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Introduction to Traditional Chinese Medicine

 by Dr. Anika Al-Shura


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Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is a complicated system of medicine with more than five thousand years of history. What we know and how it is practiced today is based on organized research and practice during those thousands of years. The roots of this influence have spread internationally, running through all cultures of the earth.

Traditional Chinese Medicine comprises of two separate departments of study: Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture. Chinese Medicine practitioners are usually physicians who study within internal medicine. Patients expect the doctors to inspect and examine. Doctors diagnose in the unique way through the tongue and pulse, and prescribe medicine in the form of "herbs" to reduce, tonify, re-toxify, de-toxify, balance or maintain health.

Acupuncture is a department in which physicians traditionally study the areas of physical therapy and pain management. The sub-specialties include acupuncture, tui-na massage and moxibustion.

In China, integrative medicine focuses primarily on the prescribing Chinese "herbs" and pharmaceutical drugs, singly or in combination as indicated. The herbal pharmacopoeia is the most important department of Traditional Chinese Medicine. The physician must undertake rigid and formal study of each of the more than 300- 5000 herbs used as medicine. Many herbs are combined and balanced to make a complicated prescription which is custom blended for a patient.

The herbs are chosen according to their ability and perspective towards each other, the nature of the illness itself and of course the constitution of the patient. Chinese medicines include material substances from animals, minerals and plants, and can be consumed as both a food and medicine. Chinese medicinal herbs are classified as follows: The Four Natures, the Five Tastes and the Twelve Meridians.

The Four Natures

The four different properties of medicinal herbs include cold, hot, cool, and warm. These herbs are named according to the reaction the body has to them after ingestion. Cold and cool remove heat and detoxify. Warm and hot drugs relieve or remove cold and invigorate the yang.

The Five Tastes

The five tastes of the medicinal herbs include pungent, sweet, sour, bitter and salty. For example, pungent can disperse and expel exterior syndromes such as the common cold; sweet reinforces qi and nourishes blood; sour clears heat; bitter eliminates dampness; salty softens hard masses in constipation; and tasteless can induce diuresis.

The Meridians
This area refers to a theory related to the therapeutic actions of the medicinal herbs on the actual body organs as well as the meridians which contain the qi or life-force of the body. 


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About the Author


Dr. Anika Al-Shura is an American expat currently living and working in Tianjin, China with her teenage son. She is presently studying on the doctoral level in two separate programs: an international program concerning teaching and research in medicine; and a clinical program in Chinese/ Western integrative medicine.



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