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9 Things You Should Know About TCM

When we talk about China, Traditional Chinese Medicine (known as TCM, 中醫藥, zhōng yī yào) is a hot topic that cannot be avoided. Here We prepare 9 facts you should know about TCM to introduce to you, hoping your understanding of TCM can be more thorough after reading this passage.

1.The Definition of Traditional Chinese Medicine

TCM refers to the medical model created by Chinese Han people which studies human physiology and pathology, as well as the diagnosis and treatment of human diseases. TCM was born in the primitive society, basically took shape in the Spring and Autumn Period and the Warring States Period, and was well developed afterward.

TCM bears the experiences and theoretical knowledge accumulating in the process of the fights between the ancient Chinese people and various diseases. Under the guidance of naïve materialism and spontaneous dialectics thoughts in ancient times, TCM gradually formed and developed through the long period of clinical practice. The medicine used during the TCM treatment encompasses herbal medicine, animal medicine, and mineral medicine some of which are well-renowned all over the world.

What’s more, TCM has profoundly influenced the neighboring countries, including Kampo, Korean medicine, Korean Koryo medicine, and Vietnamese Traditional medicine. There is no doubt that TCM plays a nonnegligible role in the cultural communication between China and the rest of the world.

2.The Development History of Traditional Chinese Medicine

As early as thousands of years ago, our ancestors have accumulated medication knowledge during the process of daily life experiences and the combats against nature. They gradually found out the magical function to alleviate or eradicate the pains after taking some animals or plants, which was the derivation of the TCM.

With the evolution of human beings, they commenced searching for methods to prevent or cure diseases on purpose. The well-renowned legend of Sheng Nong that tasted hundreds of herbs is an authentic reflection of that time. When baking a fire to warm themselves, people found that the heated stone or sandy soil encased by the skins or bark was capable to ease some kinds of pains. Then hot ironing therapy and the moxibustion therapy came out. When laboring with the stone, people found that the puncture of a part of the body was capable to ease the pain of some other parts. Then stone needle and bone needle therapy came out, which served as the foundation of acupuncture therapy. Afterward, primitive medicine has initially formed.

In modern times, the antimalarial drug artemisinin has saved millions of lives around the world; “Chinese traditional acupuncture and moxibustion” has been added to the UNESCO list of the intangible cultural heritage of humanity; the work Inner Canon of the Yellow Emperor (known as黃帝內經, huáng dì nèi jīng) and Compendium of Materia Medica (known as本草綱目, běn cǎo gāng mù) were selected into the Memory of the World Register; Milian Chuanbei Pipa Gao (known as蜜煉川貝枇杷膏, mì liàn chuān bèi pí pá gāo) is becoming popular in the American market. The series of events reflects the acceleration of internationalization and the increasing recognition of TCM all over the world.

3.The Well-renowned Doctors of Traditional Chinese Medicine

TCM is blessed with a long history of over 5000 years. In this long history, which doctors have made outstanding contributions to TCM? Let me introduce some of them to you.

The first one is Yellow Emperor(known as黃帝, huáng dì), who is called the ancestor of acupuncture. Everyone who has a little knowledge of Chinese culture is acquainted with the Yellow Emperor who is viewed as the ancestor of the Chinese nation. However, few of them are familiar with the contributions made by him to the development of acupuncture. The masterpiece Inner Canon of the Yellow Emperor, which probably is the record of the discussion related to medicine among the Yellow Emperor, Qibo, and Leigong, describes and expounds the theory of acupuncture in detail.

The second one is Zhang Zhongjing (known as張仲景, zhāng zhòng jǐng), who is called Medical Sage. It is said that Zhang Zhongjing was once the prefect of Changsha. At that time, typhoid fever was prevalent and many people died of it. Then, he wrote the masterpiece Treatise on Febrile and Miscellaneous Diseases, which summed up more than 300 years of clinical experience in the Han Dynasty.

The third one is Li Shizhen (known as李時珍, lǐ shí zhēn), who is called Medicine Sage. Li Shizhen collected herbs in the mountains and healed the people for a long period. After 27 years of assiduous work, he completed writing the masterpiece Compendium of Materia Medica concerning more than 800 pieces of books. And the most extraordinary trait about the Compendium of Materia Medica is that it contains as many as 1,758 kinds of drugs.

