HomeHealthHow Does Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) Support Your Health and Well-Being?

How Does Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) Support Your Health and Well-Being?

When Sandra Struthers was in her 30s, she suffered from power urinary-tract infections (UTIs). She noticed a string of medical doctors and specialists who carried out quite a few exams, but the issue persevered: No quantity of cranberry juice, dietary supplements, or conduct modification helped. “They informed me it was seemingly a persistent, low-grade an infection that by no means cleared and was changing into proof against antibiotics, and that I’d in all probability be incontinent by the point I used to be 50,” she recollects.

That’s when she determined to strive acupuncture, a key modality of Conventional Chinese language Medication (TCM). “I went each week for 2 to 3 months, and it simply . . . mounted it,” says Struthers, now 49 and a medical intern in marriage and household remedy in St. Paul, Minn. “I haven’t had that form of power UTI subject since.”

She additionally turned to acupuncture to deal with her insomnia and poor temperature regulation, and credit her acupuncturist with serving to her determine her particular structure.

“Numerous Western-medicine medical doctors are fast to supply prescriptions for medication, however my Chinese language-medicine physician was the primary one to elucidate to me, ‘That is how your physique is constructed, and that is what it must perform optimally.’ She was in a position to assist me perceive and settle for the physique I used to be given as an alternative of preventing towards it.”

Western drugs is good for acute well being points, comparable to a coronary heart assault, an infection, or damage. “However lots of power problems are actually problems of poor communication, coordination, and synchronization,” says Jill Blakeway, DACM, LAc, founder and director of the Yinova Middle in New York Metropolis and the creator of Power Medication: The Science and Thriller of Therapeutic. “Chinese language drugs lives in that space.”

Advanced situations comparable to power ache, hormonal imbalances, reproductive well being points, autoimmune problems, digestive issues, migraines, and temper problems are all good candidates for TCM.

“If somebody feels that one thing’s not proper inside their physique, thoughts, feelings, or spirit, I’d suggest they offer TCM a shot and see if that is one thing that may assist,” says Megan Odell, LAc, MS, acupuncture lead on the Penny George Institute for Well being and Therapeutic.

What Is Conventional Chinese language Medication?

A system of thought and observe that originated in China, TCM has developed over a minimum of 3,000 years. Acupuncture could also be its best-known component, however TCM additionally encompasses medicinal herbs, dietary and life-style suggestions, bodywork, and motion modalities comparable to tai chi.

A few of the earliest writings on medicinal herbs appeared in a ­classical poetry textual content referred to as Shi Jing, from the Western Zhou dynasty interval of roughly 1,046–771 BCE. Later, round 300 BCE, gathered data of diagnostic practices and coverings, together with acupuncture, was recorded in foundational texts such because the Huangdi Neijing (The Yellow Emperor’s Basic of Inside Medication).

At this time, TCM and Western medi­cine are practiced alongside one another in lots of hospitals and primary-care settings in China. There are additionally TCM-specific medical faculties and hospitals the place sickness is handled with herbs, acupuncture, weight loss plan, therapeutic massage, and thoughts–physique practices.

In america, acupuncture and tai chi are actually acknowledged by the Nationwide Institutes of Well being (NIH) as efficient complementary modalities. The Cleveland Clinic, Minnesota’s ­Allina Well being System, and different medical facilities have integrated components of TCM into their providers.

Between 2002 and 2012, the variety of acupuncture customers in america elevated by 50 p.c. In 2012 (the newest 12 months for which information is obtainable), 6.4 p.c of American adults stated they’d used acupuncture, and 1.7 p.c had used it previously 12 months.

TCM has undergone a few of the most thorough testing of all complementary and various therapies, and a big and rising proof base helps its efficacy.

TCM’s rules can sound pseudo­­scientific to somebody accustomed to a Western medical method. However TCM has undergone a few of the most thorough testing of all complementary and various therapies, and a big and rising proof base helps its efficacy.

In 1997, the NIH acknowledged acupuncture for its worth in relieving ache and for offering aid from nausea after surgical procedure or ­chemotherapy. It additionally famous that it “could also be helpful as an adjunct remedy” for dependancy, stroke rehabilitation, headache, ­menstrual cramps, ache, osteoarthritis, and bronchial asthma.

Acupuncture can help psychological well being as nicely. A 2013 examine discovered that electroacupuncture (during which delicate electrical currents are transferred by way of the needles) was as efficient because the antidepressant treatment ­Prozac in easing signs of despair and that it acted extra rapidly. MRIs have proven that acupuncture can result in observable modifications within the mind, with sure acupuncture factors correlating with particular cerebral areas.

