Traditional Chinese Medicine stands strong on thousands of years of history, yet it only arrived in the U.S. in the last thirty years. In the early 1970's, following Nixon's visit to China, acupuncture became popular in the U.S. for a brief period, specifically for use in pain relief. But the response from skeptics was swift, with an effort to outlaw it. There were no empirical data, no double-blind studies, no scientific proof, they argued, and therefore acupuncture had to be simply the placebo effect at work. As of the turn of the millennium, however, there is a threshold level of research showing such a significant benefit of Traditional Chinese Medicine over placebo that it is even being integrated to some extent into allopathic practices. For a sampling of specific studies, see the research.
For the uninitiated Westerner, the diagnostic methods of Traditional Chinese Medicine may seem puzzling at first, because it is quite the opposite in many ways of conventional Western practices. Once one gets a little bit accustomed to the thinking, however, it does make a lot of sense. Naturopathic medicine is indeed greatly enriched by Traditional Chinese Medicine. The wisdom of considering the body as a whole and the body's degree of balance-imbalance, as well as one's manner of response to "external pathogens" such as wind or cold, are very important for an effective practice of medicine.
The body is an integrated system in which all parts interact
Western medical practitioners may examine a patient's painful joints and conclude that there is a problem that both begins and ends with the joints, or a specific, identifiable causative condition, for example, lupus or edema, that gave rise to the painful joints. To the Chinese way of thinking, however, the joints being painful in a particular way is a manifestation of a systemic condition. Such a complaint as painful joints would be entirely consistent, to the Chinese way of diagnosing, with considering the characteristics and modalities of the pain, as well as examining the tongue and taking the pulse (the quality of the pulse as much as the rate). Whereas Western medicine would be inclined not to bother with either the quality of the pulse or the appearance of the tongue in considering joint pain, such factors are viewed as extremely important to the correct diagnosis in Traditional Chinese Medicine. The diagnosis as well may be surprising to the Westerner, in that it might be "dampness" or "damp cold" for example. Treatment would then be based on such "pathogenic factors" as excesses of damp, cold, heat, fire or wind in the body, as well as any imbalances in Qi or Yin and Yang, and the relationships between such factors and the patient's symptoms. The treatment may be comprised of a number of acupuncture points or a prescription of Chinese herbs or both.
A balance of opposites
All of Traditional Chinese Medicine is based on the concepts of Yin and Yang, which date to at least 700 BC, the Book of Changes, "I Ching." Yin and Yang are really just the two opposite sides of life and of matter. Whereas Yin is cool, night, falling and enclosed, Yang is warm, daytime, rising and open. Yin is resting and quiet, whereas Yang is active and boisterous. Yin is soft, slow and without thirst. Yang is hard, fast and thirsty. They can be described in many other antonymous adjectives. Not only does everyone need both Yin and Yang to remain in balance within themselves, but Yin and Yang also need each other as a complementary opposite. In fact, each contains a little of the opposite, just as the Yin side of the Yin-Yang symbol contains a dot of Yang, and vice versa. Nothing is totally Yin or totally Yang, and in fact, we always need to have a good amount of each. Therefore, both acute and chronic diseases can arise when we have Yin and Yang out of balance.
Qi in Chinese Medicine is Vital Force in Homeopathy
Qi, or vital force, is thought to be the basis of all the phenomena in the universe. It is a connection between matter and energy. In the body specifically it is the energy of the organs that has the capacity to nourish and activate the body and the mind. A goal of Traditional Chinese Medicine is to keep the qi active and flowing. Since blood has a similar role, there is a close relationship between qi and blood, and both must be nourished, strong, plentiful and freely moving through the body in order to maintain good health.