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A Consumer Guide to Traditional Chinese Medicine


The theory and practice of acupuncture is based on Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), a comprehensive natural health care system that has been used in the East for thousands of years to preserve health and diagnose, treat and prevent illness. Acupuncture treats health conditions by stimulating "acu-points" found at specific locations on the surface of the body. Acupuncturists stimulate the acu-points by inserting very thin needles through the skin to produce physiological effects. 


Thomas Wendt, LAc

The general theory of acupuncture is that proper physiological function and health depend on the circulation of nutrients, substances and energy called Qi (pronounced "chee") through a network of "channels" or "meridians." This network connects every organ and part of the body, providing balance, regulation and coordination of physiological processes. Pain and ill-health result when the flow of Qi through the body is disrupted or blocked by many things, including disease, pathogens, trauma/injuries and medication side-effects, overwork, poor diet, emotions, and stress. 


Traditional Chinese Medicine is licensed as a primary health care profession in California. The State of California has led the nation in this field. More than 15 million Americans have tried acupuncture since the 1970's. 


An Acupuncturist is trained and licensed to prescribe Chinese herbal remedies. They may be dispensed as raw herbs or in pills, capsules, granules, or tinctures which make them easier to ingest. Most herb formulas can treat a wide variety of symptoms while stimulating the body's natural healing process. In California, acupuncturists are the only licensed health care professionals who are required to be trained and tested for competency in prescribing herbal medicine. California-approved acupuncture schools offer a minimum of 450 classroom hours of instruction in traditional Oriental herbology in addition to clinical training. Chinese herbal medicine has been practiced safely and effectively for centuries and has the greatest potential for beneficial results when prescribed by a trained professional who recognizes the benefits and risks. 


Christopher Gentry, LAcIn recent years, herbs have become very popular to self-treat many conditions. They are available in health food stores, supermarkets and on the Internet. While herbs are promoted as safe, inexpensive "natural" alternatives to pharmaceutical drugs, many health care professional have concerns about safety, effectiveness and potential misuse of herbal products, especially when self-prescribed. There are also questions of purity, strength and standardization of herbs. The California Acupuncture Board strongly recommends consulting an acupuncturist before beginning any herbal therapy. Also, it is very important to inform both your physician and acupuncturist of all the products you are currently taking. 


In November 1997, the National Institutes of Health convened a distinguished panel of physicians and scientists to review the efficacy of acupuncture. They concluded: "There is sufficient evidence of acupuncture's value to expand its use into conventional medicine and to encourage further studies of its physiology and clinical value." The panel determined there is clear evidence that acupuncture is effective for post-operative chemotherapy, pregnancy-related nausea and post-operative dental pain. Other conditions where evidence is good but further substantiation is required include: post-operative pain, myofascial and lower back pain, addiction, stroke rehabilitation, carpal tunnel syndrome, osteoarthritis, headache, tennis elbow, Fibromyalgia, menstrual cramps and asthma. The panel noted that one of the advantages of acupuncture is that the incidence of adverse effects is substantially lower than that of many drugs or other medical procedures used for the same conditions. 


The following is a list of conditions deemed appropriate for treatment with acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine:


  • allergies/asthma
  • anxiety/depression
  • arthritis/joint problems
  • back and neck pain
  • bladder/kidney problems
  • childhood illnesses
  • constipation/diarrhea
  • colds/influenza
  • cough/bronchitis
  • dizziness
  • drug/alcohol/smoking addiction
  • effects of chemotherapy
  • fatigue
  • gastrointestinal disorders
  • headache/migraine
  • high blood pressure
  • immune system deficiency
  • knee pain
  • menopausal discomfort
  • musculoskeletal injuries
  • pre-menstrual syndrome
  • paralysis/numbness
  • rhinitis
  • sciatica
  • sexual dysfunction
  • sinusitis
  • skin problems
  • stress/tension
  • tendonitis

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