The selection between Western drugs and TCM is just not a binary one; these two approaches might be potent together.

And Odell usually cares for sufferers who’re present process most cancers remedy. She describes this work as complementing the protocols utilized by her oncology colleagues.

The selection between Western drugs and TCM is just not a binary one; these two approaches might be potent together. “TCM medical doctors aren’t competitors for Western medical doctors,” Blakeway notes. “We’re each a part of the jigsaw puzzle of therapeutic.”

Deal with the Complete Individual

Western drugs usually trains its sights on brokers of illness that must be vanquished, comparable to viruses or most cancers cells, whereas TCM considers the whole thing of an individual’s physique, thoughts, and spirit. “Medical doctors of Chinese language drugs take a look at sickness and disharmony within the context of the entire physique,” Blakeway says.

Typical Western drugs provides a reductive mind-set in regards to the physique, Odell notes, which might be useful in a disaster like a rampant an infection or stroke. “Western drugs says, ‘We’re going to wean out all these things we don’t care about and winnow right down to readability on this particular factor that’s occurring.’”

But a slender focus isn’t as efficient for well being situations involving a number of bodily programs, which make up nearly all of what ails us.

“Chinese language drugs ideas the traditional Western method on its head,” says Odell. “We take a look at every little thing that’s occurring with somebody — their temper, digestion, sleep, and signs — and say, ‘What’s the sample?’”

“Chinese language drugs ideas the traditional Western method on its head,” says Odell. “We take a look at every little thing that’s occurring with somebody — their temper, digestion, sleep, and signs — and say, ‘What’s the sample?’”

Blakeway describes a airplane flying towards its vacation spot: “It doesn’t fly in a straight line. The pilot course-­corrects to answer wind and climate. Your physique course-corrects like that on a regular basis, and for essentially the most half, it does a superb job.”

Nonetheless, the physique may have steerage to get again on observe. That’s the place TCM is available in.

Chinese language-medicine practitioners body imbalances within the physique utilizing eight rules: cold and hot; inner and exterior; poor and extreme; and yin and yang.

Yin, for example, describes all of the physique’s qualities which might be receptive, cooling, and nourishing, Blakeway explains, whereas yang is all of the methods the physique is energetic, warming, and in a position to create change. If yin is poor, one may get overheated and dry. Poor yang may manifest as poor circulation and extreme chilly.

“You need to have yin and yang in a dynamic steadiness — that’s the plane course-correcting because it flies towards the airport. It’s what your physique is doing all day,” says Blakeway.

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The Physique In line with TCM

These are different key ideas that inform the TCM understanding of the physique.


Some have speculated that the idea of the Power in Star Wars relies on qi (pronounced “chee”). Qi is a life drive — the clever consciousness of the cosmos itself. “Mountains, crops, and human feelings all have qi,” explains Ted Kaptchuk, OMD, creator of The Internet That Has No Weaver: Understanding Chinese language Medication.

“Qi is the essential constructing block of existence,” Odell provides. Many TCM practices concentrate on “constructing qi” and making certain it behaves correctly to help general well being.

Qi initiates and accompanies all motion, protects and warms the physique, and ensures stability. A wholesome physique has not solely sufficient qi however qi that flows in the proper route. “It must be flowing easily by way of the physique within the instructions it’s purported to be shifting,” says Odell. Nausea may symbolize rebellious abdomen qi, for example — power shifting up when it’s supposed to maneuver down.

“Qi can get caught, stagnated, or weak,” provides Di Guan, LAc, DAOM, who practices acupuncture and Chinese language drugs at Shén Acupuncture and Meditation Studio in Minneapolis. “Qi stagnation can result in ache, irritability, nervousness, despair, or poor sleep. Qi weak point or deficiency may present up as coronary heart palpitations, shortness of breath, poor digestion, or fatigue.”


Throughout an acupuncture remedy, a practitioner locations needles within the physique alongside energetic channels referred to as meridians. They type an invisible lattice that hyperlinks all of the organs and components of the physique; qi and blood journey by way of these channels.

“You may perceive meridians as highways inside our physique,” Guan explains. “Now we have greater than 400 acupoints on our physique, together with acupoints which might be on meridians and a few additional factors that aren’t.”

