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TCM: a pseudoscience… and a business

Traditional Chinese Medicine, often shortened as TCM, is a widespread alternative to western medicine. Although it is “Chinese” in the origins, it is used by many countries in East Asia. Many Western countries also have TCM practicioners.
It revolves around millennia of experience based on ancient philosophical beliefs (that also make the foundation of the various Chinese religions), which makes it a pseudoscience: a discipline which does not follow the requirements to be considered a real science.

TCM: is it any useful?


As such, there is not one single standard to follow for the TCM, as those who practice it may disagree with each other.
Still, there are specific departments for TCM inside Chinese hospitals, which means there is a common basis, and every practicioner has to pass exams before operating in China. This may not apply in other countries, where the regulations are different or none.
While TCM is often seen with distrust in the West, some of its knowledge has been useful. There are indeed western medicines based on TCM, treating symptoms or diseases like fever, malaria and some cases of leukemia. Although part of TCM has been useful, the majority of it cannot replace western medicine.
By placing a TCM department in many public hospitals, Chinese government prevents people from getting TCM treatments which may affect western medicines or directly harm the patient’s health.

For whom it works

Chinese medicine is generally advised to those who do not mind a slower improvement in their health. This is also because it has often no side-effects: this is, in the majority of the cases, the main selling point of TCM.
While it cannot cure serious illnesses, it often seemed to help with pain relief and, perhaps, provide a form of placebo effect. In this last part, TCM has points in common with the ancient European humor theory, and with the more modern (while still not scientific) Homeopathy.

TCM and its practices

TCM includes various practices, for example acupuncture, moxibustion, qigong, massage, dieting, cupping, usage of herbs and drugs to cure illnesses, and more.
In general, we can divide those into three categories:

TCM example: specific teas and herbs are used as medicine

1. Lifestyle choices: by adjusting one’s own diet, both in health and sickness. For example eating certain types of food while having a particular illness can help the body can recover earlier. In general, it advises to be temperate and eat a bit of everything instead of abusing spicy food, or alcohol. Another important part is practicing daily exercises – most Chinese martial arts focus on this as well.
2. Medicines: although some medicines are famously based on animals, much more derivate from plants. Many Chinese farms and businesses harvest ingredients, especially in very underdeveloped provinces such as Gansu. Those areas host specific species can grow due to the unique climate and territory.
TCM example: acupuncture
3. Body therapy: massages and acupuncture, done in various ways. According to many users, they are helpful to relieve the body of pain and stress.

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