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What Is Traditional Chinese Medicine and How Can It Boost Your Wellness?

3 min read

These days, many of us are lucky enough to have a choice of healthcare providers. There are traditional MDs, chiropractors, naturopaths, functional medicine doctors, Ayurvedic practitioners and practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine (often referred to as acupuncturists). However, many  of these choices can be confusing and it’s pretty easy to feel lost as to how to treat your discomfort or disease. So, let me, a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioner, help clarify how TCM is different from Western medicine in how it approaches the body and wellness.

The Difference Between Traditional Chinese Medicine and Western Medicine

TCM is a complete system of healthcare developed thousands of years ago in China. Western medicine, while much more the accepted norm these days, is a more recent phenomenon and is actually less than 200 years old. The Western approach treats the mind and the body separately, and each organ or body system is siloed, treated by different specialists. The Eastern approach, on the other hand, treats both the mind-body connection, and the connection that all the organs and systems of the body have to each other.  A practitioner of TCM will try to balance all of your organs, because, from this perspective, only then will the body be in complete health.

Another major difference between Eastern and Western medicine is in how each approaches a treatment plan. Typically, Western medicine advocates prescribing a one-size-fits-all treatment for all patients with certain symptoms. Eastern medicine takes the perspective that each person, even those with the same symptoms, need unique treatments. TCM practitioners looks at the needs of each individual and treat accordingly. They may develop extremely tailored prescriptions including supplements, herbs and acupuncture, depending on the ailment.

Photo courtesy of Nicolle Mackinnon for Spot Spas.

Traditional Chinese Medicine Philosophy

That difference is partially because Eastern medicine philosophy is much more focused on the root cause of a patient’s symptoms. It looks to balance the body so the underlying issue is resolved and symptoms go away. It treats a patient’s symptoms, but puts an emphasis on the underlying cause, seeking a long-term action plan. Western medicine is often more focused on symptom management, treating patients with prescriptions that address the issue in the short-term, but don’t take address the root cause.

Practitioners of Chinese medicine understand the world and the human body in terms of five essential elements:

  1. Wood
  2. Fire
  3. Earth
  4. Metal
  5. Water

These substances are aspects of the qi—or the life force energy—that flows within the body. Each person is made up of a unique balance of these elements, which are each associated with different seasons, colors and organs in the body. When the elements become unbalanced and the flow of qi is impeded, health problems occur, says TCM philosophy.

There is also a certain temperature balance the body must have for optimal health, which is analyzed as well. For example, if you are having hot flashes, there is too much heat in your body and a practitioner can cool it down using physical techniques, foods and herbs.

Traditional Chinese Medicine Treatments

The therapies used by practitioners of TCM aim to restore flow and balance to the body through the body’s qi. The treatments also aim to help facilitate the body’s own ability to heal itself.

Some of the methods Chinese medicine uses to correct imbalances and create harmony include:

  • Diet therapy
  • Acupuncture
  • Massage
  • Herbal remedies
  • Qi gong
  • Meditation

You might see another difference here between TCM and Western medicine. While TCM relies mostly on natural substances for treatments, Western medicine often relies on pharmaceutical therapies to address health issues.

What’s great about our current world is that these philosophies don’t have to be mutually exclusive. My family, for example, uses a combination of TCM and Western medicine to treat illnesses, ailments and symptoms. They can be useful in combination, especially when you’re open and honest with all your practitioners about the treatments and therapies you’re using to get to the cause of your symptoms, and best optimize your health.

Interested in learning about how acupuncture can treat skin issues? We tried it—here’s what happened.

About The Author

Simone Wan

Simone Wan

Simone Wan, mother, wife, licensed acupuncturist and herbalist, has been sharing Traditional Chinese Medicine theories since 2001 after she suffered second- and third-degree burns from a terrible explosion in her NYC apartment. After using plant-based remedies that she had researched while studying to be an acupuncturist/herbalist, she was able to stop using conventional medicine to treat her pain and anxiety. She has been practicing for over a decade, and has her B.S. from New York University and her MSTOM from Pacific College of Oriental Medicine. She's also the founder of IN:TOTALWELLNESS, herbal remedies for anxiety, pain and sleeplessness.

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