When the notion of meridians was launched to the West, individuals thought they had been a form of imaginary assemble, says Blakeway. “However today, we all know that the physique communicates electromagnetically internally. And actually, meridians comply with the trail of the fascia plains.”

Fascia is the connective tissue that surrounds all of the physique’s very important organs, muscle mass, bones, and nerve fibers; researchers have explored this community because the anatomical foundation of meridians. “Fascia has a excessive water content material, so it’s electroconductive, and it may possibly create cost too. This is among the methods the physique communicates internally,” she explains.

Blakeway notes that embryos type by way of electromagnetic communication — even earlier than the formation of the nervous system. “Whereas the embryo is setting up itself, it varieties these little nodes which might be extra electroconductive than the tissue round it. It seems the foremost acupoints are in the identical locations as these embryological nodes. This barely extra electromagnetic tissue that was used to create us can be used to take care of us.”


TCM takes a broad view of the physique’s organs. Somewhat than contemplating the liver a set mechanical construction, for example, TCM defines it by the actions and qualities related to it in addition to by the way in which it interacts with different organs, such because the spleen, kidneys, lungs, and coronary heart.

TCM sees the liver as accountable for the sleek movement of all of the feelings, qi, and blood, and holds that it suffers below extreme psychological stress. When the power of the liver is stagnated, it causes downstream issues for digestion, amongst different issues.

It could possibly additionally correspond to extreme anger, which is the emotion related to the liver in TCM. A remedy plan for digestive points accompanied by irritability may encompass stimulating the liver with herbs and weight loss plan in addition to encouraging the wholesome expression of anger.

Blood and Different Fluids

As with the organs, TCM understands blood otherwise from Western drugs. Blood is the nurturing yin counterpart to qi’s motivating yang; it’s the fluid that moistens and maintains the physique.

“TCM pays lots of consideration to the standard of the blood as a result of it’s what nourishes all the opposite tissues. Eating regimen is a giant issue within the high quality of the blood, and now we have an entire class of herbs referred to as blood tonics,” Blakeway says.

TCM additionally categorizes lymph, phlegm, mucus, saliva, and sweat as fluids that, like blood, assist preserve tissues versatile and balanced. They will additionally change into caught or stagnated.

Together with jing, or essence (the refined substance accountable for our development and improvement), and shen (our consciousness or spirit), blood, fluids, and qi symbolize the “5 substances” in TCM.

“The 5 very important substances contribute to one another, they usually can actuate or rework into one another,” Guan notes. “By regulating qi, we will regulate the others as nicely.”


“Historical Chinese language tradition was largely agrarian, in order that they used lots of phrases and ideas that had been vital to an agrarian society, like chilly, dampness, wind, and warmth,” Odell explains.

Signs of a standard chilly may translate to signs of wind and warmth in TCM. Wind opens the pores of the physique, permitting a pathogen to enter. And warmth may categorical itself as yellow phlegm that appears prefer it’s been cooked down or as a burning sensation within the throat.

Utilizing the rules of yin and yang, steadiness is restored by introducing the alternative qualities. “If somebody is presenting in that wind and warmth manner, we’d have them eat meals which might be extra cooling in nature,” Odell explains. “Their associates is perhaps telling them to eat chili peppers and ginger, but when their chilly is definitely within the warmth territory, they need to be having cool issues like peppermint.”

There are additionally colds that fall below the “chilly” class, accord­ing to TCM, and people do profit from stimulating spices. (For extra about treating colds with TCM, see “11 Meals to Eat When You Have a Chilly.”)

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The Instruments of TCM

TCM practitioners use a spread of instruments to take away obstacles and assist reestablish steadiness within the physique.


If the meridians are the physique’s excessive­methods, Guan says, then acupuncture needles are like site visitors conductors. Acupuncturists insert skinny needles (often painlessly) into particular factors to assist direct blood, fluids, and power the place they should go.

“We need to preserve site visitors flowing easily and evenly,” she explains. “Each time we really feel there’s a qi deficiency, we use needles to direct qi towards that space to ‘tonify’ it. The place there’s a stagnation, we use needles to disperse it.”

Acupuncture therapies are extremely personalized and are tailor-made to the affected person’s sample of imbalance. Nonetheless, not each sample is exclusive, and a few are particularly frequent. As a pupil, Odell noticed a professor from China sigh deeply after a busy day of seeing sufferers. “Why does everybody right here in america have the identical sample?” he requested.

“He was describing liver–spleen disharmony, which is what we regularly see when individuals have poor diets, stress, and repressed feelings,” Odell says.  Maybe unsurprisingly, this sample usually exists alongside signs of despair and poor digestion.

