7 Frequently Asked Questions about Traditional Chinese Medicine

traditional Chinese medicine

Traditional Chinese medicine has been the mainstream form of medical therapy for thousands of years in China. There have always been many debates about TCM, and we have answered the seven most commonly asked questions about it below.

1) Is traditional Chinese medicine a type of science?

There's always been a debate about the science of traditional Chinese medicine, and there's to date no evidence for the basic tenets like qi (‘life energy').

TCM is oriented toward dogmatic theory, but many treatments are based on empirical research and have proved to be consistently effective.

The majority view is: no, diagnoses and treatments in TCM lack enough scientific foundation and consistency for it to be called a type of science.

2) Does traditional Chinese medicine work?

traditional Chinese medicine

It can work, but sometimes not, and usually not quickly. Before Western medicine was widely introduced to China in the late 19th century, traditional Chinese medicine existed for thousands of years and has saved many lives and cured many ailments.

There's still a lot to be discovered about TCM. Neither too much skepticism nor blind faith are advised. If you want to try TCM, it is best to seek advice from a well-trained, credible healthcare professional.

3) What do medical doctors think of traditional Chinese medicine?

traditional Chinese medicine

Medical doctors tend to sideline TCM rather than be neutral toward it. Compared to experiment-based Western medicine, TCM is considered a semi-empirical practice.

What's more, most medical doctors in China now find it hard to answer a patient's questions about traditional Chinese medicine, such as whether they should consume herbs or seek help in the form of other TCM techniques like acupuncture.

4) What is the general view of traditional Chinese medicine in China?

For the older generation, it's generally positive. For the younger generation, it's believed that TCM does work, but that it's less efficient than Western medicine. Nowadays, many people use TCM as a way to maintain their health instead of to cure diseases.

The majority of people view TCM as a traditional Chinese cultural heritage.

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5) What foods have too much "heat" according to traditional Chinese medicine?

In traditional Chinese medicine, foods with "heat" include all fried foods, meat with a heavy protein content, and spicy seasonings, such as pepper, onion, and ginger. The concept of "hot" food in TCM is close to high-calorie or spicy food. See more on Chinese medicinal cuisine.

6) Should I believe in traditional Chinese medicine?

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The very fact that TCM is talked about as requiring "believing in" is a testament to the lack of proof for its effectiveness and theory. It can't be accepted based on logic or scientific understanding.

Except for a small minority who have tried TCM and benefited from it, most foreigners are skeptical about TCM. Most doctors reject it as a legitimate form of medicine.

As its theory stems from Taoist beliefs, Taoists generally believe in TCM. Monotheists like Christians and Muslims generally reject it.

7) Which is better: Chinese or Western medicine, and why?

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Each has its strengths and weakness. Western medicine has a far more rigorous scientific basis and methodology. It focuses on treating symptoms quickly and for the best quality-of-life outcome, but can be dangerous if mistakes are made.

Traditional Chinese medicine, it is often said, "won't cure you very quickly (if at all), but at least it won't harm you." There is some truth in this: TCM works slower, is less reliable, but is generally less dangerous. As it aims for harmony with the body, there are fewer side effects.

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