Many of us have never considered stepping into a traditional Chinese drugstore, a shop only recognizable by its jars of dried herbs and diagrams of the therapeutic relationship between different body parts. This is because not only are the prescriptions even more indecipherable than their Western counterparts, but few of us even know the location of a Chinese doctor, much less consult with him/her. Nevertheless, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) has a millennia-old heritage, and plays a major role in China’s healthcare system; the Chinese government provides traditional drugstores and therapeutic centers alongside Western-style hospitals and clinics.
One of the world’s great herbal systems, TCM is based on life energy (chi); namely, the interaction between yin and yang. It centers on the energy subsystem around what is called the kidney meridian. As written on the Yellow Emperor’s Classics from the second century B.C., kidney chi and essence is responsible for brain development and function, sexual and reproductive functions, and urinary and bowel regulation. By correcting imbalances in these energies through herbal therapy, acupuncture, dietary therapy and exercises in breathing and movement, TCM addresses an entire host of body problems. And while Western medicine takes the approach of treating symptoms and diseases, TCM focuses on lifestyle management, with the overall well-being of the body, soul and mind in mind. The use of natural herbs take advantage of a complex concoction of complimenting chemicals within the plant, as opposed of single active ingredients in pills produced by drug firms.
Traditional Chinese diagnosis is based on the macro philosophy of disease and incorporates 4 methods of diagnosis: observe, hear and smell, inquire the patientâ€™s background, and touch. The doctor will feel the pulse of the patient, an all-important procedure that patients refer to consultation as â€œgoing to have my pulse felt.â€ Practitioners will spend years, even decades, in training to comprehend the full complexity of symptoms and dynamic balances.
Dietary therapy revolves around the concept of the â€œfive flavorsâ€, wherein a balanced diet is reflected on the balance between these flavors.
There are around 500 Chinese herbs used today, of which 250 are commonly used. Each herb has one or more of the five flavors and one of the five temperatures (hot, warm, neutral, cool, cold). These herbs are combined into formulas designed to address the patientâ€™s needs. An herbal formula contains anywhere from 3 to 25 herbs. It is true that tea prepared from these herbal medicine taste terrible; one modern solution is providing these herbs in soluble pill form.
The downside to all this is the surge of untested and unregulated medical products. Online advertisements deluge web surfers with exaggerated claims and many victims attempt self-diagnosis with possibly harmful results. In the Philippines, traditional Chinese drugstores are not regulated by the Bureau of Food and Drugs because it is considered as a heritage practice. As a matter of precaution, consult only with a trained practitioner who will write out a prescription for you. Another controversy in TCM is the use of endangered species for therapy. Shark’s fin soup, bear bile, and tiger genitalia have therapeutic claims, but the demand for these animal by-products have devastated the population of these creatures.
Today, many Chinese would often go to both traditional and Western medical practitioners for their health problems. The Western-style doctor can treat specific injuries and diseases through surgery, while TCM can deal with the lifestyle adjustments needed to facilitate healing.