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Traditional Chinese Medicine

What is Traditional Chinese Medicine and What Can It Treat?

Traditional Chinese Medicine, or TCM as it is referred to, consists of a trinity of healing modalities: Chinese herbal remedies, Chinese acupuncture, and Tui Na, or Chinese acupressure.

QI and the Meridians

Qi is the bio-electrical life force of the body. It comes from our parents, the food and drink we ingest, and the air we breathe in. Qi travels in the body through a series of interconnected pathways that travel close to the surface of the body. These pathways we call meridians, or channels. Most of the meridians home to or travel through one of the major organs of the body. So we call them the heart channel, liver channel etc...

Where the energy tends to pool, we call those the acupoints. There are close to 400 acupoints on the body. It is through the acupoints with either a needle or with acupressure that we access and moderate that energy of the meridian system.

There are 3 main imbalances of the meridian system; excess if there is too much energy in a particular channel, deficiency if there is too little, and stagnation if the energy does not move. It is much like a river that has too much or too little water or a body of water where the water doesn't move.

A Short History of Acupuncture

Acupuncture originated in ancient China. Before there was the technology to make needles from metal, the ancient Chinese utilized thin, chiseled stones called Bian stones to push upon certain points on the body.

They recently excavated a Bian stone in Mongolia that was from the Neolithic era which ranges from 4 to 10 thousand years ago.

In 1991 they found an Iceman called Otsi in the Alps near the Italian and Austrian border. He had strange tattoos that were described initially as tribal, but an acupuncturist happened to be watching the show and thought that they correlated to acupoints, specifically for chronic low back pain. He contacted the researchers who then did an MRI on the body and confirmed chronic low back pain. The tattoos are either on or millimeters away from known acupoints. The Iceman is at least 5,300 years old, and chances are they didn't just come up with it that year.

Acupuncture has been around a long time. Acupuncture, herbal medicine and massage have been used over time to treat more people than any other modalities or forms of treatment in the history of mankind. These forms of healing have been used and refined over thousands and thousands of years.

In comparison, modern medicine is thought to have begun in 1543 with the publication of the first book of anatomy, De Humanis Corporis. Modern medicine is the #1 form of acute care in the world. That is what they do best, but as a reactionary form of medicine, preventative health care is not its strong point. Preventative care is the best form of care; the Chinese have a saying: “You don't wait until the roof is burning to put out the fire.”

What is Chinese Herbal Medicine?

Herbal medicine is the oldest form of healing on the planet. The Chinese form of herbal healing is the oldest documented form of herbal healing. There are more than 500 medicinals used in traditional Chinese remedies, 300 of which are most commonly used. Shen Nong's Herbal Classic is a 2000 year old book on herbal medicine describing 365 different remedies and their effects and is recognized as the oldest book on herbal medicine.

Herbal Medicine vs. Pharmaceutical Medicine

Pharmaceutical medicine is derived from herbal medicine. Early researchers would often find an herb that had a specific effect and would analyze it for the active chemical component that they believed was responsible for that special effect. They also believed that they could replicate this component in a laboratory, so as to provide the special effect without the need to harvest the herb. In theory, this might sound like a good idea, but removing one constituent from the matrix in which it naturally occurs ultimately removes the herb's true healing capacity.

If I went down in a plane with a crate of herbal remedies and was stranded on an island, I would have a source of food that I could eat and I might survive until I ran out. If I crashed on that same island with a crate of drugs, I would be dead in short order if I had to use it for food.

Herbal remedies are food and, as such, they usually do not stimulate unwanted side-effects. Your body is well aware of how to metabolize food. Pharmaceutical medicine, having been isolated from nature, is not food. Not being food, your body is usually at a loss when it comes to safely metabolizing chemicals, hence the long-whispered list of side effects possible that is included in every drug commercial. Another thing to remember is that you can't patent an herb and control the supply and price of herbs. You can if you genetically alter it, but then it is no longer a natural remedy.

Western medicine, like western medical care, is great for acute concerns. If there is trauma, pain killers often provide quick relief from intolerable pain.

Chinese herbal formulas consist of 4 to 20 herbs of varying doses, combined together to treat a specific diagnosis. Chinese herbal remediies never consist of just a single herb; rather, the herbs are mixed together so that the sum is greater than its parts. In one formula, you will find various herbs to treat sore throat, relieve fever, and quell a cough.

Herbs are prescribed and never just given because of certain symptoms. In China they have a saying Yi tong bing zhi – Yi bing tong zhi, which means, "same disease, different formulas; different disease, same formula." In Chinese medicine, 5 different people may have headaches and need 5 different formulas to treat them, because they all have headaches for different reasons. Two people may have completely different symptoms, but if the root cause were the same, they would take the same formula.

Diagnosis in Chinese Medicine

There are many different ways to diagnose in Chinese medicine: eight parameters, five element, four levels and six stages diagnosis are among the most common.

While there are different schools of thought in diagnosis, the methods used to gather information are common to them all:

These give us the information that we need to diagnose.

The manifestations or symptoms of the patient’s condition are the branches or biao. They lead us to the root of the problem or ben. If the symptoms are treated without addressing the root, then even if the symptoms clear, they will only arise in a different form or come back. It's like weeding your garden or yard by pulling all the tops off of the weed. Things may look fine, but the root imbalance is lurking beneath the surface, and will rise again either in a different form, or as a relapse. Both the roots and the branches are treated to effect a cure. The symptoms are treated to make the patient more comfortable while the root cause is balanced.

One of the biggest questions that we ask in TCM is “WHY?” If a person has a headache or pain in the body, we must ask why. If a woman's cycle is irregular, painful or absent we must ask why. If we aren't asking why and prescribing herbs or alleviate symptoms the patient may be made comfortable, but will never be fully healed.
In TCM we treat the root as well as the symptoms so that the patient gets well and stays that way.

After a patient is balanced and well, then an occasional session once a month or two months to maintain health is advised. It's always cheaper to maintain your car, then to let things go until something blows. You change the oil regularly and everything runs smoothly. If you let it go and run dry and the engine seizes, you're in for a huge bill and a lot of downtime. The same is true for the body, occasional tune ups once you're well and you tend to stay that way.

Correct the imbalance in the body, and then maintain that balance.

What Does TCM Treat?

It's actually easier to describe what it doesn't treat. Anything you would need an ambulance for. Open wounds or trauma are not our playground, we leave that to the experts in that field. They are the ones that keep you alive, while we are the ones to help you to live.

Acupuncture can treat infertility (both male and female), pain, migraines, colds, flu, constipation, diarrhea, gastrointestinal disorders, addiction, pediatric and gynecological disorders, mental-emotional disorders, and the list goes on and on.

In TCM we treat the body with herbs and acupuncture in a gentle and natural way that works with the body to correct the root imbalance of the problem and then help the patient maintain health so that they can live a happier, healthier, longer life.

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