In TCM, there’s no distinction between the thoughts and physique, and practitioners don’t understand ideas or feelings as inflicting bodily signs, or vice versa. As an alternative, psychological, emotional, and bodily signs come up collectively, like a site visitors jam, and acupuncture helps get issues shifting once more.

Eating regimen

As a baseline, TCM usually recommends a “clear, bland weight loss plan” to facilitate digestion. “Consider the abdomen as a stew pot,” Odell says. Simply digested meals might be “metabolized and remodeled into qi, and the waste simply eliminated.”

TCM largely eschews chilly, uncooked, processed, fried, and oily meals as an excessive amount of work for the digestive system. “You need to emphasize broth-based soups, stews, cooked greens, somewhat little bit of meat — issues which might be going to be heat and nourishing,” she notes.

And relying on an individual’s particular sample of imbalance — whether or not an extra or deficiency of warmth or chilly — a practitioner might make dietary suggestions for counterbalance. Onion, garlic, ginger, chilies, purple meat, espresso, and spices comparable to cumin, turmeric, cayenne, and coriander are thought of warming in TCM. Candy fruits, bitter greens, leafy greens, uncooked meals, and peppermint are thought of cooling.


A key part of medication, herbs are sometimes prescribed together with acupuncture to appropriate imbalances. “Now we have greater than 300 herbs we will use, and every one has its personal properties or traits, from chilly to chill to heat to scorching,” Guan says.

Notably, within the TCM context, “herbs” describes greater than crops. Natural formulation may additionally come from stones, minerals, or animal merchandise, they usually sometimes comprise a number of components in synergistic combos. “Now we have a thick e book of formulation that return 2,000 years,” Odell says. Practitioners who make their very own natural formulation might tweak them to deal with the wants of a selected affected person.


TCM makes use of a wide range of motion and therapeutic massage modalities to facilitate the sleek movement of qi, blood, and fluids:

  • Qigong integrates posture, motion, breath, and self-massage to advertise qi era and circulation.
  • Tai chi incorporates fluid actions to maneuver qi alongside the meridians.
  • Acupressure entails making use of guide strain, as an alternative of acupuncture needles, to acupoints.
  • Cupping applies cups to the pores and skin to create suction. It’s like “therapeutic massage in reverse,” says Blakeway. “It’s pulling up as an alternative of pushing down, lifting the fascia to create more room so fluids can run by way of and clear out particles.”
  • Moxibustion entails heating a sage-like herb referred to as mugwort and holding it above an space of the physique to heat it. “Moxa has a really penetrating infrared warmth that goes into the muscle and might be notably relieving,” she explains.
  • Gua sha entails rubbing a spoon or specialised stone repeatedly towards the pores and skin. The aim is to cut back stagnation and improve circulation of qi, selling the physique’s capability to take away particles and restore tissue.

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Give It a Strive

A primary appointment with a TCM practitioner can have some notable variations from a normal medi­cal go to. You’ll seemingly be requested to fill out an in depth questionnaire and well being historical past upfront, with questions on your major grievance, what makes it higher or worse, your weight loss plan, train habits, sleep, stress stage, temper, household historical past, and every other signs. The supplier will then goal particular areas for follow-up questions.

On the appointment, the practitioner will seemingly observe your complexion, physique composition, and the colour and coating of your tongue. They could additionally take note of the scent of your breath and the sound of your voice — ­whether or not it’s shouty or singsong, forceful or whispery. All these observations provide data in your qi and the steadiness of yin and yang.

They may even seemingly really feel your pulse. “Every wrist has three sections, and every part has three layers. Each part represents a special organ system,” Guan says. There are 28 pulse sorts, based on Shicai Li, a Chinese language-­drugs physician who lived about 350 years in the past; every offers perception into doable excesses or stagnation within the physique.

“Combining all the data we get subjectively and objectively from these strategies, we diagnose you along with your sample and resolve what acupoints and natural therapies will handle that imbalance,” Guan provides.

Many remedy plans name for one to 3 visits per week for a number of weeks. Relying on the circumstances, chances are you’ll discover an enchancment in signs quickly after the primary go to, or it could take a couple of therapies earlier than you are feeling higher. Therapeutic with TCM is like so many issues: Sluggish and regular wins the race.

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This text initially appeared as “The Therapeutic Path of Conventional Chinese language Medication” within the July/August 2023 subject.



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