Traditional Chinese Medicine or TCM is a method of healing based on balancing different factors, such as yin (female principle) and yang (male principle); the five elements of earth, fire, metal, water, and wood; and humans’ relation to nature (Gale, 2014; Gerber, 2001; Yuan, Guo, Liu, Sun, & Zhang, 2014). In TCM, humans are a microcosm within the universal macrocosm, and the principles that affect the universe are applicable to the human system (Gerber, 2001). Five axioms govern TCM, and they state that natural laws govern the universe; when people follow these laws, they live in harmony with the universe; the universe is dynamic, and forms of stagnation cause illness; all living things are connected; and humans are connected to the environment (Gale, 2014).
TCM originated in East Asia and was used in China, Japan, Korea, Tibet, and Vietnam for thousands of years before it spread to other parts of the world. It incorporates many modalities such as acupressure, acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine, Chinese manipulation, cupping, diet, gua sha, massage, moxibustion, qigong, tai chi, and tui na (Gale, 2014; Yuan et al., 2014).
The specific date of origin of TCM is hard to trace. The first medical text, Huangdi Nei Jing or The Yellow Emperor’s Inner Cannon, dates to the Yellow Emperor Huangdi who lived around 2,698 B.C. to 2,598 B.C. However, the documents believed to have influenced the practice of TCM are the Nan Jing or The Classic of Difficult Issues, written in the 1st or 2nd century A. D. (Pizzorno & Murray, 2013). Other documents of TCM date to the Han dynasty, which spanned from 206 B.C. to A.D. 220 (Gale, 2014). Tang emperors set up the first medical school for TCM in 629, and more institutions were established in subsequently (Gale, 2014).
TCM remained mainstream until the early 20th century when China opened itself up to the West, allowing for Western style medical schools to be set up in Shanghai and other cities (Gale, 2014). Chinese Western medical physicians attempted to ban TCM in 1929, but the government prevented it, and instead promoted TCM (Gale, 2014). The official transformation of ancient Chinese medicine into the TCM practiced today took place in the 1950s when Mao Zedong proclaimed, “Chinese medicine is a great treasure-house” and TCM was embraced in an effort to preserve “the spirit of a nation” (Pizzorno & Murray, 2013, p. 4). Currently, Western medical treatments and TCM are promoted in China, and are often used concurrently.
TCM remains the treatment of choice for many in East Asia and other parts of the word. The philosophy and practice of TCM has been perfected over thousands of years, and although some treatments have been modified or adapted, the doctrine remains the same. The increased desire to understand herbal remedies inspired the development of a toxicology database for Chinese herbal medicine. This motivated Western doctors to better understand potential adverse reactions of TCM remedies (Gale, 2014).
In the United States (US) and Canada there are over 50 TCM and acupuncture schools accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (ACAOM) (Pizzorno & Murray, 2013). However, anyone studying in the US cannot be a Doctor of Oriental Medicine, as the standards are not high enough (Gale, 2014). TCM practitioners in the US are acupuncturists, herbalists, or both. Although it varies, most states require licenses for acupuncture and no state requires a license for herbalism. California is the only state that requires acupuncturists to pass an examination that covers both acupuncture and herbal medicine. The National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM) offers certification in both acupuncture and herbal medicine (Gale, 2014).
Due to the many modalities within TCM, the efficacy has been widely tested and a vast number of studies exist. A search on the National Center for Biotechnology Information yielded thousands of results. For instance, over 100 of the 700 herbs available in TCM “have been tested and found effective by the standards of Western science (Gale, 2014, p. 2420).
Yuan et al. (2014) looked at 75 studies on the treatment of chronic lower back pain and chronic neck pain with TCM, encompassing over 11,000 patients aged 17 to 90 years. Acupuncture, acupressure, and cupping were the most effective in treating low back and neck pain. In many cases, acupuncture was superior to massage, medication, and physical therapy, however it was not as effective as traction and manipulation. Acupuncture was equally effective to TENS or transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation. Cupping was slightly more effective in reducing neck pain than non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Tai chi was as effective as other forms of exercise; and Chinese manipulation was more effective than Chinese massage in treating chronic low back pain and chronic neck pain (Yuan et al., 2014).
A review on the effect of tai chi on 824 patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) indicated that tai chi improved exercise capacity and health-related quality of life (Wu et al., 2014). TCM herbs and medications have been effective in supporting breast, colorectal, liver, lung, and stomach cancer treatments in, in vitro and in vivo studies, by supporting apoptosis and/or reducing proliferation and metastasis of cancer cells (Xia et al., 2014). Many other studies can be found on the effectiveness of TCM in treating different conditions.
Gale (2014). The Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine, (4th Ed). Farmington Hilla, MI: Gale Cengage Learning.
Gerber, R. (2001). Vibrational Medicine (3rd ed.). Rochester, VT: Bear & Company.
Pizzorno, J. E. & Murray, M. T. (2013). Textbook of Natural Medicine (4th ed.). St. Louis, MO: Churchill Livingstone.
Wu, W., Liu, X., Wang, L., Wang, Z., Hu, J., & Yan, J. (2014). Effects of tai chi on exercise capacity and health-related quality of life in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: a systematic review and meta-analysis. International Journal of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, 9, 1253-1263. doi:10.2147/COPD.S70862
Xia, J., Chen, J., Zhang, Z., Song, P., Tang, W., Kokudo, N. (2014). A map describing the association between effective components of traditional Chinese medicine and signaling pathways in cancer cells in vitro and in vivo. Drug Discoveries & Therapeutics, 8(4), 139-153. doi:10.5582/ddt.2014.01032
Yuan, Q. L., Guo, T. M., Liu, L., Sun, F., & Zhang, Y. G. (2015). Traditional Chinese medicine for neck pain and low back pain: a systematic review and meta-analysis. PLoS One, 10(2), e0117146. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0117146