How traditional Chinese medicine is adopted by the West

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Stick out his tongue, he gestured, before recoil with horror. “Now let me feel your pulse.” He took my hands and gasped. “Did you drink cold water?” He asked scathingly. The temperature was hitting 36 ° C, so surely I could be forgiven for indulging in a small cold drink? Clearly no.

I was living in Northwest China and my insomnia had peaked, causing me deep distress. “If you try something that is good for your health in China, it must be acupuncture,” many people have advised me. Since I was desperate and in the country where Chinese medicine had been practiced for thousands of years, I gave it a try.

According to traditional Chinese medicine, the body carries qi, your “life force” or life energy.Credit:Alamy

A week later, I found myself lying on my back with dozens of needles, much thicker than I had known in the West, inserted into various parts of the body. Not only that, I also had two heat lamps falling on me, as well as the smoke coming out of what looked like a smoking cigar. (This is called moxibustion, a form of Chinese therapy believed to stimulate circulation.)

When a dozen sachets of blood-red liquefied herbs arrived at my front door, a sip of the potent, ash-tasting medicine made me vomit. The smell seemed to seep from my pores for days. I finished them – right – after a week and my insomnia subsided… for a while.

Fast forward a few years and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is making its mark in the West. With a booming wellness market and many GPs seeking to treat the condition with a holistic approach, its popularity has increased. And although many doctors are skeptical about the effectiveness of TCM, research shows that complementary medicine can make a big difference in a patient’s quality of life.

How is this supposed to work? While Western medicine tends to focus on science, TCM is based on balance, harmony, and energy. According to TCM, the body carries qi, your “life force” or life energy.

The idea of ​​yin and yang as two opposing and complementary energies is one of the most fundamental concepts of TCM. When these are out of balance, your body is thought to become sick. For example, with dieting, you need a balance between fresh (yin) and hot (yang) foods.

In an unprecedented move, the latest version of the World Health Organization’s list, the International Classification of Diseases (ICD), which will take effect in January 2022, will include diagnoses of TCM for the first time in its history.

WHO sets norms and standards for medical treatment around the world and articulates ethical and evidence-based policy options. It categorizes thousands of illnesses and influences how doctors treat them; how insurers cover these treatments; and what kind of research is being done on what diseases.


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