What Is Traditional Chinese Medicine, What Are The Benefits/Risks Of Chinese Medicine And Is It Truly Effective?

Tony Chon, M.D., Mayo

Question: What is traditional Chinese medicine, what are the benefits/risks of Chinese medicine and is it truly effective?

Answer: Traditional Chinese medicine, also known as TCM, includes a range of traditional practices originating in China more than 5,000 years ago. It is based on a philosophy of Taoism. The view of the human body according to TCM paradigm is very different from what in Western medicine we understand. In traditional Chinese medicine, the aim is to achieve harmony and balance and promote moderation and prevention.

In terms of different therapies that are out there, [the] most popular ones include acupuncture and herbal medicine. Other modalities include mind-body therapy, dietary therapy and massage therapy.

In terms of scientific evidence of its effectiveness, research has been somewhat poor. Because of the complexity as well as the fundamental concepts, these ideas present challenges to researchers seeking evidence on whether it works or not. In terms of acupuncture, that seems to have the most evidence on its effectiveness and safety. There's some evidence out there that herbal medicine can be helpful; however, more research is needed to draw any final conclusion.

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