Still Considering Some Alternatives: TCM

Traditional Chinese medicine, inspired by ancient Taoism, has evolved over the centuries into a widely followed system whose practitioners use acupuncture, herbs and other similar methods to support health as well as to treat a vast array of human illnesses, diseases and other conditions.  It embraces an understanding of how the human body works, and indeed, of how the world works,  that differs from the typical Western perspective.

Most TCM therapies and treatments are highly individualized.  Practitioners use a variety of techniques and approaches to help the body re-establish its natural state of balance, of health.  Acupuncture is well-known, and widely accepted in the West.  Some of the other therapies are not as well understood or studied.  These include:

  • Cupping.  A treatment that involves applying  a heated cup to the skin, creating a slight suction.
  • Chinese massage.
  • Dietary therapy.
  • Qi gong and tai chi.
  • Moxibustion.  A treatment that involves burning moxa – a cone or stick of dried herb (usually  mugwort) – on or close to the skin; often seen combined with acupuncture)
One of the difficulties in assessing the effectiveness of some of TCM’s lesser known remedies lies in the fact that most of the research, especially on the herbal treatments, has been done in China.  There is indeed evidence that herbs work for some conditions, but many of the studies have a major design flaws,   according to Western scientific methods, and need to be further developed and better organized.  Here are some conditions and treatments that recent NCCAM-supported studies are investigating:
  • Chinese herbal medicine for food allergies and osteoarthritis of the knee.
  • TCM for endometriosis-related pelvic pain; IBS; TMJ disorders.
  • Consistency of TCM practitioners’ diagnosis and herbal prescriptions for rheumatoid arthritis suffers.
The following are just a handful of the conditions that both acupuncture and Chinese herbal remedies have treated; there are also studies underway involving these specific conditions and their treatment with TCM:
  • Back pain
  • Depression
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Chemotherapy-induced nausea
Chinese herbal medicine:
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Cancer
Training, Certifying and Licensing TCM Practitioners includes the following:
  • State Licensing.  Most states in the US license acupuncture; which other TCM therapies and treatments (herbal medicine, massage and so on) may be included in that licensing process varies from state to state.
  • Federal recognition.  The federally recognized Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (ACAOM) accredits schools that teach TCM and acupuncture.  About a third of all states require that acupuncture practitioners seeking a license be graduates of an ACAOM-accredited program.
  • National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM).  Nearly all states that require practitioners to be licensed also require the successful completion of NCCAOM’s national written exam; some states also require a practical examination.  The NCCAOM offers separate certification programs in Chinese herbology, Oriental bodywork and acupuncture.  
Some safety concerns.  Acupuncture, used more widely in the West every year, is considered to be safe when performed by an experienced, licensed practitioner using sterile needles.  FDA regulations for dietary supplements, including any manufactured herbal products, are not the same as for prescription medications and over-the-counter drugs.  The regulations for dietary supplements are generally far less strict.  Keep this in mind as you consider taking Chinese herbals.  They may be absolutely fine, safe and effective – but then again, they may not be.  We have all heard about the problems with contamination and misleading or false labeling on goods from China.  Keep in mind, too, that some herbs are very powerful, have side effects (some very serious) and can interact with other drugs.  
If you are considering using TCM
  • Look for and carefully read published research studies about TCM for the health condition that interests you.
  • Do not use TCM as a replacement for effective conventional medicine or treatment as a reason to postpone seeing a health care provider about any medical problem.
  • Use TCM herbal products only under the supervision of a medical professional trained in the use of  herbal medicine.  Do not self-prescribe.
  • Pregnant?  Nursing a baby? Use TCM only after consulting your health care provider.
  • Do not treat a child with TCM without first consulting your regular health care provider.
  • Let all your health care providers know about any complementary and alternative treatments, remedies or therapies you are using.

One response to “Still Considering Some Alternatives: TCM

  1. Pingback: Is Your Doctor Using Alternative Medicine and Not Telling You?

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