Health / 11.09.2015

What’s the deal with Traditional Chinese medicine?

By Laura Potter
TCM dates back over 2500 years. But is it still relevant – and does it work?

traditional Chinese medicineWhat is it?

A genuinely holistic approach to health that takes in five ‘pillars’ or aspects. These are: Qi (pronounced ‘chi’) – the body’s vital energy that circulates through channels called meridians; yin and yang – when these work in harmony you’re well, if they’re imbalanced you get ill; the five elements – wood, fire, earth, metal and water, which link our bodies to nature, and organs have similar properties to the elements; zang-fu – zang organs are associated with manufacture, storage and regulation, the fu organs receive, distribute and excrete.

Last, it uses five diagnostic methods – looking, listening, inquiring, smelling, and touching. Depending on the diagnosis, patients are treated with acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine, tuina (therapeutic massage) and qigong or tai chi exercises.

How can it help?

Hair-thin needles stimulate the flow of qi and regulate blood flow. There are over 300 acupoints on the body, each with its own therapeutic effect. Needles stay in for 15-30 minutes, and a course of treatment is usually 10-15 sessions. It’s mainly for pain, but also digestive issues, skin and fertility problems, asthma, depression – and wellbeing.

Herbal therapy
This uses around 600 herbs, which all have an ‘energy’ – hot, cold, neutral; and ‘taste’ – sour, bitter, sweet, which influence yin and yang. For example, bitter clears heat, empties the bowels and improves appetite. Patients are given it as a tea, tincture, tablets or topical treatment. They’re used for skin and digestive problems and respiratory, urinary, gynaecological and rheumatological conditions.

It’s a therapeutic massage which is used to treat musculoskeletal and digestive problems, as well as low energy and headaches.

Tai chi and qigong
They are movements performed with coordinated breathing to encourage the flow of qi. They are mainly used for dealing with stress.

Can you trust it?

Acupuncture has lots of science behind it – and is recommended on the NHS for back pain. Smaller studies show it works for headaches, nausea and depression. There isn’t rigorous evidence behind herbal remedies, but they have been linked to improvements in allergies, diabetes and anxiety. Tai chi, qigong and tuina have little scientific evidence. TCM shouldn’t replace conventional Western medicine, but you could incorporate elements.

To find a practitioner through The Register of Chinese Herbal Medicine, visit


What’s the deal with Traditional Chinese medicine?
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What’s the deal with Traditional Chinese medicine?
Figure out the practice that has evolved over thousands of years, and how you can adopt it into your own life.
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Healthy Magazine
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