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Published on Sep 24, 2013 in Asia, China, Featured Articles, News

Chinese Traditional Medicine

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) originated in China and has evolved throughout the centuries. TCM dates back almost 5,000 years. In ancient times primitive people just wanted to survive. They hunted, ate plants that provided sustenance, and built shelters. Over time they orally passed down which plants were good to eat, those which were poisonous, and those that helped rid the body of illness. Fire also played a central role in their lives. It provided warmth, light, gave relief from the cold and damp, and helped to ease a number of ailments, such as arthritis. In addition, when someone in ancient times was injured they would naturally grab or rub the injured area giving rise to hands-on therapeutic methods that evolved over time. Sharpened fragments of bone were also used to enhance sensation in what was an early (and probably painful) version of acupuncture. TCM slowly evolved over the succeeding millennia, and continues to evolve to this day.

Today, TCM is regarded as a holistic system of health and healing that’s based on the use of herbs, acupuncture, diet, massage, and exercise in stimulating the body’s natural curative powers to maintain harmony and balance within the body. It espouses that the human body needs to have a balance between the yin and the yang. The yin is the inner and negative principles, and the yang is the outer and positive side. TCM believes that when someone gets sick it’s because the yin and the yang are out of harmony with one another. The yang, in this process, protects the body from outer harm while the yin provides the yang its energy for this process.

In TCM the organs are considered the core of the body. Moreover, the body’s tissues and organs are connected by a network of channels and blood vessels. TCM believes that within the body there’s a natural life force, or energy flow, known as qi (pronounced chee). When your body’s qi is disrupted, or out of balance, you get sick. It’s believed that when you understand qi you can provide effective treatment that will create stability within the body and enhance longevity.

TCM believes that there are a number of factors that affect sickness. Externally, there are six: wind, cold, heat, dryness, dampness, and summer heat. Internally, seven emotions affect a person’s health: anger, joy, worry, pensiveness, sadness, fear, and shock. Other factors that affect a person’s heath are diet, lifestyle, and accidents.

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When a person is healthy the body is in balance and harmony, both internally and with its outside environment. The body’s life force, qi, and its immune defenses, wei qi, are strong and it’s therefore difficult for an illness to occur. However, when a person is weakened by, for example, an internal factor such as stress, an illness can occur. In this instance the person might catch a cold or other virus because his wei qi has been weakened by an internal factor placing the body out of balance and harmony. When we get a cold we slow down and get – cold. TCM would provide herbs that scatter the cold, and possibly acupuncture, to re-establish a balance between the yin and yang.

Acupuncture is used to stimulate certain points in the body to correct imbalances in the flow of qi, which maintains the balance of the yin and yang, through channels known as meridians. An imbalance of qi causes disease. Acupuncture points are located along these meridians and each meridian corresponds to one organ or group of organs. An acupuncturist inserts thin needles at points along the meridians where the energy pathway is close to the skin. Modern healthcare specialists believe that the acupuncture-stimulated nerve fibers in the skin may send a signal to the spinal cord and the brain which release the hormones responsible for making the body feel less pain and improving health. In addition, modern medical studies indicate that acupuncture does increase the body’s pain threshold and therefore provides some measure of pain relief. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, acupuncture may also increase blood circulation and body temperature, affect white blood cell activity (responsible for our immune function), reduce cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and regulate blood sugar levels.

TCM uses a combination of acupuncture and herbal medicine to bring back the body’s natural balance. Herbs such as ginseng, Astragalus root, Poria, licorice, lyceum have traditionally been used to reduce inflammation, strengthen immunity, and provide other health benefits.

Although TCM is widely practiced in China, it hasn’t gained the same traction in the Western world. But I’ve had an opportunity to experience TCM firsthand when I fell off a ladder (after some hornets took exception to me destroying their nest) and came close to breaking my right arm. In fact, I could hardly lift it. A trip to the emergency room, along with a corresponding donation to the hospital, produced medical advice along the line: it’s not broken. It’ll get better in a month or two. Great! The next week I flew to China and couldn’t even punch the plane’s overhead light switch above my seat. On a whim, I went to an acupuncture specialist in Beijing and received treatment for about two weeks. Although I looked like a lightning rod with acupuncture needles sticking out of me during my sessions, I quickly began to feel better. When I returned to the U.S. I had pretty good mobility in my right arm and almost no pain. Was TCM responsible? I don’t know. But I believe it worked for me.

Alan Refkin

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