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An Intro to Traditional Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is an ancient medicine using a holism approach that restores balance in a person’s body. It uses a complex conceptual framework mobilizing Qi (vital life force energy), Blood (carrier of vital energy), Yin and Yang (dynamic balance), and Zang-Fu (relationship and cycles) organ meridian systems to bring the body back into balance and harmony. 

TCM theory has its own approach to physiology and to disease. It utilizes Chinese diagnosis that uses a complex system of pattern differentiation to determine the imbalance. Pattern differentiation tools like eye, tongue, and pulse diagnosis along with other methods are used to identify imbalances (which lead to diseases if unchecked) and restore health.

In preventative care, this medicine strengthens the body’s antipathogenic Qi to fight disease. TCM includes a variety of treatment modalities—acupuncture, herbs, moxibustion, gua sha, tui na, and cupping—depending on the patient’s ailment and concern. The power of Chinese Medicine is that it is a personalized treatment, meaning every illness is unique and treated individually, specific to how the ailment presents itself in that person. In other words, it is not a one-plan-for-everyone style of medicine.

Acupuncture is a medicine approach that uses Meridian Theory to treat disease. Meridians are a complex system of rivers of Qi in the body. These Acupoints and Qi rivers have many correlating functions with each other and with the organ systems, Qi, Yin/Yang, and blood in the body. It is a powerful tool at restoring the body’s health functions. 

Acupuncture is scientifically-based and has been employed  in primary medicine for over two millennia. Research demonstrates how Acupuncture produces biochemical changes in the body. Pathways of pain in the body closely follow the pathways of the Meridians. To treat pain, needling along the Meridian measurably reduces pain. It also produces postsynaptic inhibition by depolarising fine nerve endings and invigorates the immune system. Acupuncture stimulates endorphins and the brain’s production of polypeptides that reduce pain sensitivity. It affects the neuro-transmitters of the nervous system and interacts with the production or secretion of other chemicals, including neurotransmitters, hormones, and lymphokines, and others. 

“The data in support of acupuncture are as strong as those for many accepted Western medical therapies. One of the advantages of acupuncture is that the incidence of adverse effects is substantially lower than that of many drugs…” 

- Quote from NIH (National Institutes of Health) 1997 Consensus Conference

Herbs are another important modality in TCM as they are integral to restoring meridian and organ function and harmonize the body. The roots of Chinese medicine, and indeed herbal medicine, come from the Daoist traditions in ancient China. They used a philosophical framework of the universe and principles of nature to bring balance to the body. In Daoist traditions, the human body is understood as a microcosm of the larger macrocosm (the universe itself). One of the principles is observing the way vines curl around a tree trunk and mimicking that in the healing modality, i.e. using the movement of veins in the body to treat impeded blood flow. Daoist cosmology is known to be powerful in its simplicity. Complex theories underpin these properties, where TCM pharmacology explains these phenomena using biochemistry and botany.  

TCM is based on an integrated understanding of Chinese medicine physiology, Chinese herbal pharmacology, pattern differentiation and a deep understanding of the Chinese herbal pharmacopoeia. As such, it is recommended that you never take Chinese herbs without the guidance of a licensed Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioner. 

Now that you have a basic understanding, you may be wondering what health problems TCM can address, aside from preventive medicine.  The list is long, but here’s an idea…

  • Infertility, Menopause, Gynecology Disorders, Menstrual Pain

  • Musculoskeletal Pain and Impaired Movement

  • Digestive Disorders

  • Psycho-emotional Disorders

  • Chronic and Acute Pain

  • Auto-immune Disorders

  • Respiratory Disorders

  • Vertigo

  • Hypertension

  • Weight Loss

  • Insomnia

  • Sequalae of Stroke 

  • Headaches

  • Kidney/Gall stones

  • Chronic Fatigue

  • Asthma 

  • Cancer Pain and Chemotherapeutic Support

  • Diabetes

As a registered acupuncturist and a TCM practitioner, my approach to treating clients is integrative. I use many different modalities depending on how the client is presenting symptoms to restore harmony and balance in the body. I’m currently completing my Doctorate of TCM in order to understand illnesses better and serve diverse health needs. 

— By Alessia Grechi

Note: Some of the unlinked research in this blog comes from Peilin Sun’s book: The Treatment of Pain with Chinese Herbs and Acupuncture.

Questions about how TCM can restore you to good health? Follow me on IG @acu.alternatives 

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