Understanding Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Part 2

Posted by Lloyd on November 10, 2011
Alternative Medicine

There are a number of methods within TCM by which a pattern of illness may be defined. One of the most commonly used is called the Eight Principles or Eight Parameters approach. In this approach, the signs and symptoms of the patient’s illness are defined in terms of 4 pair of criteria. These include hot vs. cold, interior vs. exterior, excess vs. deficiency and yin vs. yang. By defining an ailment within this context, the treatment principles, strategy and details of the treatment can be determined.

Using this approach, the signs and symptoms are logically grouped and explained. There is a disease diagnosis, which identifies the major group of symptoms, as well as a pattern diagnosis, which explains the underlying cause or root of the problem. Because acupuncture points and herbal formulas are defined within the same framework, an acupuncture treatment and herbal formula can be developed to bring the patient back into balance.

Consider a thirty-year-old woman who comes in complaining of recurring headaches. In TCM the practitioner learns that the headaches tend to occur at the end of the day and anytime during her period. The pain is generalized in nature and she is unable to pinpoint any specific location of pain. Further questions reveal that her hands and feet are frequently cold, her appetite is scanty and her bowel movements frequently result in loose stools, especially during her period. As the practitioner looks at her, it is noted that her face is lusterless and her nails are pale. The practitioner looks at her tongue (an important indicator in TCM) and sees that it is pale in color. The pulse is taken and it feels very fine and  weak.

From these facts, a TCM pattern diagnosis of blood vacuity due to spleen qi deficiency is made. The treatment principle is to nourish the blood and tonify the spleen. Acupuncture points on her lower legs and back are chosen to accomplish this. Additional acupuncture points are chosen on her head to treat the pain if she has a headache at the present time.

An herbal formula (TCM rarely uses individual herbs) is chosen that includes about ten herbs designed to tonify the spleen, nourish the blood, and direct it towards the head. Lifestyle factors are also considered. In TCM, damage to the spleen can occur from any combination of a diet rich in fats and sugar, lack of exercise and over thinking (stress).

The preceding explanation makes no sense from a western medical perspective. The spleen as we know it in our western medical model has nothing to do with nourishing blood and under nourished blood has nothing to do with causing headaches. Because of this, some dismiss TCM as utter nonsense. For those trained in this art, it makes perfect sense and it gives us a very effective framework from which to treat ailments. TCM is not better or worse than western medicine, it is just different.

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