Internal Medicine

Is TCM Safe? Understanding Traditional Chinese Medicine

With the rising trend of alternative medicines and treatments, more and more patients today are looking past Western medicine—exploring their options in terms of treating today’s most prevalent health issues—and among them include Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).

TCM is a widely accepted practice in the city, a fact that is illustrated by the many TCM clinics in Singapore. Unfortunately, the approaches that make up TCM such as herbal remedies and treatment methods like acupuncture and cupping have long been the subjects of various global studies and clinical research.

But, after several years, these efforts to introduce TCM into the global mainstream seem to have finally come to fruition.

WHO Includes TCM in Latest ICD

For the first time, the 11th edition of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) global compendium—called the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD)—will include details about TCM.

What would this mean?

ICD is a standardised system that uses alphanumeric codes for diagnoses, epidemiology, research, and causes of death. The inclusion of TCM in the revision would mean the standardisation of TCM diagnoses such as qi deficiency, liver qi stagnation, and damp heat to name a few.

While this is exciting news for Singapore clinics that practice TCM, some members of the science and research community have raised concerns about the revision. They called out the organisation for legitimising practices that as they say, have not yet been well-researched.

It begs the question, is TCM actually safe? First, let’s go back to the basics.

What is TCM?

The basic concept of TCM is that an essential force of life, called Qi, flows throughout the body and any imbalance to it can cause illnesses. Such an imbalance is generally thought to be caused by an alteration in the yin and yang—the opposite and complementary forces that make up the Qi.

Using this holistic approach to treatment, TCM clinics in Singapore treat a variety of health issues such as arthritis, insomnia, stress, anxiety, and depression as well as other chronic and/or acute problems. Treatments used in TCM to regain balance may involve the following.

Treatment Methods Used in TCM

  • Herbal Remedies
  • Acupuncture/Acupressure
  • Moxibustion (a form of heat therapy using mugwort)
  • Cupping
  • Massage Therapy (tuina)
  • Food Therapy

In Singapore, one of the most common uses of acupuncture is for fertility. It is said to counter the effects of stress, which can contribute to the cause of infertility among women. Studies suggest stress creates spasms in the fallopian tubes and uterus, which can interfere with a woman’s ovulation. (Source: Pacific College of Health and Science, 2019)   

A Word of Caution: Safe Use of TCM

Because of its holistic approach towards treatments and prevention, many people mistake TCM for being completely safe and free from side effects. But, while natural, it is just not the case on all occasions. If not used properly or if not performed by a certified TCM clinic in Singapore, it may cause more harm than good.

In conclusion, below are some tips for the safe use of TCM.

  • Always discuss with your health care provider if you’re looking to use TCM to complement your ongoing conventional treatment
  • Never use TCM to replace or delay conventional treatment
  • Be cautious of exaggerated claims about herbal supplements
  • Don’t purchase herbal supplements from unreliable sources
  • Ask about the training and experience of a Singapore TCM clinic you’re considering

In addition to these guidelines, you should know that there might be contraindications for certain health conditions such as hypertension or hyperthyroidism. Some tonics and supplements contain ingredients that may aggravate these conditions—deer’s antlers, ephedra, ginseng etc. So, always seek the advice of a qualified TCM physician before you self-medicate.

Additionally, if you’re on blood-thinning or anti-seizure medications, you should also be cautious when taking herbal supplements as certain ingredients may interact with these medications.

Thomson Chinese Medicine is a TCM clinic in Singapore that is a member of the Thomson Medical Group. Schedule an appointment with us today.

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