Traditional Chinese medicine
(TCM) is a system of medicine that has been used for thousands of years. It has not
changed much in that time. Its basic concept is that the vital force of life (called Qi)
moves through the body. It does so in a well-balanced way. Any imbalance to Qi can cause
disease and illness. This imbalance is often thought to be caused by the 2 different
forces that make up Qi. These are called Yin and Yang.
The ancient Chinese believed that
humans are small forms of the larger universe. And that we are linked to nature and its
forces. Balance between health and disease is a key concept of TCM. When an imbalance
occurs, people who follow TCM will seek out a TCM provider. TCM providers use treatments
to restore the Qi balance. Treatments will vary for each person.
With TCM it is believed that to
regain balance, you must reach a balance. This balance must be between your internal
body organs and the external elements of earth, fire, water, wood, and metal.
Treatment to regain balance may
Burning herbal leaves on or
near the body (moxibustion)
Using warmed glass jars to
create suction on certain body points (cupping)
Movement and focus exercises
(such as tai chi)
Acupuncture is a part of TCM. It
has made its way recently into Western medicine. It's been studied the most of all the
alternative therapies. Some herbal treatments used in TCM can act as medicines. They can
work very well. But they may also have serious side effects. For example, ephedra is a
Chinese herb. It is used in dietary supplements for weight loss and performance
enhancement. In 2004, the FDA banned the sale of dietary supplements with ephedra. It
also banned the sale of plants with ephedra group alkaloids. The FDA did this because
of complications such as heart attack and stroke. But the ban does not apply to certain
herbal products made under TCM guidelines and intended only for short-term use. It also
does not apply to over-the-counter and prescription medicines or to herbal teas.
If you are thinking of using TCM, a
certified provider 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 conventional treatment, especially for serious conditions. But it may be
helpful when used as complementary therapy. Some TCM herbal medicines can interfere or
be toxic when used with Western medicines. Tell your healthcare provider if you are
using TCM. This will give your providers a full picture of your health. And it will help
ensure safe, effective, coordinated care.