Traditional Chinese Medicines

What Is Traditional Chinese Medicine?

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has been practiced as one of the oldest medical disciplines in the world. Since ancient times Chinese drugs largely came from plants and medicinal herbs therefore, they have been called "herbs". The first written record of specially prepared TCM containing "herbs"- the Medicinal Wine, was inscribed on a tortoise shell during the Shang Dynasty in the 11 century BC. The wisdom of Traditional Chinese Medicine is summarized in the Chinese Materia Medica, which provides studies on the properties of Chinese drugs, their origin, preparation, dosage, administration and efficacy. The Materia Medica of the Tang Dynasty written between the year 618-907 is the earliest known pharmacopoeia in the world and is often compared with the Nuremberg Pharmacopoeia issued in 1542.

Today the Classified Materia Medica is the most influential and complete review of homeopathic knowledge and practices. In the Chinese Materia Medica Dictionary (1975) as many as 5,767 kinds of TCMs were compiled.

Basic Tenets of Traditional Chinese Medicine

Chinese Traditional Medicine is quite different from Western medicine in that it deals with a different concept of the human body. The fundamental principles behind TCM are:

  1. the meridians, which holds that energy flows through the body along 12 energy paths;
  2. Qi, the universal energy that flows within, around and through all things in the universe including human beings;
  3. the five elements i.e. water, fire, earth, metal and wood, which compose the universe;
  4. Yin and Yang, which should not be regarded as the opposing forces as right and wrong, but are complementary forces and have a state of balance in everything in the universe.

Although modern medicine has been developed to solve many problems in medicine, TCM has proven utility, due to its proven efficacy and history of minimal adverse reactions. All of the medicines are derived from all natural ingredients, mostly herbs and sometimes animal extracts. With recent developments in science and technology, the theories and methods of research for modern medicine have now been applied to TCM. For example, pre-clinical animal experiments, toxicology, histopathology, and chemical analysis have been applied to TCM. In addition quality control, and safety research are also being implemented along with different modern forms of convenient administration such as tablets, capsules, infusions, syrups, and suspensions.

Until fairly recently, orthodox western trained doctors shunned alternative therapies as unproven and unscientific. Now the medical profession has begun to incorporate alternative medical solutions into their practice or at least inquire whether alternative medicinal products and alternative health practitioners may contribute to the patient health care strategy they are building. In August of 2000, the Federal Drug Administration for first time since DSHEA 1994 recognized herbal supplements as possible botanical derived drugs and opened the way for more structured research to confirm their clinical utility. This guidance will allow more TCM's to be evaluated under traditional " New Drug" guidelines and will certainly expand the understanding of herbal medicines and specifically Traditional Chinese Medicines among them. Traditional Chinese Medicines (TCM) represent a very special category of Alternative Medicine supported by five thousand years of history. These medicines still play an important role in Chinese medical practices and Chinese culture. China, today still has 1,000 traditional manufacturers turning out 4,000 different products, which represent about half the drugs consumed in China. The Chinese Ministry of Health has a special division dealing solely with Traditional Chinese Medicine. In Chinese hospitals both Western and Chinese drugs are dispensed and are recognized as equals by doctors and patients. Furthermore, other Asian medical systems, including Japanese, Korean, Mongolian, Tibetan or Vietnamese Medicine sometimes referred to as Traditional East Asian Medicine (TEAM) either originated from ancient Chinese medicine, or were heavily influenced by this ancient proven discipline.

What is the basic methodology of Traditional Chinese Medicine?

The inherent wisdom in TCM is derived from a method which relies upon identifying patho-physiologic patterns to determine the appropriate treatment. The goal of TCM is to restore balance and thereby "cure" the disease. This approach gives TCM a special advantage over certain western medicine therapies that focus on merely providing symptomatic medical relief.

After the information concerning the patient is collected the Traditional Chinese Medicine focuses on the imbalance that is causing the patient's problems. Therefore a treatment focuses on restoring the body's balance using a heteropathic (multi-resource) remedy.

Many practitioners of TCM know and apply several treatments such as herbal treatments, acupuncture, massage, exercise etc. Because the method of identifying patterns to determine treatment has been used for a very long time, and because practitioners of TCM have recorded their experiences, and communicated their experiences others, whenever a treatment was not successful it was reassessed and an improved treatment was developed. Thus, there has been historical pressure for TCM to become increasingly accurate in diagnosis and precise in choosing the proper treatment.

When is the best time to take Chinese Medicine?

The timing of when to take medicine is very important for achieving the optimal results of treatment. It must be based on the nature of the disease and the designated medicines. Most drugs should be taken after a meal, especially tonics, drugs for strengthening the digestive system (such as drugs for toning the spleen and strengthening the intestines), drugs with gastrointestinal irritability should be taken on an empty stomach, while tranquilizers should be taken prior to retirement. In general no matter if the recommended TCM is to be taken before or after the meal, at least half an hour to one hour of interval between meal and taking a medicine is needed to achieve expected results.

Generally speaking, most oral Chinese medicines are taken three times a day, with mild cases taken twice a day and severe cases taken once every four hours and continuing at night. The purpose of taking medicine at night for severe cases is to maintain effective blood concentration of the active ingredients to achieve the optimum effects.

Dietary Restrictions for Patients Taking Chinese Medicine

Some foods are restricted and cannot be taken concurrently with Chinese medicine, otherwise expected results will not be obtained. So it is very important to identify the foods that are restricted before taking medicine in order to obtain the expected results. If no specific recommendations are made in general then foods that are not easily digested, such as heavy, cold or oily foods or very spicy foods should not be taken together with Chinese medicine. Avoidance of smoking and alcohol is also strongly recommended.

Drug Interactions

Sometimes patients are required to take two or more drugs concurrently and synergism, which refers to the harmonious action of two drugs, is expected, though antagonism, which refers to the contrary action between drugs may occur. For example, when astragalus root, the actions of which are to replenish Qi and induce dieresis, is taken concurrently with poria, the actions of which are to induce dieresis and reinforce the vital functions of the spleen, the latter will reinforce the actions of the former and improve the results of the medicine. On the other hand, antagonism refers to the property of one drug to weaken the action of another drug. For example, when taken concurrently, radish seed can weaken the Qi-replenishing function of ginseng.

Future for TCM

In the new century, TCM will meet with great changes in both scientific development and social life. They will create both opportunities and challenges for TCM.

Some experts have forecast that the 21st century will be the era of TCM, with the modernization of TCM, it may become the cornerstone of Chinese industries. At present in China there are 30 colleges and universities teaching specifically Traditional Chinese Medicine with 14 various majors and 37,000 students. The scope of TCM education has not only been enlarging but also upgraded to a more advanced level. 51 high-level medicine schools teach TCM to more than 29,000 students.

In addition patients around the world demand choices in healthcare. In many cases, toxicity or side effects associated with Western Medicine have worsened human diseases, which make people more inclined to try natural medicine, and traditional methods of treatment.

The pursuit of excellence, knowledge and hope continue.