Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine

Anna Lagios Tsu, L.Ac.

About Acupuncture & Traditional Chinese Medicine:

Traditional Chinese Medicine has developed over the past 3000 years. The earliest recorded works of Chinese medicine date back to 1000 B.C., and are attributed to the Yellow Emperor.

Chinese Medicine includes the five major branches of acupuncture, herbal medicine, diet, exercise, and massage. It also encompasses energy work, either as a part of acupuncture or massage, or as a part of exercises such as Tai Chi or Qi Gong.

Acupuncture is the best known branch of Traditional Chinese Medicine in the States. The practice of acupuncture is based on the concept of "qi". Qi (sometimes spelled "chi" or "ki") can be loosely translated as "air" or "breath" or "energy". It is most easily described as a type of energy which flows in the body in set pathways, called "meridians" or "channels" in Chinese Medicine. There are 12 major meridians in the body, and 8 accessory or "extraordinary" meridians. Health is dependent on the smooth flow of the qi in its channels; wherever qi is blocked or stagnant, or flows in a reverse or chaotic manner, health is affected. Acupuncture aims to stimulate the proper flow of qi by the insertion of fine, hair-like needles into strategic points in the meridians. (All needles used are single-use, disposable; no diseases can be contracted from the use of such needles.) In this manner, qi may be increased, smoothed, or otherwise corrected, and pathogens (called "pernicious influences" in Chinese Medicine) may be expelled. Acupuncture has become well known in America for its treatment of pain. While quite effective in that regard, acupuncture (along with herbal medicine) is a complete field of medicine, meaning that it can address all medical disorders to some degree. Although certain conditions are best addressed by modern Western medicine (i.e. emergency trauma and surgery, cancer, diabetes, severe bacterial infection, and others) Chinese Medicine is quite effective in the treatment of problems as diverse as insomnia, fatigue, depression, infertility, digestive and intestinal disorders, irritability, premenstrual syndrome, allergies, cough, asthma, fever, colds and flu, arthritis, headache, stroke, hearing loss, facial paralysis or tics, hypertension, angina, drug withdrawal (including nicotine), symptoms of menopause, irritability, and impotence, among others. It is also effective in achieving maximum physical performance in athletes and in stimulating mental function in students before final exams. Acupuncture can assist in the healing of traumatic or repetitive injuries such as those suffered by skiers, rock climbers, construction workers, or other active people. Additionally, while acupuncture cannot cure cancer, diabetes, or epilepsy, it can assist patients suffering from these diseases, helping to reduce the amount of prescription drugs required to manage their condition, or to alleviate the side effects of some medicines. (For example, acupuncture is used in many hospitals to reduce nausea and loss of appetite due to chemotherapy). This is by no means to imply that acupuncture is a "cure-all". As with any other form of treatment, individual responses will vary, and one of the responsibilities of the practitioner is in knowing when to refer (to an M.D., chiropractor, homeopath, or other healer).

In the West, Chinese Medicine is almost synonymous with acupuncture, but in China itself, acupuncture is equaled or even surpassed in importance by the herbal tradition. Over 500 native and imported "herbs" (not all are plant products; some derive from mineral or animal sources) are traditionally used. Each of these herbs is extensively described in the Chinese literature, including its properties, uses, contraindications, and ability to work with or against other herbs. A popular, but mistaken, belief, is that since herbs are "natural", they are therefore "safe". This is not true. Herbs are powerful medicine and need to be treated with care and respect. Many poisons and potentially lethal drugs are derived from natural sources. In Chinese Medicine, herbs are not sold retail, but are prescribed in specific combinations for individual patients. Herbs are usually taken in formulas, or combinations, designed to address the patients condition without causing new problems. Prescriptions are normally based on the classic formulas of Chinese medical literature, then tailored to meet the needs of the specific patient. It is important to notify the Chinese practitioner of any prescription (or non-prescription) drugs you may be taking, so that unwanted interactions may be avoided.  Despite the need for caution, I am happy to report that of the hundreds of patients I have personally worked with, none has suffered any reaction to herbal formulas more serious than "gas".