Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM)


Chinese medicine is a broad term encompassing many different modalities and traditions of healing. They share a common heritage of technique and theory rooted in ancient Chinese philosophy (Taoism), elements of which are believed to date back over 5,000 years. The first recorded use of TCM is said to have been around 2,000 years ago. The phrase traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is actually a recent development with a specific meaning in the long history of Chinese medicine. In the 1940s and 1950s, the Chinese government undertook an effort to combine many diverse forms of Chinese medicine into a unified system to be officially defined as traditional Chinese medicine. The intent was to integrate the country's large workforce of traditional practitioners into an organized health service delivery system. This would aid in providing care for a large population by using familiar and inexpensive methods.
Because TCM and Western medicine are used side by side in modern China, China is relatively advanced compared to Western countries in using the concept of "integrative medicine." TCM figures are prominently in treatment and planning of services -- including for major illnesses such as cancer and heart disease. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), TCM is fully integrated into the Chinese health system with 95% of Chinese hospitals practicing it. As an example of such integration, it is common that children being treated with intravenous antibiotics are simultaneously treated with Chinese herbs in order to counteract the side effects of the antibiotic and boost the child's immune system.
TCM places strong emphasis on herbal medicine since herbs can be taken every day. TCM regards acupuncture as more of a supportive treatment, although the two are used together when feasible for the patient. Herbs are usually given in the form of manufactured or processed pills, extracts, capsules, tinctures, or powders. This contrasts with the raw and dried form used in the more informal and older forms of practice. There are more than 2,000 different kinds of herbs of which about 400 are commonly used.
TCM has herbal regimens for use with major illnesses, such as cancer and heart disease. Herbal combinations are commonly used to reduce the side effects of chemotherapy and improve immune functioning in cancer and to improve cardiovascular health in heart and circulatory diseases. Other herbal combinations are used in diabetes, infections, and other conditions.
Cupping is a therapeutic method in TCM that refers to the application of a heated cup over an area of the body. As the air inside cools, its volume decreases thus creating a slight suction on the area that stimulates blood circulation.
Moxibustion is a therapeutic method in TCM in which an herb, usually mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris), is burned above the skin or on the acupuncture points to introduce heat into an acupuncture point and alleviate symptoms. The herb may be applied in the form of a cone, stick, or loose herb or it may be placed on the head of an acupuncture needle to manipulate the temperature gradient of the needle.
TCM practitioners may call upon a wide range of other modalities as well, from meditation and martial arts to feng shui.
In the West, TCM offers a popular alternative to conventional medicine. Despite this growing popularity, there is debate as to the evidence of its effectiveness. The modality within TCM with the largest body of evidence is acupuncture. Few well-designed trials of TCM herbal formulas are available. Establishing and applying stronger clinical trial methodologies in TCM is imperative for integrating it with modern medicine and achieving the end goal of creating evidence-based options for patient care.
Note: To supplement the evidence described in this TCM monograph, the evidence table below gives additional examples of research that have taken place using TCM herbs for various conditions. This is not a complete list of evidence on traditional Chinese medicine. It should be noted that there has been very little standardization of Chinese herbal medicine. This makes the available evidence weak for establishing reliable evidence-based expectations for treatment of any condition with Chinese herbs.

Related Terms

Acupressure, acupuncture, acustimulation, acutherapy, Asian bodywork, auricular acupuncture, chi kung, Chinese herbal medicine, Chinese herbs, Chinese nutrition therapy, Chinese patent remedies, classical acupuncture, coining, cupping, eclectic Chinese medicine, electroacupuncture, ethnic Chinese traditional medicine, feng shui, five element acupuncture, I Ching, Japanese acupuncture, medical acupuncture, moxibustion (moxa), qigong, Reiki, scraping, shiatsu, tai chi, taoism, tiji, ting sha, TCM, traditional acupuncture, tui na.