For thousands of years, the Chinese have developed their own system of medicine. Although it has been criticised for being no more than a placebo, many Western clinics and hospitals are starting to incorporate some techniques such as acupuncture. What is the secret of traditional Chinese medicine?
Foundations of Chinese medicine
Chinese medicine is based on the chi, the yin and yang. The chi is the vital energy and it is all over a person’s body. The forces of yin (the negative energy) and the yang (the positive energy) affect it so when the balance between the two of them changes, the chi is altered and the person gets sick.
Also, Chinese medicine takes into account the basics of Chinese philosophy and Taoism (or Daoism). They believe that all events are cyclic and that there are five elements in the world that are related to those cycles in life: wood, fire, earth, metal and water.
Each element is related to a body part or a body organ, as well as a color, feeling, flavour or cardinal point. They always mean something:
- Wood means growing and developing, the freedom of movement and flexibility.
- Fire is the ascending movement and the heat.
- Earth is everything that produces, feeds and holds up.
- Metal is related to changes and transformations, cleaning and draining.
- Water means cold, moisturizing and descending movement.
They all affect each other in a concrete way.
Traditional Chinese medicine focuses mostly on body functions so combining these two theories, we find that all organs in the body (remember that they correspond to different elements) have a pair, they can be yin or yang, and their pair will be the opposite.
This is called Zang-Fu. The Zang organs manufacture and store while the Fu organs transmit and digest. The same way yin and yang work, if the balance between Zang and Fu organs is broken, we feel sick.
How do we heal with this?
Chinese medicine is based on observation. In order to know what is wrong with a patient, the doctor should observe carefully, listen and smell the patient, ask them about their medical history and take their pulse.
This, along with the different theories of Chinese medicine such as yin & yang, the five elements, the Zang-fu, Ba gua (the theory of Eight Transformations), the meridians (or path through which the energy, qi, flows), the acupuncture points, the six levels, the four periods and the San jiao (triple warmer), help the doctor know what is wrong and how to treat it.
In order to make a diagnosis with traditional methods, the doctor needs to develop the skill of observing subtle aspects of people so that the things that most people don’t notice can be seen.
Nowadays, these traditional methods work alongside Western techniques, integrating both systems. Often, the two systems are used to evaluate the patient on more fronts.
Chinese medicine tries to avoid invasive methods and therefore they use only external techniques or herbal preparations to help the qi flow again and reorganize the yin and yang. This is the reason behind reflexotherapy (a particular massage technique on your feet to cure pains in other parts of the body), auriculotherapy (a kind of acupuncture on the ear), phytotherapy or therapy with medicinal plants, moxibustion (applying heat to the acupuncture points) or some specific Chinese massages.
What can you try in Taiwan?
The Taiwanese public health insurance scheme covers a wide range of Chinese traditional medicines. Major hospitals will have a traditional medicine department. These are ofetn divided into individual specialities.
Expats who are covered by public health insurance can opt for alternative treatment such as acupuncture, Ba Guan or Gua Sha. Note that raw herbs are not covered by public insurance, and are a costly alternative to the granules, which are covered.
Efficacy of Chinese medicine
Many Western doctors and researchers insist on pointing out that the traditional Chinese medicine is nothing but a placebo, something that we think it will work and it works but not because it produces any effect.
Whether it is true or not, some of these techniques, like acupuncture, are becoming more and more accepted in Western countries amongst people and even doctors to treat and heal different diseases. Even some hospitals offer these possibilities as an alternative treatment!