TCM Guide

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)

Traditional Chinese Medicine, also referred to as TCM, has a history dating back 3000 years. While the TCM approach for diagnosing and treating illness is considered a standard method of treatment in Asian countries, in western culture it is typically classified as alternative medicine.

Introduction to Traditional Chinese Medicine

The TCM fundamentals of medicine are heavily influenced by Taoism, Buddhism, and Neo-Confucianism. Some common treatments include breathing techniques, meditation exercises, yoga, and the practice of martial arts.

Other treatments used in the practice of TCM include:

  • Herbal medicines - more than 500 herbs are used in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Herbs are combined into formulas tailored to each individual patient. The formula may include a variety of up to 25 different herbs or as few as 3. TCM theory utilizes a formula of "five flavors" and "five temperatures" in the herbal treatments.
    The temperature of the formula will be cold, cool, neutral, warm, or hot. The medicine is formulated by a TCM herbalist based on specific criteria of the patient such as body temperature and physical condition.
  • Acupuncture - derived from the Latin word acus which translates to needle, the TCM practitioner inserts very fine needles into specific "acupoints" on the body of the patient. The number of needles used in a single session may range from 1 to 20, sometimes more.
    Acupuncture can relieve pain, increase blood circulation, and create an energy balance within the patient's body.
  • Dietary therapy - food therapy incorporates the same "five flavors" theory as is used in herbal treatments. In TCM medicine, it is believed that a nutritious and healthy diet is achieved by a balance of the five flavors within the human body.
    When one or more "flavors" is out of balance, the prescribed treatment is to consume specific foods to restore the balance and therefore ease or cure the symptoms or disease.
  • Massage therapy - one form of TCM massage known as "Tui Na" is similar to acupressure and involves hands on rolling, rubbing, and kneading specifically targeted areas between the joints. These targeted areas are referred to as the "eight gates" in Traditional Chinese Medicine.
    This is a method commonly used to treat pain and injury that results during training for the martial arts.

Common TCM Ingredients

Some of the items used in TCM include:

  • dried plants
  • animal parts
  • lingzhi mushrooms (lingzhi translates in Chinese to "herb of spiritual potency"
  • ginseng
  • tortoise plastrons (the shell underbellies of turtles)

The training period to understand these ingredients and to be considered as a qualified TCM practitioner takes years, even decades. Many of the modern Chinese practitioners implement some practices from Western medicine along with the traditional TCM methods.

Modern TCM

Modernization of Traditional Chinese Medicine continues as more herbs, plants, and other ingredients are utilized in the creation of tablets and soluble formulas to mix with liquid. Substances used in these formulations often include ingredients such as snakes, lizards, frogs, worms, and bees along with various plant and fungi specimens.

While the approach to TCM is very different from that of Wester medicine, it is interesting to note that herbal and home remedies have gained a lot of attention in the U.S. with a notable number of followers.

In some ways, it is believed that the Chinese are modernizing their practice to include some Westernized medical theories, but it should also be said that Western medicine might be adapting some theories from TCM as well.