Acupuncture and Chinese medicine have received a lot of attention in recent years, popping up everywhere from the news to US Weekly's feature on Gwyneth Paltrow's favorite health hobby. As much as I like and appreciate Gwyneth's approval of acupuncture and Chinese medicine, it's still seen as a "New Age" cure for the type of people who name their kids Apple and Moses...no offense Gwyneth. I think it's time to 'consciously uncouple' from this misunderstanding of Chinese Medicine.
Chinese medicine is a sophisticated medical system created by sophisticated practitioners. In fact, the Chinese started dissecting cadavers 500 years before Christ---that's a substantial amount of time to learn about the body and figure out where to poke and prod. The Chinese measured the blood vessels and weighed internal organs at a time when western physicians thought the body was made up of "humors." I mean, really, what's a humor? The Chinese were able to discover the phenomenon of continuous blood circulation 2,000 years before it was discovered in the west.
As Chris Kresser points out, "Chinese medicine is in fact a complete system of medicine that has successfully treated many common health conditions for more than 2,500 years. Chinese medicine was passed through the ages in an unbroken lineage of some of the best minds of China. It was used by emperors and the royal courts to help them live into their 90s and stay fertile into their 80s at a time when the average life expectancy in the west was 30 years."
This medical system is OLD. Older than the son of god, older than Sistine Chapel, older than your great aunt Margret. The first evidence of the type of medicine that led to our current understanding of Chinese Medicine dates back to over 6,000 years, during the neolithic period. Stone tools from this period were found that were especially shaped to make small incisions in the skin. Even Otzi the iceman, the well preserved mummy found in the Otzal Alps between Austria and Italy was found to have tattoos that marked acupuncture points. Chinese medicine has 8,000 years of continuous use, 8,000 years of treating patients, case studies, herbal formulas, and success. Put into perspective, western medicine as we recognize it today didn't come into play until the 1350s (the middle ages). And we all know about the middle ages...and want to forget about the middle ages.
There's a reason that Chinese medicine has survived for over 8,000 years and a reason that it's becoming more and more popular in today's world--- and not just by those who have extra money to throw around. One of the reasons why some people still believe this medicine to be a "New Age", "woo woo" shot in the dark is because they don't understand it. The language used in TCM talks about meridians, qi and energy---and if you are new to all of this, it can sound like Voodoo. In reality, these terms are more like a foreign language--- instead of focusing on how the terms sound, focus on what the medicine does.
The Huangdi Nei Jing is the ancient text that much of what we know about Chinese medicine comes from. Many scholars believe it was written around 2,000 years ago, and provided information that the west only found out until relatively recently. For example, they knew that the heart was the organ that pumps blood through the body more than 2,00 years ago---the west figured it out in the early 16th century. This book has detailed sections on pathology, case studies, herbal formulas, lifestyle changes, nutrition and acupuncture prescriptions. Basically, "alternative medicine" was their only medicine--the Chinese invented preventative care.
More and more research is beginning to prove what the Chinese knew about acupuncture---that it works. So how does acupuncture work? In my next post I'll talk about what current research is finding out about acupuncture, what it does to the body and the theories of how this amazing medicine works.