Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is not a single kind of medicine or a single way of treating illness. Rather, it is an entire system, developed over the course of millennia, that is founded on a specific view of how the human body functions. The human body, in this perspective, has a natural energy called qi (or chi, both pronounced “chee”) that flows along pathways in the body called meridians, and health depends on a balance of opposing forces (yin and yang) in the body. When the flow becomes blocked or the forces become unbalanced, illness results.
TCM aims through a variety of means to restore and maintain the flow of qi and the balance of yin and yang. It makes use of therapies such as acupuncture, acupressure, massage, herbs, changes to the diet, and a practice known as qi gong, which involves exercise, breathing, and meditation.
TCM is used as complementary therapy for a wide variety of illnesses, but there are no definitive studies to support its effectiveness for this.
A word of caution
Look for the Natural Product Number, or NPN, on herbal products sold in Canada. A product with an NPN indicates that Health Canada has assessed the product for safety, quality, and effectiveness under its health claim.
Keep in mind that herbal products may interact with prescription medications. See “Herbal medicines” for more information.
For more information
If you decide to seek traditional Chinese medicine treatment, talk to your doctor first. She may be able to recommend a suitable practitioner in your area. In Canada, some provinces regulate practitioners of TCM, which ensures that only people who are qualified and registered to practice TCM and are accountable to the TCM regulatory body can deliver these services.
Acupuncture is a specific kind of traditional Chinese medicine. It has been practised for over 5,000 years. It involves inserting thin needles into the skin at key points to stimulate energy flow. This stimulation, it is believed, helps rebalance the yin and yang and unblock the flow of qi. Acupressure is similar to acupuncture but uses pressure instead of needles.
It is uncertain exactly how acupuncture works, but it does have a well-established history. Some theories hold that it stimulates certain hormones or other chemicals in the body; others attribute its effects to direct action on the nerves.
Acupuncture is most commonly used to treat pain and conditions where pain is a key symptom – for example, headaches, menstrual cramps, lower back pain, osteoarthritis, and fibromyalgia. It is also used to treat asthma and allergies, and there have been clinical trials of acupuncture for the treatment of anxiety and depression.
A word of caution
If you are seeking acupuncture treatment, be sure to find a certified practitioner. Ask your doctor to recommend a licensed acupuncturist in your area and discuss any concerns you have about the safety of this therapy. In Canada, some provinces regulate acupuncturists, which ensures that only people who are qualified and registered to practice acupuncture and are accountable to the acupuncture regulatory body can deliver these services.
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