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Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) : Overview


With a history of 2,000 to 3,000 years, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has formed a unique system to diagnose and cure illness. The TCM approach is fundamentally different from that of Western medicine. In TCM, the understanding of the human body is based on the holistic understanding of the universe as described in Taoism, and the treatment of illness is based primarily on the diagnosis and differentiation of syndromes. Taoism bases much of its thinking on observing the natural world and manner in which it operates, so it is no surprise to find that the Chinese medical system draws extensively on natural metaphors.
The TCM approach treats zang-fu organs (see chart below) as the core of the human body. Tissue and organs are connected through a network of channels and blood vessels inside human body. Qi (or Chi, AKA, energy, considered the fundamental substance of the human body) acts as some kind of carrier of information that is expressed externally through jingluo system. Pathologically, a dysfunction of the zang-fu organs may be reflected on the body surface through the network, and meanwhile, diseases of body surface tissues may also affect their related zang or fu organs. Affected zang or fu organs may also influence each other through internal connections. Traditional Chinese medicine treatment starts with the analysis of the entire system before focusing on the correction of pathological changes through readjusting the functions of the zang-fu organs.
Evaluation of a syndrome not only includes the cause, mechanism, location, and nature of the disease, but also the confrontation between the pathogenic factor and body resistance. Treatment is not based only on the symptoms, but differentiation of syndromes. Therefore, those with an identical disease may be treated in different ways, and on the other hand, different diseases may result in the same syndrome and are treated in similar ways.
The clinical diagnosis and treatment in Traditional Chinese Medicine are mainly based on the yin-yang and five elements theories. The function of yin and yang is guided by the law of unity of the opposites. In other words, yin and yang are in conflict, but at the same time mutually dependent. The nature of yin and yang is relative, with neither being able to exist in isolation. Without "cold", there would be no "hot"; without "moving", there would be no "still"; without "dark", there would be no "light". The most illustrative example of yin-yang interdependence is the inter-relationship between substance and function. Only with ample substance can the human body function in a healthy way; and only when the functional processes are in good condition, can the essential substances be appropriately refreshed.
These theories apply the phenomena and laws of nature to the study of the physiological activities and pathological changes of the human body and its interrelationships. The typical TCM therapies include acupuncture, herbal medicine, and Qigong exercises. (Qigong is an exercise to regulate the mind and breathing to control or promote the flow of Qi.) With acupuncture, treatment is accomplished by stimulating certain areas of the external body. Herbal medicine acts internally on zang-fu organs, while Qigong tries to restore the orderly information flow inside the network through the regulation of Qi. These therapies appear very different in approach, yet all share the same underlying sets of assumptions and insights into the nature of the human body and its place in the universe. Some scientists describe the treatment of diseases through herbal medication, acupuncture, and Qigong as an "information therapy".
 


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