In the eyes of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), every person is a miniature universe. You are yin and yang — two complementary forces like day and night. And your body is the interaction of five universal elements: water, fire, wood, metal, and earth.
Fortunately, a river of life-giving energy known as qi flows through you, pulling all these elements together. When it does its job and the elements are in balance, you have health, says TCM. But when bacteria, an injury, or an unhealthy lifestyle throws them out of whack, you have disease — at which point a TCM practitioner’s response will be to use acupuncture, medicinal herbs, massage, diet, and a movement meditation such as tai chi to restore balance and, consequently, health.
Since doctors can’t find yin, yang, fire or qi on an x-ray, TCM as a system is impossible to study by Western standards. What they can study is the effectiveness of individual treatments like acupuncture and Chinese herbs. Acupuncture has been extensively researched and found to be useful for a variety of conditions. And, though more research is needed, various Chinese herbs may help alleviate a wide range of conditions.
One major caution surrounding TCM is to not use Chinese herbs, which you can buy in many Chinese markets, without first checking them out with a qualified practitioner. Many are potentially toxic and can be dangerous if you take them improperly.
If you make an appointment with a TCM practitioner, expect to answer questions about everything from your sleeping patterns to the color and consistency of your menstrual flow. The doctor will inspect your skin, hair and tongue; listen to your voice and breathing; and check your pulse.
Qualifications: Look for certification by the National Commission for the Certification for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM) or a Doctor of Oriental Medicine (DOM) degree.
Licensure: Licensing varies widely. Call the American Association of Oriental Medicine for the rules in your state.
Number in U.S.: Unknown. Estimates are as high as 8,000.
Cost: $75-$150 for an initial visit. $25-$100 for follow-up.
Insurance coverage: Insurance coverage varies widely; check with your company.
For more information: American Association of Oriental Medicine, 433 Front St., Catasauqua, PA 18032; 610-266-1433.