What is Chinese Medicine?

Traditional Chinese medicine refers to a broad range of practices sharing common theoretical concepts, including acupuncture, herbal medicine, massage (tui na), exercise (qigong and tai chi), meditation, spirituality, and diet. Preventive maintenance is central to the philosophy of Chinese medicine, and this extends to lifestyle and emotional health.


Acupuncture Needles

Acupuncture is only one part of Chinese medicine, which is holistic, treating the whole person rather than pain or symptoms alone. It is a complex system of examination, diagnosis, and treatment that seeks to relieve pain and distressful symptoms by assisting individuals to find balance in their lives.

The Chinese began using acupuncture more than 4,000 years ago, and it has been the subject of continuous study and clinical experience since that time. Historians have conjectured that over the centuries more people have been helped by acupuncture than by all other health sciences combined.

Simply put, acupuncture is the use of very fine needles to stimulate specific points on the body to influence, move, and support an individual’s Qi (pronounced chee), or internal energy. Qi is the force or energy that flows through all life. As Qi is stimulated to move freely, balance is established, which normalizes functions of the body. This balance and unimpeded flow is key to health in the human body. Disease manifests and remains when a person’s Qi becomes weakened, stuck, blocked, or stagnated.

Acupuncture can be supportive in a variety of situations to help achieve and maintain health and assist in reducing discomfort and pain. Acupuncture is often used in conjunction with Western medical treatment, especially addiction therapies, recovery from surgery, and to alleviate side effects from chemotherapy. It is best known for reduction of pain and promotion of healing, but has been endorsed by the National Institutes of Health and the World Health Organization for a vast array of other symptoms.

Unlike drugs and surgery, acupuncture is a safe, non-invasive type of medicine. For millions of people, there is little doubt that it works.


Western scientists are working to understand how insertion of needles at certain points creates the remarkable changes that have been documented. It has been difficult to do double-blind studies of acupuncture, because unlike with drug trials using placebo medications, “sham” acupuncture points are hard to accomplish. Anytime a needle is inserted into a person’s body, there is a physiologic change. The goal has been to see why needles at specific points on meridians, or channels, have the actions and effects that they do.

In Western medical terms, studies indicate that acupuncture influences the central and peripheral nervous systems; sugar, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels in the blood; the functioning gastrointestinal system; and activity in the endocrine system.

Blood samples taken from humans and animals before and after acupuncture treatment show a distinct change in blood chemistry. Stimulation by acupuncture may also activate the hypothalamus and pituitary glands, resulting in a broad spectrum of effects.


The most extensively researched physiological reaction to acupuncture has been the release of substances in the brain known as endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers. It is thought that acupuncture needles stimulate peripheral nerves in muscles that send messages to the brain to release endorphins, which then do their work of blocking pain messages from reaching the brain.

Alteration in the secretion of neurotransmitters and neurohormones and changes in the regulation of blood flow have been documented. Studies show that acupuncture releases serotonin, a brain chemical that affects mood and emotions—making it useful in treating depression—plus a hormone called ACTH, which stimulates anti-inflammatory effects. There is also evidence that there are alterations in immune functions produced by acupuncture.

Chinese Medicine Pills


Chinese herbal medicine is an ancient system of health care that has evolved over the centuries to encompass new causes of illness afflicting humankind. In China, herbal medicine is not an alternative form of therapy but is used frequently and often alongside modern medications.

Plant elements and extracts are by far the most common elements used, either as single herbs or in carefully designed formulas. For many plants used as medicinals, detailed instructions have been handed down through the centuries, not only regarding the locations and areas where they grow best but also regarding the best timing of planting and harvesting them.

Herbal formulas may contain four to 12 different ingredients; typically, one or two herbs are included that are considered to have the greatest effect on the problem being treated. Other ingredients in the formula are aimed at handling minor aspects of the problem, directing the formula to specific parts of the body, and helping the other herbs work better.

Chinese herbal teapills, which is what I carry in my practice, are easy and convenient. They are often used when a patient’s condition is not severe, and the medicine can be taken as a long-term treatment.

Adverse reactions to Chinese herbs are rare, and negligible when compared with those commonly occurring with pharmaceutical medications. Any herb can cause allergic reactions in people who are sensitive to them. Those who are allergic to certain plants or plant-based foods may be more likely to react to herbs.

Chinese Herbs

There are a number of highly effective anti-viral/anti-bacterial herbal formulas for preventing or speeding recovery from colds and flu. This includes formulas for head or chest colds, flu symptoms, stomach and intestinal bugs, and infections of any kind—bronchial, sinus, urinary tract, wounds. There are four to six good formulas that I recommend keeping in the medicine cabinet for these scenarios. They are classic tried-and-true formulas that can be taken by both adults and children (in adjusted doses), and they do not have the toxic side-effects that many over-the-counter cold/flu remedies have.

One formula is a substitute for Western antibiotics, which is so great in a time when antibiotics are so over-prescribed and are causing bugs to become more drug-resistant.

In my Bellingham practice I order formulas from a good company in California that has high production standards and keeps their prices at a reasonable level. I don’t believe in charging exorbitant amounts for herbal formulas—I feel this is medicine that should be for everyone.