An Introduction to Chinese Medicine

The 2007 National Health Interview Survey showed that over one-third of Americans (38 percent) have used an alternative therapy instead of—or in addition to—Western medical treatment for their conditions. Among these therapies are acupuncture and other Chinese-medicine practices that people have used for more than 3,000 years.

Ancient Chinese healers envisioned the body as a garden in which the vital energy force, called we qi or wei chi, acts as a natural immune system to keep everything in healthy harmony. They described the wei chi as a corps of trillions of tiny grounds keepers who knew exactly how to protect healthy growth and repel harmful intruders.

Chi energy flows through your body in specific and well-defined channels called meridians. As it does its healthful work, wei chi is supported by other kinds of energies that enter your body from various sources and flow through it in different ways.

Wei chi depends on the body for the few elements it needs: nutritious foods, pure water, clean air, and freedom to move. It also requires that you believe in and support your body's healthful power.

Restoring balance

For your body to be healthy, chi energy must be able to flow freely through your meridians. Disease results when internal or external causes attack, weaken, or impede your chi's natural flow.

For example:

  • Five devils. Exposure to excessive wind, heat, dampness, dryness, and cold can affect the vitality of the wei chi, especially if neglect or an unhealthful lifestyle has weakened it.

  • Five destructive emotions. Anger, joy, worry, grief, and fear all have their place, but overindulgence creates imbalances in your body's system.

When disease occurs, a Chinese-medicine practitioner will examine you for signs of physical or emotional imbalance, then seek to restore your health by restoring your strength and your flow of vital energy.

Common therapies, which may be used separately or together, include:

  • Acupuncture. Acupuncture helps energies flow freely through your meridians by removing blockages. Your practitioner inserts needles or applies pressure at body points that correlate to specific conditions and symptoms.

  • Herbal therapies. Chinese herbs help restore healthful balance by directing energies through channels in ways that relieve underlying deficiencies, overactivity, or other problems. Though Western herbal therapies usually target specific symptoms, Chinese herbs treat the overall system.

  • Exercise. Chinese practitioners believe that exercise keeps your energy moving and is essential for good health. Too much sitting can injure your kidneys. The liver also needs movement to maintain health.

  • Diet. Mainstays of the traditional Chinese diet include rice, vegetables, and lean meat, chicken, and fish lightly cooked to preserve vitamins.

Today, more than one-fourth of Asia's population uses medical systems based on traditional Oriental principles. Popularity of acupuncture and other Chinese techniques continues to grow in the West, as well.