other parts of your body, including your thoughts.

Today, modern practitioners of TCM combine ancient Chinese medicine with Western medicine. Diagnostic techniques include observing the patience time, face, voice, and ear. Areas of warmth or coolness are compared. Observation even extends to the sound of the patient’s voice and odors of his body.

Treatment for various diseases varies, based on the needs of the patient. Perhaps the most famous of ancient Chinese medical procedures is acupuncture and moxibustion. Slender needles are inserted along energy meridians. Often, cupping is used to draw out the bad and restore balance to the body.

Chinese herbal medicine is an important part of TCM. Through the study of herbology, doctors have learned to create herbal concoctions to cure their patients. Chinese herbology recognizes 50 herbs that are essential to Chinese medicine.

Other medical techniques used include massage therapy, physical exercise, mental-health therapy, and breathing and meditation exercises. Usually these techniques were used in conjunction with acupuncture, moxibustion, and herbology.

For several decades, Western medicine has researched ancient Chinese medicine to determine whether it is truly effective or works only on a placebo basis. Acupuncture especially has been heavily studied. In fact, acupuncture is seen to be an effective solution for addiction, chronic pain, asthma, stroke rehabilitation, and more.

Chinese herbal medicines, on the other hand, have not been as well studied. Part of the problem is that many ancient Chinese medicines are based in nature – ground tiger bones and bear bile are common. Unfortunately, these animals are endangered, and there are concerns over their use. Other medicines based on plants have been little studied.

TCM often uses potentially dangerous substances, like arsenic, cinnabar (a bright red mineral of mercury sulfide), and ma huang, known to Western medicine as Ephedra. These substances are toxic, and therefore rarely used in Western medicine. In fact, ephedra has been banned since 2004 by the FDA.

Within China, practitioners of TCM and Western medicine often work together. Outside of China, this relationship is one of skepticism. Still, many Chinese do not see a conflict between the two medical traditions. In fact, it is common for them to use medical professionals from both schools – using ancient Chinese medicine to stay strong and healthy, while visiting Western doctors for acute appendicitis.

For patients, ancient Chinese medicine may provide relief that is unavailable through western medicine. Through the use of exercise, meditation, and acupuncture, patients are in control of their own health. Western medicine is only now beginning to understand the importance of a holistic approach to health, something that the ancient Chinese have done for thousands of years.

Ancient Chinese acupuncture chart, showing common meridians. Photo courtesy Wikipedia.
Traditional Chinese medicines are still sold today. Photo courtesy Wikipedia.