Traditional Chinese Medicine has been used in China – where else? – for some thousands of years, but only today is it gaining favour in the West. It incorporates a number of different modalities including Chinese herbs, acupuncture, moxibustion, cupping, Chinese nutrition, and massage.
The term "Chinese herbs" can be somewhat confusing as not all of them are derived from plants. There are over 13,000 Chinese herbs in use around the world, and they can include such things as tiger bones, antelope horns, rhino horns, snake bile, minerals such as asbestos, lead and mercury, and even – believe it or not – menstrual blood and human faeces.
The most commonly used substances come from the leaves, roots, flowers, stems, and seeds of plants, as well as the bark. Some of the most used are ginseng, which is used for a wide variety of conditions, ginger, rhubarb, liquorice, and cinnamon bark. The ingredients are blended into a formula that can be taken as a capsule, tea, liquid extract, powder, or granule.
Chinese herbs became much more widely known in the US in the 1970’s, but there are certain misgivings about some of the ingredients. Some may interfere with other medicines that the patient is taking and could result in serious side effects. Others could be unsafe for people with certain conditions. Certainly, nobody should take Chinese herbs without proper guidance from a licenced practitioner and should also ask their doctor or pharmacist to check if there are likely to be any interactions with prescription medication.
Chinese nutrition contains foods that include all five tastes – spicy, sour, salty, bitter, and sweet. Spicy foods are warming, while sour, salty, and bitter are cooling, and sweet is strengthening. These follow the yin and yang concept of Traditional Chinese Medicine and are either warming or cooling. Warming foods should be avoided in the summer, according to practitioners, and are used to treat such things as chills and colds. Warming foods include red meat, deep-fried foods, and alcohol. Cooling foods are mostly green vegetables and fruits and are used to treat "hot" conditions such as sore throats, rashes, and heartburn.
London Chinese medicine also includes tui na massage. Tui means "to push" and na means "to lift and squeeze". As you might guess, this can be quite a strong and deep sort of massage and combines massage with acupressure. This is a physical pressure on certain acupuncture points on the body but is done using the hands rather than inserting needles into the skin. The techniques of tui na massage were originally written down in The Yellow Emperor’s Classics of Internal Medicine which was written about 500 years BC. Tui na is usually used for musculoskeletal conditions and those involving chronic pain.
Tui na is an external form of treatment and in that respect is similar to cupping. This is a process which dates back to at least the early part of the 4th century AD and is a form of Chinese massage. Glass or plastic "cups" similar in shape to a ball but with an open top are warmed up with a cotton ball which gently heats them and burns off all the oxygen inside them. They are then immediately placed on the part of the body to be treated. The air in the cup then cools down and creates a vacuum inside the cup which lets the cup stick to the skin which also draws up the skin.
If a massage oil is used, the cups can be slid around the back or stomach into different positions. The cups are usually left in place for five or ten minutes and are believed to stimulate blood flow which helps to balance the flow of qi, or energy, through the body, and also break up obstructions and create a method of allowing any toxins to be pulled out of the body.
Many people are familiar with the term acupuncture but are not aware of how it works. This is when very fine needles are placed into the skin with the object of balancing the flow of energy through the twelve channels, or meridians, in the body, also with the object of balancing the flow of qi and thus restoring health to the body.