Do you believe that a person’s disease can be diagnosed simply by feeling the wrist pulse? That puncturing specific sites on the body with needles could possibly cure your chronic backache? Or that mushroom-like herbal medicine can serve as an energy booster or even enhance your immune system?
If you don’t, you’re probably not one of those hundreds of millions of followers of traditional Chinese medicine, an ancient healing system based on nearly five thousand years of research and experiments.
There have been disputes, however, on the worthiness of traditional Chinese medicine and its methods of curing illness as compared to Western medicine.
But in recent years, the effectiveness of Chinese medicine, which covers a wide range of practices including such treatments as herbal medicine, acupuncture, and Tui na massage, has come to be recognized increasingly throughout the world.
In 2003, the World Health Organization published a landmark study entitled “Acupuncture: Review and Analysis of Reports on Controlled Clinical Trials,” in which scientific evidence is cited to support the claim that ancient Chinese medication has proven to be scientifically effective for a total of 28 conditions.
200 years versus 5000
“To Westerners, scientific method consists of the collection of data through observation and experimentation, and the formulation and testing of hypotheses,” says Chuang Shih-ming, a Chinese medicine doctor based in Taipei City.
“Chinese medicine also takes the same approach,” he argues. “The only difference lies in the fact that Western medicine uses about 200 years of such ‘scientific’ methods of observation and testing of hypotheses to prove its effectiveness, while the Chinese version uses several thousands of years.”
Methodologically, Chinese medicine is also at odds with Western medicine.
Western medicine is analytically based on anatomy of the human body by focusing on medical test results and in particular on numbers, while Chinese medicine is holistic, regarding the human body as an inseparable whole, Chuang says.
Looked at this way, Western medicine and Chinese medicine should thus be referred to as micro- and macro-medical medicine respectively, he notes.
“Unlike the Western belief that says that bacteria and viruses cause disease, Chinese medicine only sees the different symptoms, and we tend to believe in the ability of a human to heal him or herself.”
So Chinese medical treatments are aimed at elevating one’s ability to fight all the syndromes and to help people to regain and maintain balance in their body, he adds.
Clinical diagnosis and treatment
Sitting in the office of his Chinese Medicine Clinic in Taipei’s Tianmu area, Chuang discloses that he was originally a computer programming language major in college, but because of his family background, he later transferred to the study of Chinese medicine.
Chuang goes on to say that clinical diagnosis and treatment in traditional Chinese medicine are mainly based on the yin-yang and the five-element theory involving wood, fire, earth, metal and water.
These theories apply the phenomena and laws of nature to study of the physiological activities and pathological changes in the human body, he notes.
He shows me how a traditional Chinese medicine practitioner diagnoses a certain disease.
Traditional Chinese diagnostics are based on overall observation of human symptoms. A typical Chinese doctor’s diagnostic methods begin by observing (wang), then hearing and smelling (wen) a patient. He then asks about his or her background (wen) before feeling (qie) the person’s wrist pulse.
The pulse-reading component of the touching examination is one of the most important parts of diagnosis, Chuang says.
After taking a patient’s pulse, the doctor will do tongue examination.
The Chinese believe that by reading the condition of one’s tongue, including its color, texture, shape, size, and coating, a practitioner can determine one’s health.
Following all of the above examinations, the doctor will write a prescription which is taken to the front to be filled.
Herbs used in Chinese medicine are derived from plant, animal and mineral substances. Most herbal medicines are plant-derived, such as ginseng and ginger; however, some minerals and animal parts may also be prescribed for use in medication.
In Taiwan and many other parts of the world, herbs often come in formulas that call for a mixture of all kinds of herbal medicines.
In the past these prescriptions were steeped in boiled water to drink, but now they are also made into powder forms which are more convenient for patients to take.
Sometimes the patient may need other treatments for a condition, including acupuncture, Tui na and cupping massage.
Tons of treatments
If you are not afraid of needle and are looking for a faster approach to solve your problem, you can try acupuncture, a technique in which the practitioner inserts fine needles into specific points on the patient’s body.
The intended effect is to increase circulation and balance energy (qi) within the body.
But if you would prefer something less intrusive for your backache or shoulder pain, Tui na is something you should try.
The practitioner may brush, knead, roll and rub the patient’s body, usually on his back and shoulder, to open up the body’s qi and get the energy both along the meridians and in the muscles.
Another thing you can try is cupping: A type of Chinese massage, cupping consists of placing several glass (now usually made of plastic) “cups” or jars on the patient’s body. A match is lit and placed inside the cup and then removed before placing the cup against the skin. As the air in the cup is heated, it expands, and after placing it on the skin it cools down, creating a lower pressure inside the cup that allows the cup to stick to the skin via suction.
Cupping is generally indicated in the treatment of arthritic pain, lower back pain and headaches, and is also very effective for the common cold or coughing.
A global trend
As people begin to realize the effectiveness of TCM and learn the limitations of Western medication, more and more are turning their attention to the practice that has been developed and widely practiced and accepted by Chinese around the world for thousands of years.