What is Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)

herbal MedicineTraditional Chinese Medicine can be considered as a complete medical system which originated in ancient China. It has a history of more than 3000 years and has been recognized as the main stream of healing system before the emergence of western medicine in the 18th century.

Chinese medicine is pronounced as “Zhong Yi” in Mandarin. “Zhong” means middle. From the view of Chinese curing system, it refers to moving the unbalanced Yin and Yang in the human body, back into a balanced system. “Yi” on the other hand, simply means medicine. In addition, Chinese medicine also employs the five element theories in healing people. These five elements are known as metal, wood, fire, water and earth. They represent five different areas of the human body. Metal corresponds with the lungs, fire with the heart, wood with liver, water to kidneys and earth (soil) to the spinal cord. The main objective of these five elements is to reinforce and neutralize each other. This helps preventing and treating illnesses effectively.

Causes of Disease in TCM

External patterns of disease are important in TCM diagnosis. Most are associated with the environment and especially the weather, i.e. damp, cold, wind, heat are all influences on our health. For example, sudden changes in temperature, ‘catching a cold’, and too much sunshine can be harmful to our bodies and lead to disease in the theory of TCM. Diseases in Chinese medicine are also related to emotional factors and are linked to the internal organs.

Girl gets coldSince the body and mind form an integrated and inseparable unit, the emotions can not only cause disharmony, but they can also be caused by it. For example, a state of fear and anxiety over a long period of time may cause the kidneys become deficient through, say, having too many children too close together, this may cause a state of fear and anxiety.

We are all human and no one can escape feeling angry, sad or worried as part of our life’s experiences; those emotions will only cause harm, however, when they are deep or prolonged over a long period of time. Disease prevention is a critical part of traditional Chinese medicine. Since disease involves two aspects, pathogenic factors and body resistance (energy that resists the pathogenic factors), both must be considered in disease prevention. Priority is usually given to building up health and strengthening body resistance. The best approach towards this end is lead to regular life style, have a proper diet, do appropriate exercise and maintain harmony in mental and emotional activities. A regular life-style includes adaptation to environmental changes and avoidance of over-indulgence in sex and alcohol.

Other causes of disease are poor constitution, over-exertion, excessive sexual activity, poor diet, trauma, poisons / excessive drug-taking, parasites and incorrect treatment. If, for example, a woman conceives when she is too old, that child is more likely to have a weak constitution and be more prone to diseases later in life. Also if she smokes or drinks too much alcohol when pregnant, this will affect the children’s constitution. In TCM the kidneys store ‘essence’, which is part of your essential life energy; and when a woman is pregnant, the kidneys dominate reproduction; this essence is diminished and weakened, consequently, the child’s health is also compromised by a mother who has poor kidney energy, or has had many children, for example in close succession. In theory, each child will become weaker if the mother does not take care of herself and try to ‘replenish’ this essence.

TCM in healing

Of our earliest ancestors, the Chinese have made it a point to incorporate nature’s garden into the world of medicine more than any other culture, still adhering to the mindset of the importance of Chinese herbal remedies to this day.

Acupuncture in action

Acupuncture in action

Although many cultures have traditionally used seeds and plant parts in their remedies, China has alleviated ailments using herbs since around 5,000 BC. Having amassed this knowledge for thousands of years, the Chinese have mastered the art of cultivating herbs for medicinal purposes and other cultures look to them for insight into how a diagnosis can be treated through the use of herbs.

Instead of treating one symptom, as is commonly done in the Western world of modern medicine, Chinese herbal remedies seek to get the body back into a natural state of balance so that healing can occur and any imbalances are eliminated. In conjunction with herbs, the Chinese also incorporate acupuncture, massage, and a healthy diet into the concept of harmony for healing purposes.

Please learn more about the Traditional Chinese Medicines on pregancy at our TCM Q&A page.