(WellnessNova.com) - As one of the oldest forms of healing, traditional Chinese medicine was introduced over 2500 years ago and is still being actively practiced across the world to this day. The system centers on the belief that natural herbs, such as ginger, ginseng, and goji berries, contain powerful healing properties that are capable of alleviating symptoms associated with a variety of diseases and common ailments.
Beyond the use of herbs, Chinese medicine also incorporates practices, such as acupuncture, massage, exercise, and dietary therapy, to realign the body’s vital energy (chi or qi) and help patients achieve an optimal level of mental and physical health.
Widely practiced across China, traditional Chinese medicine’s popularity has spread internationally and is now especially prevalent in Europe and North America. While scientific research has yet to find significant concrete evidence that Chinese beliefs, such as qi, energy meridians, and acupuncture points, exist, these principles have gained traction in circles hoping to avoid the pharmaceutical drugs doled out in Western medicine. From another perspective, patients opt to try out alternative forms of Chinese treatment after experiencing a lack of response to Western medication.
From balancing hormones to reducing inflammation, protecting cognitive health and contributing to muscle strength, traditional Chinese medicine helps patients find their paths back to health by addressing their external environments, introducing them to natural supplements, and improving key lifestyle factors, such as diet and exercise. Here are six surprising uses and benefits of Chinese medicine:
1. Chronic Pain Reduction
Many of the herbs used in traditional Chinese medicine have been proven to contain analgesic properties that help to reduce chronic pain. In January 2014, a study in the Cell Press Journal found that the Corydalis plant, a member of the poppy family, contains a key ingredient known as dehydrocorybulbine (DHCB) that lowers bodily inflammation and improves acute, neuropathic, and chronic pain. The study was conducted in an effort to catalogue the chemical components of Chinese medicine and how they work towards improving human health.
The Corydalis plant is mainly grown in central eastern China, where it is harvested, ground, and boiled in hot vinegar. It is then ground into a fine powder, and can be taken orally by patients in capsule format. The same Cell Press Journal study found that the pain-relieving compounds in the plant acted similarly to those found in morphine.
2. Liver Health Improvement
Traditional Chinese medicine guidelines call for an alkaline diet, which helps to restore the body’s proper pH levels and works towards preventing any nutrition and mineral deficiencies. Adaptogen herbs, such as reishi mushrooms and cordyceps, are also incorporated into a liver treatment plan to improve the organ’s function and prevent the onset of disease. A study in the International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms found that reishi mushrooms contain a high level of antioxidant properties that work actively towards protecting the liver. They also assist in controlling blood glucose levels to help prevent diseases such as hypoglycemia and diabetes, while maintaining optimal levels of bacteria in the bloodstream to reduce stress on the liver and the risk of liver cancer. Reishi mushrooms are available in liquid, capsule or powder format.
3. Cognitive Health Protection
Chinese medicine holds the belief that a variety of herbs and nutrients directly impact our intellect and cognitive function. Glutamic acid is thought to help reduce the production of cortisol in the kidneys, which raises the body’s stress levels and affects cognition. High levels of glutamic acid can be found in almonds, wheat bran, and mackerel – which are all regularly recommended for consumption by Chinese medicine practitioners.
Taurine is a cognitive-calming neurotransmitter that is depleted by stress and can be restored by consuming salmon, mackerel, and halibut. Lipoic acid is an antioxidant that improves memory and cognition and can be found in organ meats, collard greens, and chard.
From a herbal perspective, lemon balm is regularly prescribed to improve memory and encourage restful sleep. Rosemary is believed to prevent brain aging, while skullcap is believed to detoxify the brain and strengthen its nerves. The list goes on: oolong tea, jujube, and salvia are thought to benefit cognitive health while improving circulation and nourishing the spleen.
4. Muscle Strength Preservation
A study conducted by the Harvard Medical School found that consistent tai chi practice, a traditional form of Chinese exercise, helped to boost muscle strength, maintain flexibility, increase and improve balance, and contribute to heart strength in patients. Participants in the study committed to 12 weeks of tai chi practice and were found to notice improvement in their endurance and general fitness levels.
Chinese massage therapy and acupressure have also been proven to improve muscle recovery following particularly challenging workouts or injury. It is believed that the traditional practices of Chinese massage contribute to regulating the flow of qi energy and stimulating blood flow back to strained or injured muscle tissue.
The ancient Chinese medicine practice of cupping combines suction with negative pressure against muscle tissue, draining excess fluid and toxins and lifting connective tissue in the process. Be warned, however, that it will leave week-long red marks against the skin!
5. Female Hormone Balance
Chinese medicine relies heavily on the dual concept of “yin” and “yang” – opposite forces that relate to each other. “Yin” refers to substance, nourishment, stability, and cooling, while “yang” is motivating, stimulating, drying, and heating.
Women’s gender hormones are quite “yin” in nature, while their stress hormones are “yang.” When the balance between the two is off, it contributes to painful menstruation, mood swings, hot flashes, slow metabolism, weight gain, infertility ,and more. It can also cause the early onset of menopause, as well as osteoporosis and heart disease.
Chinese medicine practitioners combine a multitude of natural herbs, such as ginseng, maca root, red clover, tongkat ali, and more, with the recommendation of an alkaline diet and exercise in an effort to rebalance the body’s yin and yang levels and stabilize hormones. These herbs act powerfully by stimulating the release of neuromodulators and hormones into the bloodstream. Trained Chinese medicine practitioners will be able to make a proper diagnosis based on a given woman’s symptoms to decide which combination of herbs would be most beneficial to their situation.
6. Weight Loss Stimulation
In Chinese medicine, a balanced spleen and stomach are believed to induce weight loss. If the body cannot maintain its ability to break down and extract nutrients while sending waste materials to the intestines for elimination, a patient’s digestion will suffer – causing them to gain weight. As such, Chinese medicine practitioners focus heavily on upkeeping a patient’s metabolism and spleen health in order to prevent excess fat storage and the accumulation of harmful toxins.
Research suggests that the polyphenols found in oolong, green, and black tea help burn fat quickly. One of these polyphenols is called catechin and assists in maintaining metabolic rates as a person’s body is losing weight. As such, these teas are often recommended in Chinese medicine to patients looking to shed excess pounds! Additional herbs believed to increase metabolism, suppress the appetite, and burn fat quickly are he ye, fu ling, huang qi, chi qian cao, and the most popular – bao he wan. The latter is the most consumed herb in China amongst people hoping to improve their digestion and slim down. It can be consumed in powder or capsule format.
Acupuncture is also used to promote weight loss, as it is thought to strengthen the spleen and stomach, regulate endocrine function, reduce appetite, increase bowel movements, and boost energy. One of the most popular acupuncture pressure points for those hoping to lose body mass is, surprisingly, in the ear. This pressure point is believed to be relative to our hunger levels and can control cravings when stimulated by a qualified acupuncturist.
Of course, we’re only touching on the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the many uses and health benefits of traditional Chinese medicine. After all – there’s a reason it continues to take center stage as the world’s most popular form of alternative health therapy today.
Have any of the practices mentioned in this article been of benefit to your overall wellness? Let us know which Chinese medicine principles you’ve experimented with, or about those you’re hoping to explore further in the comments section below.