Cultural Approaches to HealthHealth

How Does Traditional Chinese Medicine Work?

What Is Traditional Chinese Medicine?

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) has evolved over thousands of years. They use an approach to mind and body treatment in the form of exercises like Tai Chi as well as herbal products to address health problems.

Traditional Chinese medicine is popular around the world as a form of medical treatment.  A popular form you probably have heard of or even have had personally is acupuncture.  The effectiveness of this type of treatment and others originating from Asia have been long debated.

Studies have shown mind and body practices used in traditional Chinese have had positive results to improve the quality of life by helping with pain and emotional issues such as anxiety.

One of the more controversial Traditional Chinese Medicines are herbal products. Chinese medicines for a wide range of medical conditions have had mixed results.

Are Traditional Chinese Medicines Safe?

While practices such as Tai Chi and acupuncture is usually only unsafe is a patient uses them at the expense of seeking more effective forms of medical treatment, It’s important to know some Chinese herbal products have been contaminated with toxic compounds.  They include pesticides and microorganisms that can have serious side effects.

What’s The Science?

Studies show acupuncture is effective by reducing pain but trails suggest some instances where acupuncture is administered there is more mind of matter taking place when it comes to reducing pain.

Results from acupuncture sessions administered by credible physicians indicate the practice is effective in reducing chronic pain such as lower back, neck, and joint pain.

With Tai Chi, a practice that is much like Yoga, research indicates it can improve the lives of the elderly and those with Parkinson’s disease.  Studies also show Tai Chi can reduce arthritis pain, back pain, and improve mobility.

Herbal Products

About 20% of Americans use one kind of Chinese herbal product or another for medical conditions including some serious ones such as heart disease.  Unfortunately the effectiveness of Chinese herbal products remain debatable.

If you are interested in learning more about  specific herbs, see NCCIH’s Herbs at a Glance Web page. You can find additional information on botanical (plant) dietary supplements on the Office of Dietary Supplements Web site.

What is Known About Chinese Medicines?

  • Some Chinese herbal products have plant or animal material; drugs such as the blood-thinner warfarin and the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory agent diclofenac.  Chinese medicines have also been show to contain heavy metals such as arsenic, lead, and cadmium.  Pesticides have also been found in testing some of which have been shown to cause asthma or severe allergic reactions.
  • Though acupuncture is relatively safe, there have been complications from the use of non-sterile needles and improper delivery of treatments.
  • Tai Chi is safe, the only drawback being participants who push their bodies to far resulting in minor injuries such as muscle pulls..

Considering Traditional Chinese Medicines?

  • Be sure to discuss this with your doctor.
  • Don’t use this approach to replace or delay seeking conventional care.
  • Don’t use Chinese herbal products for an existing condition before consulting a doctor.
  • If you are going to seek medical attention from a Traditional Chinese Medicine provider, be sure they are qualified. Most states and the District of Columbia have laws regulating acupuncture practice, and most states require certification from the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine.
  • If you are intending to use Traditional Chinese Medicine for a child, consult the child’s health care provider first. .
  • If you are using Traditional Chinese Medicine, be sure to tell your conventional healthcare providers.
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