4.The Well-renowned Works on Traditional Chinese Medicine

The splendid civilization of TCM, not only has left the footprints of numerous famous doctors, but also has preserved a large number of classic works on TCM which are the precious treasure for the Chinese nation. Those words serve as the guideline to direct the promotion of TCM in modern times.

Inner Canon of the Yellow Emperor, Treatise on Febrile and Miscellaneous Diseases, General Treatise on the Cause and Symptoms of Diseases (known as巢氏諸病源候論, cháo shì zhū bìng yuán hòu lùn) and Treatise on Pestilence (known as溫疫論, wēn yì lùn) are all well-renowned works on TCM. Inner Canon of the Yellow Emperor is the earliest and most systematic works on TCM. Treatise on Febrile and Miscellaneous Diseases creatively combines medical theory with clinical practice. General Treatise on the Cause and Symptoms of Diseases, whose author is Chao Yuanfang, is the first monograph on the syndrome. And Treatise on Pestilence, whose author is Wu Youke, is the first monograph on pestilence.

What’s more, the well-renowned works on materia medica, including Sheng Nong’s Herbal Classic (known as神農本草經, shén nóng běn cǎo jīng), Collective Notes to Canon of Materia Medica (known as本草經集註, běn cǎo jīng jí zhù) and Compendium of Materia Medica, also direct the application of TCM and promote the development of TCM. Sheng Nong’s Herbal Classic, written over 2,000 years ago, was the earliest book on materia medica. It recorded more than 300 kinds of animals, plants, and minerals used for medication.

5.The Theoretical Basis of Traditional Chinese Medicine

The basic theories of TCM primarily include Yin-Yang and Five Elements theory (known as陰陽五行學說, yīn yáng wǔ háng xué shuō), visceral outward manifestation theory (known as藏象學說, cáng xiàng xué shuō), five movements and six climates theory (known as五運六氣學說, wǔ yùn liù qì xué shuō) and meridian theory (known as經絡學說, jīng luò xué shuō), among which visceral outward manifestation theory serves as the core.

The word “visceral” refers to the internal organs hidden in the body, the word “manifestation” refers to the external physiological and pathological phenomena, while the phrase “visceral outward manifestation” refers to the various visceral entities and the various signs which hint the physiological activities and pathological changes. Visceral outward manifestation theory studies the physiological functions and pathological changes of the viscera of the human body and their relationship with each other. According to the physiological function, the viscera can be divided into three categories: Zang Organs (known as臟, zāng), Fu Organs (known as腑, fǔ) and extraordinary Fu-organ (known as奇恒之腑, qí héng zhī fǔ). Heart, liver, spleen, lung, and kidney are called “five Zang Organs”. The gallbladder, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, bladder and tri-jiao (known as三焦, sān jiāo) are called “six Fu Organs”. Brain, marrow, bone, vein, gall, and uterus are called “extraordinary Fu-organ”.

However, viscera in visceral outward manifestation theory are not merely an anatomical concept, but also a physiological and pathological concept summarizing a system of the human body. Generally speaking, the physiological function of a viscera in visceral outward manifestation theory may contain the physiological function of several organs in modern anatomy, and the physiological function of an organ in modern anatomy may also be dispersed in the physiological functions of some viscera in visceral outward manifestation theory.

6.The Unique Treatment of Traditional Chinese Medicine

In China, it is common to see patients with needles or round red marks on their backs in TCM hospitals. Those are the unique treatments of TCM. TCM attaches great importance to the holistic perspective, so it rarely carries out operations. Instead, with the guidance of the idea “internal disease and external treatment”, several unique treatments of TCM come out. Acupuncture and cupping therapy are representatives.

Acupuncture is the general name of acupuncture and moxibustion, which cures diseases with the conduction of meridians and acupoints and the application of certain operations. Acupuncture refers to stabbing the patients with the needle at a certain angle and stimulating specific parts of the body with techniques, such as twisting and lifting, to treat diseases under the guidance of TCM. Accordingly, moxibustion refers to burning, fumigating, and ironing moxibustion wicks or grass on certain acupoints on the body surface to treat diseases with the stimulation of heat.

