Trying Alternative Medicine: Traditional Chinese Medicine

Chinese MedicineI’m not sure whether to laugh or cry about my experience with Traditional Chinese Medicine…but I should probably laugh…yeah, I’ll laugh.  In my quest to seek out alternative medicine and therapy, I had to look into Traditional Chinese Medicine, which is very popular here in Canada and around the world.  Acupuncture and other forms of treatment are said to help with issues such as pain, infertility, digestive disorders, immune disorders, allergies, depression….and the list goes on.  I did a little bit of research on acupuncture and was very interested to try it, so I contacted a clinic with a female doctor who specializes in women’s health and made an appointment.

I expected to lie down on the table and have needles stuck in me, but the first appointment was an hour and a half consultation with the doctor.  It was very informative because she explained to me how TCM works, the philosophy behind it, how long she had been practising, where she had worked and what kind of issues she had helped people with.   A lot of what she said was aligned with how I feel about treatment.  She emphasized that Western doctors treat a symptom with a pill, while TCM looks at underlying causes and the balance of the whole body.  TCM balances the energy in the body, bringing up the positive energy and reducing the negative.

From what I can understand, circulation is at the centre of the philosophy.  The doctor spoke of a balance between blood and air in the body, saying when either is out of whack, health problems arise.   She also spoke of Yin and Yang, where there has to be a balance of opposing elements, for example hot and cold.  If the body is too cold, health problems will arise. During her explanation I kept a very open mind, it’s what I was there for after all, to find out if there are different or better ways to think about my own treatment.

The doctor then examined my tongue and took my pulse on three points on my wrist.  She explained to me that diagnosis was done by looking at the colour and other qualities of the tongue and feeling the pulse points.  She showed me a chart with different tongues, different colours or textures indicated problems in different areas of the body, for example the kidneys.  After that she asked me some questions and predicted many of the symptoms/problems I was having.  It was very surprising.  She told me I was cold all the time, for example, and the problems in my reproductive system came indirectly from being cold/not being able to warm.  It’s true, I’m cold all the time, and this winter with being sick was particularly bad.  Then, she gave me a rating on my blood flow and my air flow in my body.  One was at %50 and the other was working at %60.  That was a poor score I guess.   It made me feel like I failed my health exam.  But, the good news was she said she understood what was happening in my body and would be able to help me.  Thumbs up, right?

The next appointment, I again thought I would be laying out on a table and getting needles put in me and fixing my crappy blood and air score, but that didn’t happen.  Instead, we had another consultation and she began prescribing different kinds of teas to me.  I began to feel doubtful and a bit uncomfortable, was it time to bail on this experiment?  She had her assistant take out all these little packets of tea from a cubby area that looked like tiny little lockers.  I sat there watching as she pulled packet after packet out and placed them in little plastic containers.  When she was done, each container held about 25 different packets which was one dose.   As I said before I had trouble getting on board with herbs from the naturopath, and teas kind of fell into that same category for me.  Sure, I believe there are teas with lots of great benefits and properties and will drink me some peppermint for an upset stomach and all that, but what she was recommending was way too far out of my comfort zone.  She was recommending 4 months of treatment with tea.  This meant mixing the 25 different packets of different kinds of teas together into a foul concoction that I had to choke down while plugging my nose twice a day.  I discovered with my healthy eating that if I have to choke something down, I’m just not going to do it.  I could tell this was not going to be for me, but then I thought a bit more and decided maybe I should just try it.  I’m supposed to be stepping outside my comfort zone here, right?  I asked her about the ingredients, telling her I would not like to have anything with animal ingredients and she hesitated and took some things off the list (not a good sign…I also happen to be paranoid about what I put in my body so was beginning to get scared of taking all this stuff without really knowing what it is).  I swear one of the teas was called Donkey-Glue.  What?!

Still, I let this get to the point of billing.  For six days of treatment it was going to cost about $100 for those teas.  Then I just had to say HELL NO!!  Insurance does not cover tea, and we cannot afford $100 a week for four months of foul tasting tea that may or may not do anything!!!  Then the doctor said something to me.  She said, when she worked in the hospital and in the cancer ward if she prescribed animal urine (this kind of stuff is part of TCM), for example, to a patient they wouldn’t drink it, unless they thought they were in a situation where they might die, then they’d drink it.  Yeah, no shit I thought.  It’s called desperation and I’d probably drink animal urine too at that point, but for now I’m not at that point and I just can’t see the logic in going through with this.

I asked her again about acupuncture.  She basically said it would be pointless, that it would give me an hour of balancing the energy in my body and would not be enough to have any affect on my health, while the tea would give me 24 hour benefits.  She said if any other acupuncturist told me they could help me with just acupuncture they’d be lying.  I would need it like twice a day everyday or something.  So, now it is pretty much pointless for me to seek out/try acupuncture. *sad face*

In general, I liked a lot of what she said to me, how she approached things, how she explained them and the idea of the philosophy behind TCM.  In many ways I understand it, for example we know that positive energy, Yin Yangthinking and lifestyle has health benefits and stress and negativity cause health problems.  Perhaps this is just not a good fit for me and my particular health issues.  I really didn’t like being scored though.  I mean if you tell a patient they are only %50 or %60 as healthy as they should be, they are going to start thinking that.  And now I basically have to walk away knowing my chi sucks.  I also don’t like the animal products used in treatment and of course, the expensive tea was a deal breaker.  I believe it must work for some people, or it wouldn’t be so popular, but at the same time I also know there is quite a lot of power in believing something works….

Have you tried acupuncture or TCM? What was your experience?

photos courtesy of


4 thoughts on “Trying Alternative Medicine: Traditional Chinese Medicine

  1. I have had acupuncture from a physiotherapist who, like you, had also examined my tongue. He said my system was out of balance and liver and kidneys were working too hardc. he suggested to take Greens Plus twice a day, with the second dose being before sports and of the extra energy variety.
    In your story,I would be wary of the pitch about the teas. However it does make sense to balance the system with an oral concoction.
    The actupuncture was not helpful in my case but my shoulder got better with consistent yoga practice.

  2. I did try acupuncture but it was in combination with osteopathic treatments. After numerous visits to physiotherapists and massage therapists to treat nerve tingling in my arm and hand, which got successively worse with each appointment to the point where something that was intermittent had become chronic, in just 4 treatments the osteopath had calmed the symptoms to almost unnoticeable. Her explanation to me about acupuncture, which I think will tie in with what your lady said, is that acupuncture speeds up healing because it channels the energy to where it needs to go, but that it in and off itself is not what will not be the ‘cure’. It merely facilitates the healing process. The osteopathic manipulations are what really did the trick. I just got a referral to an osteopath for another friend for your area, so I can pass that on to you, but really could not tell you if an osteopath could be of any help in your case. Would be worth inquiring in an e-mail.

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