Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) originated in ancient China and has evolved over thousands of years. TCM practitioners use herbs, acupuncture, and other methods to treat a wide range of conditions. In the United States, TCM is considered part of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). This fact sheet provides a general overview of TCM and suggests sources for additional information
- -originated in chine over thousands of years ago
- –Most common used therapy.
- -TCM use herbs.
- -Therapies: mind- body therapy, ying-yang, 5 elements, moxibustion, cupping, massages, acupuncture, qi gong, tai chi, dietary therapy, etc.
- -TCM view how body works, what causes illness and how to treat it.
- – They seen human body parts have different functions but are all interdependent.
- -Human interconnected with the universe, nature and subject to its forces.
- Individual treatment.
- To evaluate a patient’s condition: observe, hearing/smelling, asking/interviewing, touching.
- Scientific evidence its effectiveness is limited.
Traditional Chinese medicine, which encompasses many different practices, is rooted in the ancient philosophy of Taoism and dates back more than 5,000 years. Today, TCM is practiced side by side with Western medicine in many of China’s hospitals and clinics.
TCM is widely used in the United States. Although the exact number of people who use TCM in the United States is unknown, it was estimated in 1997 that some 10,000 practitioners served more than 1 million patients each year. According to the 2007 National Health Interview Survey, which included questions on the use of various CAM therapies, an estimated 3.1 million U.S. adults had used acupuncture in the previous year. In addition, according to this same survey, approximately 17 percent of adults use natural products, including herbs, making it the most commonly used therapy. In another survey, more than one-third of the patients at six large acupuncture clinics said they also received Chinese herbal treatments at the clinics.
Underlying the practice of TCM is a unique view of the world and the human body that is different from Western medicine concepts. This view is based on the ancient Chinese perception of humans as microcosms of the larger, surrounding universe—interconnected with nature and subject to its forces. The human body is regarded as an organic entity in which the various organs, tissues, and other parts have distinct functions but are all interdependent. In this view, health and disease relate to balance of the functions.
The theoretical framework of TCM has a number of key components:
- Yin-yang theory—the concept of two opposing, yet complementary, forces that shape the world and all life—is central to TCM.
- In the TCM view, a vital energy or life force called qi circulates in the body through a system of pathways called meridians. Health is an ongoing process of maintaining balance and harmony in the circulation of qi.
- The TCM approach uses eight principles to analyze symptoms and categorize conditions: cold/heat, interior/exterior, excess/deficiency, and yin/yang (the chief principles). TCM also uses the theory of five elements—fire, earth, metal, water, and wood—to explain how the body works; these elements correspond to particular organs and tissues in the body.
These concepts are documented in the Huang Di Nei Jing (Inner Canon of the Yellow Emperor), the classic Chinese medicine text.
TCM emphasizes individualized treatment. Practitioners traditionally used four methods to evaluate a patient’s condition: observing (especially the tongue), hearing/smelling, asking/interviewing, and touching/palpating (especially the pulse).
- Chinese herbal medicine. The Chinese materia medica (a pharmacological reference book used by TCM practitioners) contains hundreds of medicinal substances—primarily plants, but also some minerals and animal products—classified by their perceived action in the body. Different parts of plants such as the leaves, roots, stems, flowers, and seeds are used. Usually, herbs are combined in formulas and given as teas, capsules, tinctures, or powders.
- Acupuncture. By stimulating specific points on the body, most often by inserting thin metal needles through the skin, practitioners seek to remove blockages in the flow of qi.
Other TCM therapies include moxibustion (burning moxa—a cone or stick of dried herb, usually mugwort—on or near the skin, sometimes in conjunction with acupuncture); cupping (applying a heated cup to the skin to create a slight suction); Chinese massage; mind-body therapies such as qi gong and tai chi; and dietary therapy.
Examples of TCM Uses and Studies
Both acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine have been used and studied for a wide range of conditions. A few examples are
- Back pain
- Chemotherapy-induced nausea
Chinese herbal medicine
- Heart disease
- Barnes PM, Bloom B, Nahin R. Complementary and alternative medicine use among adults and children: United States, 2007. CDC National Health Statistics Report #12. 2008.
- Bensky D, Gamble A. Chinese Herbal Medicine: Materia Medica. Rev. ed. Seattle, WA: Eastland Press; 1993.
- Cassidy, C. Chinese medicine users in the United States. Part I: utilization, satisfaction, medical plurality. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 1998;4(1):17–27.
- Shang A, Huwiler K, Nartey L, et al. Placebo-controlled trials of Chinese herbal medicine and conventional medicine comparative study. International Journal of Epidemiology. 2007;36(5):1086–1092.