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What is TCM 

When one falls sick, he or she may seek treatments. For some, western medicine might not always be the only answer. They speak of the use of alternative medicine for their problems. In fact, they even visit clinics and practitioners to seek professional help. In this series of articles, we are going to have a look at one of the most practised form of alternative therapy – Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). To start off, this article will make an introduction to what TCM is really about, followed by a brief explanation of the theories used in TCM. 

TCM is an ancient system of medicine based on the philosophical concepts of yin-yang and the five elements. These concepts were eventually expanded and integrated into the human body to explain physiological and pathological phenomena. Some of which include: expression of organ function, body constitution, the meridians and the flow of qi.

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The two unique features of TCM that separate it from conventional medicine is its holistic nature and its classification of diseases and treatment. Its holistic approach allows TCM to view the human body as one with nature; influenced by the environment, meteorological changes and even by society.

By breaking down a particular disease to different subclasses, TCM matches a disease subclass to an individual’s physical state. These approaches enable practitioners to customize treatment to match individuals’ ‘stages’ of disease and their current physical state.

traditional chinese medicine five organs and elements theory

5 Elements / 5 Organs System

The five internal organs system is one of the key concepts in TCM theory. In traditional Chinese philosophy, the five elements, namely wood, fire, earth, gold and water, are used to explain natural phenomena and life processes. In the theory, the five elements are known to interact with each other in the following ways, including giving rise to, suppressing of or converting to each other’s form. 

TCM combines the concept of five elements with the five internal organ system, matching each element to each internal organ system: Wood – Liver, Fire – Heart, Earth – Spleen, Gold – Lung and Water –  Kidney. The five internal organs of one’s body, representations of the five elements, should always be well-balanced and stable in order to achieve and maintain a healthy physical state. Once any of the internal organs or elements lose(s) control, our body will start to fall sick.

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The five internal organs system also forms the basis behind the TCM physicians’ diagnoses and directs the formulation of appropriate treatment plans for the patients. While TCM does not involve directly the research of infectious agents like bacteria and viruses, TCM explores how the organic body’s individual internal organs interact with each other. Physicians use methods including herbal prescriptions, acupuncture, moxibustion, cupping, tuina massage and even psychological counselling to achieve the balance of the internal system, to aid in the recovery of the body.