Traditional Chinese Medicine | TCM | Ming Chen Clinics Edinburgh Glasgow
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)

What is Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)?

Traditional Chinese Medicine, also known as TCM, includes a range of traditional medical practices originating in China. It is an ancient medical system that takes a deep understanding of the laws and patterns of nature and applies them to the human body. TCM is a complete medical system that has been practised for more than five thousand years. Acupuncture was first introduced to the West when American president Richard Nixon visited China and was presented with a demonstration of acupuncture used as anesthesia in surgery.

History of TCM

Much of the philosophy of Traditional Chinese Medicine derives from the same philosophical bases as Taoist and Buddhist philosophies, and reflects the classical Chinese belief that the life and activity of individual human beings have an intimate relationship with the environment on all levels. 

Traditional Chinese Medicine has been around for thousands of years. Although the first recorded history of TCM dates back over 2000 years, it is believed that the origins of TCM go back more than 5000 years.  The first written documentation on traditional Chinese medicine is the Huang-Di Nei-Jing or Yellow Emperor's Canon of Internal Medicine. Huang-Di Nei-Jing is the oldest medical textbook in the world: different opinions date the book back to between 800 BC and 200 BC. Yellow Emperor's Canon of Internal Medicine lays a primary foundation for the theories of Chinese medicine. It extensively summarises and systematises the previous experience of treatment and theories of medicine, such as the meridian theory, as well as many other issues, including physiology, pathology, diagnosis, prevention, treatment, acupuncture and moxibustion, tui na etc It is still used for the teaching of acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine today. 


TCM Theory

Yin & Yang

One of the fundamental TCM theories used to determine the pattern of disharmony is the theory of "Yin and Yang". Yin and Yang represent two opposite aspects of every object and their implicit conflict and interdependence. Generally, anything that is moving, ascending, bright, progressing, hyperactive, including functional disease of the body, pertains to Yang. The characteristics of stillness, descending, darkness, degeneration, hypoactivity, including organic disease, pertain to Yin. Yin and Yang are terms used to describe two polar opposites. Each body part, each organ, and even each symptom in the body can be described in terms of Yin and Yang. Levels of Yin and Yang are constantly changing in the body and there are four possible states of imbalance:

  • Excess of Yin
  • Excess of Yang
  • Deficiency of Yin
  • Deficiency of Yang

It is rare for one of these states of imbalance to exist by itself. Excesses and deficiencies of Yin and Yang almost always appear in combination. For example, if a patient has loose stools associated with a stomach flu this shows an excess of Yin. This excess Yin is a build-up of dampness which can be seen in the symptom of loose stools. If this patient also has a fever associated with the stomach flu, this shows an additional excess of Yang. The heat associated with this fever is an excess Yang symptom. In this example, a Yin excess and Yang excess are occurring simultaneously.

In treating the overall pattern of disharmony, the TCM practitioner uses acupuncture and Chinese herbs to address all imbalances of Yin and Yang.

 Internal Organs

To look at the body as an integrated whole, one also looks at the theory of the 'Internal Organs'. The TCM definition of an Internal Organ is very different from the Western concept. In Western medicine, an organ is a material-anatomical structure. In Chinese medicine each Internal Organ encompasses much more. There can be an anatomical structure, but there is also a corresponding emotion, tissue, sensory organ, colour and element.

In addition, 12 of the Internal Organs correspond to the 12 main acupuncture meridians (or channels) that run through the body. There is qi (or energy) flowing through each meridian. If an Internal Organ is out of balance, the qi of that organ will be damaged.

Therefore, the Chinese Lung (which is capitalised to distinguish it as the Chinese organ) shouldn't be equated with the Western Organ - although there are definite similarities.

 Qi, Blood & Body Fluids

The simplest translation of qi (as given above) is "energy", yet there is no one English phrase that can truly capture its meaning. Everything in the universe (both organic and inorganic) is made up of qi, but qi is neither purely material nor purely energetic. One translation given is "energy at the point of materialising".

The qi of the body comes from three main sources -- the qi which we are born with, the qi we derive from food, and the qi which comes from the air we breathe. In addition there is qi associated with each organ and qi protecting the body from invasion by pathogens (which prevents us from getting sick).

Disharmonies of qi can occur if there is not enough qi in an individual (known as qi deficiency), if one's qi get stuck (known as qi stagnation), or if qi flows in the wrong direction (known as rebellious qi).

The TCM concept of blood includes not only blood flowing through the arteries and veins as we know it, but also a substance flowing through the meridians. The pathway of blood is considered less important than its functions of continuously circulating, nourishing, maintaining, and moistening various body parts. Blood and qi are considered to have a mutually dependant relationship.

Like qi, blood can also be deficient when there is not enough of it, or stagnant when it gets stuck.

Body fluids are the liquids in the body other than blood, which moisten and nourish the hair, skin, flesh, organs, bones, joints, and brain. These fluids are derived from food and regulated by qi.

In order for there to be balance in the body, the qi, blood and body fluids must flow smoothly.

 Five Phases

The theory of the 5 phases looks at 5 interrelated forces that have specific relationships to one another. The five images used to describe these forces are Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water. Each of these elements has corresponding organs, emotions, colours, tastes, tissues, human sounds, and endless other correspondences. The following table shows some of these 5 Phase correspondences:

 
Wood
Fire
Earth
Metal
Water
Yin Organ
Liver
Heart
Spleen
Lung
Kidney
Yang Organ
Gall Bladder
Small Intestine
Stomach
Large Intestine
Urinary Bladder
Color
Green
Red
Yellow
White
Black
Climate
Windy
Hot
Damp
Dry
Cold
Emotion
Anger
Joy
Pensiveness
Grief
Fear
Taste
Sour
Bitter
Sweet
Pungent
Salty
Orifice
Eyes
Tongue
Mouth
Nose
Ears
Tissue
Tendons
Blood Vessels
Muscles
Skin
Bones
Sound
Shouting
Laughing
Singing
Weeping
Groaning
Season
Spring
Summer
Late Summer
Autumn
Winter
Direction
East
South
Centre
West
North

An individual's signs and symptoms will often fit neatly into the framework of these five elements.

The elements are described as "phases" because they have relationships to one another which are defined by movement and motion. These phases interact according to patterns of "generating" and "controlling". As an example, Fire is said to "generate" Earth and "control" Metal. Therefore, disharmonies in both the Earth and Metal phases can be addressed by treating Fire. This kind of 5 phase diagnosis can be very useful clinically in determining an acupuncture treatment.