When it comes to cupping therapy, the doctors remove the air in the cupping jar with the help of heat created by the combustion; the corresponding negative pressure makes the jar suck on the skin, resulting in blood stasis. Cupping therapy is the source of the round red marks mentioned above. It is believed to be able to drive cold and dampness, dredge meridian, activate blood circulation, relieve swelling and pain, remove toxin and heat, etc. After relieving fatigue and adjusting the balance of Yin and Yang, cupping therapy can finally achieve the goals to strengthen the constitution of the body and treat the diseases.

7.The Homology of Medicine and Food

TCM mostly belongs to natural substances, including plants, animals, and minerals. Similarly, food for human beings comes from animals, plants, and minerals in nature. Those who can only treat diseases are called medicine. Those who can only release hunger and provide energy are called food. However, the phenomenon that some of the natural substances can both treat diseases and serve as food is called “homology of medicine and food” (known as藥食同源, yào shí tóng yuán). Coix seed (known as 薏苡仁, yì yǐ rén), lily (known as 百合, bǎi hé) and Chinese wolfberry (known as 枸杞, gǒu qǐ) are some of them.

According to TCM theory, coix seeds can drive dampness and invigorate the spleen. The porridge consisted of coix seed is believed to have the effect of dispelling rheumatism, edema, and arthralgia. The porridge with coix seed, red dates, and glutinous rice is fragrant and delicious. While the soup which is made up of coix seed, mung bean, and red dates is a perfect drink in summer.

Lily is believed to possess the effect of moistening the lungs to stop coughing and clearing the heart to calm the nerves by traditional Chinese doctors. The soup with lily bulbs can help people fall asleep if taken before going to bed. While the soup made up of lily, almond and glutinous rice will help to improve the symptoms of cough and dry throat.

Chinese wolfberry is a kind of popular health food, which makes the skin radiant and prolongs life. The tea filled with Chinese wolfberry and chrysanthemum is a beverage easy to make and beneficial to our health.

8.The Pros and Cons of Traditional Chinese Medicine

China is blessed with thousands of years of medicinal history and has accumulated a lot of invaluable wealth. The numerous herbs and folk prescriptions on the classic works which are widely used and proved to have a definite effect provide a strong material basis for the development of TCM. Meanwhile, TCM is proved to be more effective in curing chronic diseases and rare diseases than western medicine.

However, there are many limitations to the application of TCM. First, the taste of TCM is kind of bitter and odd, based on the fact that TCM is a mixture of various herbs, minerals, animals, and their organs and secretions. Many kids, as well as some adults, are unwilling to accept TCM treatment due to this reason. Second, taking TCM is inconvenient compared with western medicine. The most common dosage form of TCM is decoction which needs to be warmed up before taking and is not feasible to carry on.

From the perspective of development, TCM also has some fatal drawbacks, which leads to a pessimistic attitude towards the future of TCM by some researchers. First and foremost, the effect of different kinds of TCM has not been validated by a systematic and wide-accepted method. Second, the quality of herbal medicine is difficult to control.

9.The Advantages of the Combination of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Western Medicine

With the enhancement of society, TCM shows a tendency to be modernized.

The biochemical method can be used to extract the effective components of TCM and realize the simplification of these components. The modern experimental analysis methods can more clearly point out the mechanism of a certain kind of TCM to ensure the safety and effectiveness of the drugs. At the same time, the use of the knowledge of pharmaceutics is beneficial to develop new dosage forms of TCM to make it more convenient to carry and take.

Not only can western medicine bring vitality and innovation to TCM,but also TCM can boost the development of western medicine. The numerous herbal medicines with a certain applied range can provide western medicine with enormous sources for the extraction of new active compounds and the improvement of the extraction method. For example, Tu Youyou, the Nobel Prize winner, was inspired by the ancient Chinese medicine book The Handbook of Prescriptions for Emergencies when she extracted artemisinin, the method of low-temperature extraction achieving high productivity.

All above illustrate the great advantage of the combination of TCM and western medicine. The modernization of TCM will be enhanced profoundly from this process.

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