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Traditional Chinese Medicine

What Is It?
How Does It Work?
What Happens During Treatment?
What Is It Used For?
Side Effects/Cautions
Recommended Books


What Is It?
Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is a medical system which originated in China around 2500 years ago. It is based on the belief that illness is caused by disruptions and imbalances in the flow of the body’s vital energy, qi (also written as chi and pronounced “chee”).

In ancient China, traditional medicine was used as a complete system which combined acupuncture, herbal medicines, massage, dietary therapy and forms of exercise such as qigong and Tai chi. Today it is often fragmented into these separate components.

Unlike many conventional doctors, who are trained to treat specific organs or body systems in isolation, practitioners of traditional medicine use a holistic system which sees the body as a whole, with strong connections between all parts of the body and mind, as well as between the individual and the environment.

How Does It Work?
The aim of traditional Chinese medicine is to restore balance to the body’s vital energy, qi. According to the philosophy of this system, our body’s vital energy is influenced by our environment - by the food we eat, and our lifestyle, for instance if we get enough exercise, or if we smoke or drink too much alcohol. Two fundamental concepts are central to the Chinese way of thinking about how our health relates to our environment:

Yin and Yang - two opposite but complementary forces in the universe which create movement in all areas of our lives. Yin represents things that are dark, cold and inactive, while yang represents things that are light, hot and active. The human body is also governed by these opposing forces, and good health requires balance and harmony between them.

The Five Elements - in Chinese philosophy the universe is governed by five basic elements: wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. Each of our internal organs and body systems resonates with the energy of one of these elements, and imbalances in the natural harmony of these elements can cause illness.

A TCM practitioner seeks to understand the complex relationship between our body and the universe, and diagnose any imbalances in qi, yin-yang, and the five elements, and correct them with appropriate therapies. These therapies include acupuncture, massage, dietary changes, herbal medicine and qigong.

Chinese herbal medicines are preparations containing mixtures of herbs which were designed centuries ago to restore balance and to treat specific ailments.

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What Happens During Treatment?
Your first visit to a TCM practitioner will involve a thorough examination and history-taking. You will be asked about your diet, lifestyle, bowel movements, whether you are sensitive to changes in temperature, and how you react to stress. The practitioner will examine your eyes, skin, tongue, hair and three different pulses on each wrist, and may note the way your body smells and your posture.

This examination is used to diagnose any imbalances in the body, and to choose a treatment which suits your needs. The practitioner may recommend a combination of dietary changes, acupuncture, massage or qigong, or prescribe herbal medicines.

The length of treatment will depend on your condition.

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What Is It Used For?
Traditional Chinese medicine is used to treat a wide range of ailments. Chinese herbal medicines are used for colds, flu, migraines, fibromyalgia, menstrual problems, eczema, malaria and irritable bowel syndrome. Acupuncture is helpful for treating chronic pain, nausea from chemotherapy and addictions. Chinese massage, known as tui na manipulates acupoints to unblock qi and relieve stress and aches and pains.

Side Effects/Cautions
See separate entry for acupuncture.

Caution should be taken when using Chinese herbal medicines. Find out what is in them and any adverse affects they might have. Check with your conventional doctor if you are unsure about taking them.

References

Find a Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioner

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Recommended Books

Prices are in US Dollars

 

The Web That Has No Weaver : Understanding Chinese Medicine
Ted J. Kaptchuk

Completely and thoroughly revised, The Web That Has No Weaver is the classic, comprehensive guide on the theory and practice of Chinese medicine. This accessible and invaluable resource has earned its place as the foremost authority in the synthesizing of Western and Eastern healing practices.

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Fundamentals of Chinese Medicine: Zhong Yi Xue Ji Chu
Nigel Wisemann

English translations of traditional Chinese medical texts rarely have conformed to the standards required of a contribution to sinology. One exception has been the first edition of Fundamentals of Chinese Medicine, a ground-breaking translation of the Zhong Yi Ji Chu Xue which demonstrated that not only was it possible to meet scholarly expectations for the translations of T.C.M, but that the cooperation of living Chinese speaking clinicians could reveal nuances of practice. Beyond beginner's manuals, it gives English-speaking students of TCM a chance to appreciate the qualitative details available to their Chinese-speaking colleagues. It offers readers the rare opportunity to understand Chinese medicine, not as it is perceived by a Western writer, but as it is perceived and taught in China, because Chinese descriptions of TCM that confound Western expectations have not been expunged from the textual translation.
Contents include yin and yang and the five phases; qi, blood, essence, and fluids; the channels; the organs; diseases and their causes. Pattern identification and treatment of eight-parameter, organ, qi-blood, pathogens, and exogenous heat conditions are discussed in detail, as are the principles and methods of treatment. Illustrative acumoxa therapy has been added for Western acupuncturists.
The revised edition includes explanations of terms and an entire materia medica and formulary sufficient to practice the treatments described by the text. As such it is not only a unique, absolutely-defined and referenced text, but a self-contained and inexpensive course of study. The revised Fundamentals of Chinese Medicine is a bridge between scholars and clinicians in both East and West.

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Between Heaven and Earth
Harriet Beinfield

Two of the foremost American educators and healers in the Chinese medical profession demystify Chinese medicine's centuries-old approach to health. Combining Eastern traditions with Western sensibilities in a unique blend that is relevant today, BETWEEN HEAVEN AND EARTH opens the door to a vast storehouse of knowledge that bridges the gap between mind and body, theory and practice, professional and self-care, East and West.

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More Traditional Chinese Medicine Books

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