Traditional Chinese Medicine 101

Everything you need to know about traditional Chinese medicine

(RxWiki News) Traditional Chinese medicine covers a wide variety of practices meant to improve health and quality of life. But is it safe? Does it work?

Read on to find out more about traditional Chinese medicine (TCM).

What Is Traditional Chinese Medicine?

Some of the practices included in TCM have been around for thousands of years, and they have evolved and changed over time. TCM practitioners attempt to treat and prevent health problems and diseases using a variety of mind and body practices and herbal remedies. Here are some of the common practices of TCM:

  • Acupuncture
  • Tai chi
  • Cupping
  • Qi gong (a combination of exercise, meditation and breathing)
  • Various herbal and dietary remedies and plans

Is TCM Safe?

TCM encompasses a broad variety of practices, so it is difficult to say which ones are safe or unsafe. However, various studies and reports have uncovered contamination of some TCM herbal products. While these products on their own may or may not be safe, contamination with undeclared drugs, metals, pesticides and other materials can make them very dangerous, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.

TCM practices outside of herbal medicine, such as tai chi and acupuncture, have been tied to relatively few negative side effects. Still, even seemingly safe practices can pose risks — acupuncture, for example, could lead to infection if nonsterile needles are used. That's why it's extremely important that you speak with your health care provider before starting any new health practice.

Does TCM Work?

Because TCM has been around for such a long time, its various practices have been the subjects of many studies and trials over the years. Generally, this research has found that some mind and body practices like tai chi and acupuncture may improve quality of life and relieve pain for some people.

For instance, research has found that acupuncture may cause the body to release substances that lead to natural pain relief. On the other hand, some studies have found that this may be due to a placebo effect. Also, tai chi has been found to potentially improve balance, mood, and coordination and reduce pain.

Research findings on the effectiveness of traditional Chinese herbal products have been mixed. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, around 1 in 5 Americans uses one of these products to treat or prevent some sort of health problem. These health problems may include mental health problems, heart disease and respiratory problems, among many others.

While many people may share stories about various herbal remedies that may help in some way, the studies on this subject have produced mixed results. And many of them have been low-quality.

Your health care provider can help you determine what form of TCM, if any, might help with your condition. Never use TCM to delay seeking conventional medical care. Speak with your doctor or pharmacist if you have any questions.

Last Updated:
March 20, 2020