What is Chinese medicine?
Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is thousands of years old and has changed little over the centuries. Its basic concept is that a vital force of life, called Qi, surges through the body. Any imbalance to Qi can cause disease and illness. The imbalance, in turn, is caused by an imbalance in the opposite and complementary forces that make up the life force called yin and yang.
Ancient Chinese believed that humans are microcosms of the larger, surrounding universe, and are interconnected with nature and subject to its forces. Balance between health and disease is a key concept. TCM treatment seeks to restore this balance through treatment specific to the individual.
To regain balance, the belief is that you must achieve the balance between the internal body organs and the external elements of earth, fire, water, wood, and metal.
Treatment to regain balance may involve:
Moxibustion (the burning of herbal leaves on or near the body)
Cupping (the use of warmed glass jars to create suction on certain points of the body)
Movement and concentration exercises (such as tai chi)
Acupuncture is a component of TCM commonly found in Western medicine and has received the most study. Some herbal treatments used in TCM can act as medicines and be very effective but may also have serious side effects. In 2004, for example, the FDA banned the sale of dietary supplements containing ephedra and plants containing ephedra group alkaloids due to complications, such as heart attack and stroke. Ephedra is a Chinese herb used in dietary supplements for weight loss and performance enhancement. However, the ban does not apply to certain herbal products prepared under TCM guidelines intended only for short-term use rather than long-term dosing. It also does not apply to OTC and prescription drugs or to herbal teas.
If you are thinking of using TCM, a certified practitioner is your safest choice. The federally recognized Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (ACAOM) accredits schools that teach acupuncture and TCM. Many of the states that license acupuncture require graduation from an ACAOM-accredited school. The National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine offers separate certification programs in acupuncture, Chinese herbology, and Oriental bodywork.
TCM should not be used as a replacement for traditional treatment, especially for serious conditions, but it may be beneficial when used as complementary therapy. Since some TCM herbal medicines can interfere or be toxic when combined with Western medicines, you should inform your doctor if you are using TCM.