What is Chinese medicine?
Chinese medicine is a
system of medicine partly based on the idea that an energy, called qi
(say "chee"), flows along pathways in the body called meridians. In this
belief, if the flow of qi along these meridians is blocked or unbalanced,
illness can occur. In China, doctors have practiced Chinese medicine for
thousands of years, and it is gaining in popularity in many Western countries.
Causes of qi imbalance are thought to involve:
- External forces, such as wind, cold, or
- Internal forces, such as emotions of joy, anger, or
- Lifestyle factors, such as poor diet, too little sleep, or
too much alcohol.
Another important concept in Chinese medicine is the
concept of yin and yang. In this approach, all things, including the body, are
composed of opposing forces called yin and yang. Health is said to depend on
the balance of these forces. Chinese medicine focuses on maintaining the
yin-yang balance to maintain health and prevent illness.
medicine doctors look at the balance of body, mind, and spirit to determine how
to restore qi, the yin-yang balance, and good health.
What is Chinese medicine used for?
Chinese medicine to treat many illnesses from
asthma and allergies to cancer and
infertility. Chinese doctors may use several types of
treatment to restore qi balance.
Chinese medicine therapies
- Acupuncture, which uses thin metal needles
placed along the body's meridians.
- Acupressure, which uses the
hands or fingers to apply direct pressure to points along the body's
- Chinese herbs, combinations of herbs, roots, powders, or
animal substances to help restore balance in the body.
which uses warm air in glass jars to create suction placed on areas of the body
to help stimulate qi.
- Diet. Yin and yang foods can help restore the
yin-yang balance in the body.
- Massage (tui na) on specific areas of
the body or along the body's meridians.
- Moxibustion, which uses
small amounts of heated plant fiber (moxa, or Chinese mugwort) on specific
areas of the body.
- Qi gong, which uses movement, breathing
techniques, and meditation.
Is Chinese medicine safe?
Research in China and
worldwide has shown Chinese medicine to be helpful for many types of illness.
Because Chinese medicine differs from Western medical practice in diagnosis and
treatment methods, it is difficult to apply Western scientific standards to
For example, in Western medical practice, any two people with
a similar infection (such as
sinusitis) may be treated with a standard course of
antibiotics. In Chinese medicine, each person might receive a different
treatment for the same illness depending on the person's own qi and yin-yang
The United States accredits schools in Chinese medicine,
so a practitioner certified by an accredited school has had extensive training
in Chinese medicine.
The National Institutes of Health, through
the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) and
other institutes, funds ongoing research of many complementary therapies to
determine their benefits and risks. Acupuncture has been the most studied of
Chinese medicine treatments and has become accepted as a therapy for certain
conditions in the United States. Promising results have been found for the use
of acupuncture in treating nausea and vomiting related to chemotherapy,
postsurgery pain, and pregnancy. Acupuncture also may be useful for other
conditions such as addiction, stroke rehabilitation, headache, menstrual
osteoarthritis, low back pain,
carpal tunnel syndrome, and asthma. In general,
acupuncture is safe when done by a certified acupuncturist. The treatment can
be expensive and time-consuming.
Like conventional medicines,
Chinese herbal medicines may also cause side effects, trigger allergic
reactions, or interact with other prescription and nonprescription medicines or
herbs. Before you use any Chinese therapies, be sure to tell your health
professional about any prescription, nonprescription, or other natural
supplements you are taking.
Always tell your doctor if you are
using an alternative therapy or if you are thinking about combining an
alternative therapy with your conventional medical treatment. It may not be
safe to forgo your conventional medical treatment and rely only on an
Other Works Consulted
National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (2011). Backgrounder. Acupuncture: An introduction. (NCCAM Publication No. D404). Available online: http://nccam.nih.gov/health/acupuncture/introduction.htm.
Nolting MH (2013). Chinese prepared medicines. In JE Pizzorno, MT Murray, eds., Textbook of Natural Medicine, 4th ed., pp. 655–659. St. Louis: Mosby.
Zunin ID, Wong M (2013). Eastern origins of integrative medicine and modern applications. In JE Pizzorno, MT Murray, eds., Textbook of Natural Medicine, 4th ed., pp. 2–7. St. Louis: Mosby.