Ancient Far East Medical Practices
What We Can Learn From Centuries Of Experience
In Chinese culture, the elderly and the ancients are highly revered. This reverence includes ancient practices and beliefs. It won’t be an overstatement to say that this reverence for the old plays a huge part in why Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) also continues to be held in high regard and is still widely practiced by the Chinese today.
What Is Traditional Chinese Medicine
TCM is a broad belief system that includes shared concepts and practices developed over thousands of years. The core belief of TCM revolves around keeping the body’s energies in harmony or balance. TCM also believes that overall well-being is also influenced by a person’s environment, which includes his/her physical environmental and relationships. Accordingly, when a person’s life is out of balance and/or when his mind, body, and soul are not in harmony with each other, disease occurs.
The cure focuses on restoring harmony within his/her body and balance back into his/her life through one or a combination of these traditional practices: herbal medicine; energy exercises, such as tai chi and qigong; dietary changes; acupuncture and other such complementary treatments; and even relationship and environmental changes.
The Wikipedia article on Traditional Chinese Medicine sums up how this belief system views disease:
“TCM’s view of the body places little emphasis on anatomical structures, but is mainly concerned with the identification of functional entities (which regulate digestion, breathing, aging etc.). While health is perceived as harmonious interaction of these entities and the outside world, disease is interpreted as a disharmony in interaction. TCM diagnosis aims to trace symptoms to patterns of an underlying disharmony, by measuring the pulse, inspecting the tongue, skin, and eyes, and looking at the eating and sleeping habits of the person as well as many other things.” ( Source: wikipedia.org )
TCM incorporates other traditional Chinese concepts, particularly the concepts of yin and yang and of chi/qi. Because of the wide variety of concepts and theories incorporated into TCM, practitioners often do not employ the same diagnostic processes and treatments. Practitioners base most of their knowledge on so-called ancient wisdom that’s been passed down from generation to generation for thousands of years, but whose effectiveness and safety have not been properly researched and documented.
Many argue that a popular and long-held belief does not become valid merely because of its popularity and staying power. Modern medicine, in particular, questions most of the therapeutic claims made on behalf of TCM. But it can also be argued that just because a system of beliefs is yet to be completely explained or understood by modern science, it doesn’t mean that it has no merit at all.
Rediscovering the Benefits of TCM
Numerous studies have been done in the West on the effectiveness and safety of TCM, particularly of Chinese herbal medicine and acupuncture. There are also plenty of documentation in ancient and modern Chinese journals, but because most of these are not scientific in nature, they are often considered quackery by modern scientists and medical experts. At the same time, many of these same materials also provide a good starting point for further research into the benefits of some aspects of TCM.
Chinese Herbal Medicine
Concerns regarding the safety of Chinese herbal medicine include the toxicity of certain substances found in plants; misidentification of plant species; misuse and abuse of Chinese herbal cures, especially because there are no strict and clinically approved guidelines about how they are supposed to be used and because such cures are readily available in Chinese communities, locally and abroad; vague and/or inaccurate labelling of packaged herbal remedies; and the inconsistent formulations and concentrations used by different herbal manufacturers for the same products.
Big pharmaceutical companies have also been exploring the real potential of Chinese herbal medicine and developing drugs from these traditional remedies – but why use patented expensive drugs when nature has provided a natural form for free.
But with proper and scientific identification and testing of the active properties that are supposed to offer health benefits, modern scientists have also found proof of said benefits of certain Chinese medicinal plants. Big pharmaceutical companies have also been exploring the real potential of Chinese herbal medicine and developing drugs from these traditional remedies – but why use patented expensive drugs when nature has provided a natural form for free. Here are some Chinese herbal remedies whose effectiveness has been scientifically proven.
- Curcumin in turmeric has been proven to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that make it effective against menstrual complications, anorexia, rheumatism, diabetic wounds, and jaundice and other liver disorders.
- Artemisinin is an antimalarial drug developed in the 1970s and derived from the herb Artemisia annua, which is a traditional Chinese treatment for fever.
- Arsenic trioxide, a substance used in TCM to treat leukemia, was the basis for the development of the drug Trisenox, an FDA-approved treatment for the same disease.
- Experts have proven the effectiveness of Harpagophytum procumbens, or Devil’s Claw, as treatment for chronic joint, muscle, or tendon pain. They have also identified the plant’s contraindications against other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, heart medications, as well as certain pre-existing medical conditions.
- Hawthorn has a long history of use in Chinese medicine as an aid for digestion and to promote healthy blood. Studies have shown that Hawthorn berry does offer the following benefits: improving appetite, gastrointestinal function, and energy; lowering blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglycerides; treatment for angina and hepatitis; improve coronary blood flow and heart function; and reverse atherosclerosis, among others.
- Numerous research have shown that some mushroom species, like Lentinula edodes (shiitake), Grifola frondosa (maitake), Ganoderma lucidum (mannentake), and Cordyceps, have anti-cancer, antiviral, anti-inflammatory and liver protective benefits.
