A scientific approach to traditional Chinese Medicine

Chinese Traditional medicine lacks an experimental foundation, and it’s outlook on the human body directly contradicts Western medicine’s outlook. However, on our riverboat cruise through Chongqing we met a Doctor who practiced both Traditional Chinese (中医) and also Western Medicine (西药). On the face of it, these two practices contradict, and so I wanted to do additional research that tried to find experimental justifications for traditional Chinese treatments. 

Traditional Chinese medicine incorporates acupuncture, tai chi, and various herbal cures in order to solve Humoric imbalances. Imbalances between Yin and Yang, Qi, and a myriad of other humors can lead to health problems.  Traditional Chinese mythology posits that the body contains Qi, or energy. Every one has Qi, and everyone’s Qi is connected to everything including the environment. This is why, many TCM practitioners also believe that Feng Shui, the art of placement, can manipulate Qi placement to produce auspicious fortune and health. A Feng Shui TCM expert could recommend changing the outlay of your house in order to improve your health.

According the this philosophy, Qi flows through the human body through meridians. Disharmony between Yin and Yang can also create physical illness. 


Bad Feng Shui can generate Shar Qi which can lead health problems.

Western mythology had similar notions of body energy as Élan vital, but that belief is so last century. To put it lightly, most western medical practitioners don’t take stock in  Qi flow. In 1997 the US NIH stated that TCM concepts like that  Qi “are difficult to reconcile with contemporary biomedical information.”

However, just because the logic and spirituality behind the philosophies don’t ring true doesn’t mean the treatments aren’t effective. Currently, there is a paucity of  scientific research on the effectiveness of Traditional Chinese medicine. Many scientists credit most of the treatments successes on the placebo effect.

TCM has a large variety of treatment methods, and therefore it is simplistic to treat TCM as a single entity. Many people oversimplify the vast complexity of treatment options in an attempt to deride all of Chinese medicine. Some treatment methods show higher effective rates than others; for example many experiments laud Taijiquan effectiveness at improving life quality. Research by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) found that Taijiquan helped people suffering from Parkensons manage their instability, help relieve joint pain in people suffering from Fibromilagia, and help ”promote quality of life” in people suffering from heart failure. Slow aerobic exercise especially among the elderly can help improve life quality.  Other treatment methods in TCM have not enjoyed the same experimental success. Acupuncture, for example, has shown statistically insignificant improvement in quality of life.


Physical activity of any kind, including Taijiquan, or the dance shown here is a great way to improve your health.