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HomeBlogYear of the Ox: strong and sturdy future predicted for Traditional Chinese Medicine

Year of the Ox: strong and sturdy future predicted for Traditional Chinese Medicine

By: Medix Team
Year of the Ox: strong and sturdy future predicted for Traditional Chinese Medicine

The most ancient of medical practises is being increasingly welcomed in hospitals across the world even though critics argue that more clinical data is needed to prove its effectiveness.

In the Chinese zodiac, 2021 represents the year of the metal ox. It’s especially fitting since metal represents the lungs in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), while the ox signifies achievement through hard work.


Can the two generate a positive outcome for humanity in 2021? We’re all acutely aware of just what a mammoth undertaking it is going to be to vaccinate the whole world against the Covid-19 respiratory virus. The Chinese zodiac suggests that there’s hope for those who look to astrology for answers.


In more practical terms, Western medicine is providing the world with the vaccines, while TCM emphasizes the importance of strengthening the immune system in the first place. This kind of split approach is being increasingly accepted across medicine as a whole: that both TCM and Western have complementary roles to play in a well-functioning healthcare system.


In crude terms, one form of medicine focuses on symptoms and curing disease. The other is all about prevention and taking a more holistic view of human health that views the mind and body as a connected whole.


One thing that no one disagrees on is that TCM is the world’s oldest form of codified medicine.  A medical text called the Huangdi Neijing (Canon of the Yellow Emperor) is generally thought to have been compiled at some point between the China’s late Warring States Era and the early Han Dynasty about two thousand years ago.


The book is essentially a discourse between a physician and the semi-mythical Yellow Emperor who lived many thousands of years before that. He’s often said to be the ancestor of the entire Chinese race.


The Huangdi Neijing covers the main points of TCM, including the concepts of qi (life force) and the 12 meridian lines that allow it to flow through the human body. It also introduces TCM’s guiding principle of yin and yang: that good health stems from balance in mind and body.


And therein lies the controversy that still dogs TCM in some quarters. Many of its touchstones remain little changed in two millennia.


For some, this goes against the grain of the clinical trial data that Western medicine adheres to. As a result, there was some controversy in 2019 when the World Health Organisation (WHO) included TCM in its ISD (International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Health Problems) for the first time.


This compendium forms the basis of many governments’ public health programmes. It now includes classifications for TCM attributes such as spleen qi deficiency and liver qi stagnation.


Two European health associations issued a joint statement condemning the move. They argued that the ISD “legitimizes unfounded claims” about TCM’s efficacy. 


However, TCM continues to go global. In 2015, Chinese chemist Tu Youyou won the Nobel Prize for her pioneering work applying modern scientific approaches to traditional herbal medicines. Back in the 1970’s, she had successfully extracted a substance called artemisinin (qinghaosu in Chinese) from the sweet wormwood plant to develop new drugs that inhibit the malaria parasite.


In doing so, she was building on many centuries of using the plant to combat the disease in China. It was first recorded as a malaria treatment during the Eastern Jin Dynasty (266 to 420 AD).


In recent years, TCM has accumulated clinical trial data to back up efficacy claims particularly in relation to acupuncture.


In 2019, US researchers published an analysis of patients who’d been admitted to a hospital emergency department in Wisconsin with acute pain. They found that those who’d chosen acupuncture reported significantly decreased subjective measurements of pain, anxiety, stress, trauma and nausea compared to those who’d accepted opioids.


Detractors would attribute this to the placebo effect. But even if that were the case, it still suggests that TCM has a valid role to play since acupuncture and medical massages clearly improve patients’ physical and mental wellbeing.


Both are non-invasive treatments. Opioids have side effects and cause fatalities, one of the reasons why academics started to prioritize clinical research into alternative treatments.


TCM practitioners believe that acupuncture needles re-direct the qi to where it’s needed in the body. In Western terminology, the needles stimulate sensory nerves that release endorphins, which dampen pain and promote wellbeing.


There are five branches to TCM: acupuncture, eating the right balance of yin and yang foods, tui na (body work or massage), ingesting medicinal herbs and tai chi or qi gong (deep breathing and relaxation through flowing movements).


All five are about promoting harmony and restoring the body to its natural balanced state. In Chinese folklore, the ox represents our Buddha nature. It’s something that we could all do with re-discovering after 2020’s tumults.

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