Twenty-eight centuries before Christ was born, the ancient Chinese ruler Shen Nung wrote the earliest known medical treatise, the Pen-Ts’ao. The work of Shen Nung formed the basis for the development of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). This Chinese healing form would go on to flourish across the centuries.
TCM Theory of Disease
The yin yang symbol, with its intertwined half circles of black and white, has come to represent much of Chinese culture. Most importantly, the philosophy behind yin yang forms the basis of traditional Chinese medicine.
The yang represents the masculine, active, and light energy of the universe. The yin is the opposite, representing the feminine, passive, and dark energy of the universe.
Traditional Chinese medicine posits that health is the result of a balance between yin and yang while an excess of either causes disease.
Traditional Chinese medicine focuses on five organs: the heart, liver, spleen, lungs, and kidneys. Each organ is associated with many aspects of nature. For example, the heart is a yang organ associated with fire, joy, hot climates, bitter taste, and red hue. The lungs are yin organs associated with metal, worry, pungent taste, and white hue.
Interactions between the elements of each organ give rise to health or disease.
The most mainstream practice of traditional Chinese medicine is acupuncture. Acupuncture involves inserting thin needles under the skin at “acupuncture points” in order to relieve blockages in “meridians” or energetic channels of the body. This practice is used primarily as a treatment for pain and muscular problems.
Acupuncture is the most studied aspect of traditional Chinese medicine. Although numerous scientific theories attempt to explain how and why acupuncture works, there exists no definitive explanation. Nevertheless, the effectiveness of acupuncture is widely recognized. The World Health Organization currently lists acupuncture as an effective treatment for forty aliments including abdominal pain, depression, neck pain, and migraines.
Moxibustion involves burning the mugwort leaves and then applying to the skin either directly or with acupuncture needles. The heat is used to induce an increase in energy at an “impulse point”. The moxa produces red spots on the skin from the heat, but it is usually removed before the skin is burned.
3. Herbal Medicine and Food Remedies:
Physicians of traditional Chinese medicine will often prescribe various herbal and food remedies for illnesses with internal causes. In accordance with the theory of disease, these remedies attempt to balance the energies of the body. For example, physicians may use ginger to generate “warmth” and treat nausea. The medicine prescribed depends on both the symptoms of the individual and the person’s general level of health.
Differences from Western Medicine
Compared to western medicine, traditional Chinese medicine differs in several respects. First, while the focus of western medicine on treating symptoms, Chinese medicine focuses more on preventing disease. Second, traditional Chinese medicine stresses a more holistic approach, taking into account a person’s entire physical, mental, and emotional constitution in addition to the specific malaise he or she is experiencing. And lastly, TCM is more effective at treating chronic conditions while western medicine is more effective at treating acute conditions.