Acupuncture may seem like an archaic practice, especially considering that it has been around for at least 2,500 years. But western medicine has actually given validity to its therapeutic benefits.
The principles of acupuncture revolve around the Chinese belief that the body is made up of patterns of energy flow, or qi. The body’s qi is essential to one’s health and any disruptions to these patterns cause diseases. These disruptions can be corrected by manipulating the energy flow through specific points in the body by applying acupuncture.
Numerous problems related to the practice of acupuncture have been documented, and again these can be attributed to the lack of standards, safety guidelines, and proper training back in the day. The most common dangers that arise include accidental puncturing of certain organs; and infections due to the use of unsterilized/improperly sterilized needles. In the past decade or so, however, the practice has become safer and been scientifically proven as an effective treatment for certain ailments.
Modern studies have revealed that the mechanisms involved in acupuncture do have genuine therapeutic potential, and that its principles actually have scientific basis. The modern study of acupuncture has also led to the exploration of new physiological pathways in the human body that have not been systematically examined previously.
… more and more scientific evidence piling up that points to the real therapeutic benefits of acupuncture, …
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) previously categorized acupuncture needles as “experimental medical devices.” But with more and more scientific evidence piling up that points to the real therapeutic benefits of acupuncture, the FDA has removed this label and now regulates acupuncture needles and holds it to the same standards sterility and manufacture as it does other medical devices.
Here are some more facts about acupuncture:
- According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Consensus Development Statement on Acupuncture released back in November 1997, “promising results have emerged, for example, efficacy of acupuncture in adult post-operative and chemotherapy nausea and vomiting and in post-operative dental pain. There are other situations such as addiction, stroke rehabilitation, headache, menstrual cramps, tennis elbow, fibromyalgia, myofascial pain, osteoarthritis, low back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, and asthma where acupuncture may be useful as an adjunct treatment or an acceptable alternative or be included in a comprehensive management program.” ( Source: medicinenet.com )
An article on MedicalNewsToday.com lists the following facts about acupuncture (Source: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/156488.php):
- Findings from basic research have begun to elucidate the mechanisms of action of acupuncture, including the release of opioids and other peptides in the central nervous system and the periphery and changes in neuroendocrine function.
- Considerable evidence supports the claim that opioid peptides are released during acupuncture and that the analgesic effects of acupuncture are at least partially explained by their actions.
- Stimulation by acupuncture may also activate the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland, resulting in a broad spectrum of systemic effects.
- Alteration in the secretion of neurotransmitters and neurohormones and changes in the regulation of blood flow, both centrally and peripherally, have been documented.
- People with tension headaches and/or migraines may find acupuncture to be very effective in alleviating their symptoms, according to a study carried out at the Technical University of Munich, Germany.
- Another study at The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center found that twice weekly acupuncture treatments relieve debilitating symptoms of xerostomia – severe dry mouth – among patients treated with radiation for head and neck cancer.
- Even the US Air Force began teaching “Battlefield Acupuncture” to physicians deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan in early 2009. Using acupuncture before and during surgery significantly reduces the level of pain and the amount of potent painkillers needed by patients after the surgery is over, a study revealed.
- Some studies have indicated that acupuncture may help in treating low back pain (according to the SPINE trial), fibromyalgia (Mayo Clinic trials), migraines, post-operative dental pain (the Cochrane review), hypertension (Center for Integrative Medicine at UC Irvine study) and osteoarthritis (according to researchers at the University Medical Center in Berlin, Germany), as well as chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting.
The Best Of Both Worlds
Clearly, TCM cannot be regarded as complete quackery. The dangers that have been attributed to the practice of traditional Chinese medicine has mostly been the result of a substantial lack of standards, regulations, and proper and centralized training.
Currently, many aspects of TCM are being explored and even adopted by western medicine. In China, the reverse is happening: western medicine is being combined with TCM in an effort to provide the public with the best healthcare possible. Western/modern pharmaceuticals have also been shown to pose serious health risks; this is one of the reasons that many in the west have become interested in the ancient wisdom of TCM and other forms of alternative medicine.
By integrating western medicine and traditional Chinese medicine, particularly the best that these two have to offer, the public may benefit from much improved healthcare.
This video on YouTube showcases this exact point, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m4WCY9eIm4Q.
With the many advances in modern medicine in recent years, it is high time that scientists and medical experts start seriously exploring the genuine therapeutic potential of traditional Chinese medicine and other alternative forms of medicine. It can be dangerous to blindly subscribe to a body of knowledge just because it has been around for thousands of years; but completely disregarding such knowledge can also mean throwing away some of the genuine wisdom hidden within it, just waiting to be discovered by modern science. Θ
DISCLAIMER: We are not Medical Doctors. The information here is not intended to be medical advice. It is a common sense guide for making one's way through the medical, agricultural, ecological and environmental minefield that stands between oneself and a long, healthy life.
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