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In this article I will try to present traditional Chinese medicine and its history. I will concentrate mostly on acupuncture, its benefits and theories that prevail how does acupuncture work.

Introduction of Traditional Chinese Medicine

Traditional Chinese medicine originated approximately 4000 years ago in far Asia, which includes China, Korea, Japan, Tibet, and Vietnam, while research on TCM has been continual since the early 50s when China after the civil war realized they cannot afford to train or equip sufficient number of doctors that would meet the needs of country's population. It was evaluated that traditional medicine showed enough effectiveness to warrant not only active use but also development.
Today Chinese medicine is practiced in allopathic and traditional hospitals and in conjunction with allopathic medicine, and it serves more than 2 billion people in Asia, Russia, Europe and United States.   
Basic principles and roots of Chinese medicine derive from Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism. There have been many volumes written on this topic and major simplifications have been made, thus I won't go into details , except I will emphasis that Taoism is the most influential because its basic principles that are axioms about existence that form the foundation for Yin and Yang, The Five elements and Qi (pronounced chee), all of which are the primary engines of Oriental and Traditional Chinese Medicine.
Basic Taoistic principles: 
  • 'there are natural laws that govern universe',
  • 'the natural order of the universe is harmonius and organized',
  • 'the universe is dynamic, change is a constant'       
  • 'all life is interconnected',
  • 'humans are a part of the universe, not outside of it. We are intimately connected to the environment and thus universe'.

What Traditional Chinese Medicine Treats

Traditional Chinese medicine treats the entire range of human illness, but it does not sure the entire range of illness.
The following list gives a sample of the capabilities of the medicine and is drawn from three major textbooks published and used in China’s traditional medical college system and in the American schools of Oriental Medicine:
syncope, sunstroke, common cold, asthma, vomiting, diarrhea, dysentery, jaundice, constipation, prolapse of rectum, edema, nocturnal enuresis, urinary disturbance, retention of urine, impotence, insomnia, palpitation, manic-depressive disorder, epilepsy, dizziness, headache, melancholia, deviation of eye and mouth, pain, irregular menstruation, amenorrhea, dysmenorrhea, uterine bleeding, morbid leucorrhea, morning sickness, prolapse of uterus, urticaria, erysipelas, boil, breast abscess, intestinal abscess, goiter, sprain and contusion, deafness, tinnitus, epistaxis, toothache, sore throat, optic atrophy, tiredness, myalgic encephalomyelitis, allergic rhinitis, Parkinson’s disease, atrophy syndrome, multiple sclerosis, PMS, infectious hepatitis, bronchitis, frostbite, pulmonary tuberculosis, bronchial asthma, chronic heart failure, hypertension, hyperthyroidism, diabetes, hypothyroidism, arthritis, facial paralysis, paraplegia, cerebrovascular accident, hysteria, schizophrenia, mastitis, intestinal obstruction, hemorrhoids, urinary tract infection, prostatitis, spermatorrhea, carpal tunnel syndrome, myopia, malpositioned fetus, insufficient lactation, glaucoma, conjunctivitis, glomerulonephritis, urinary calculus, gastroduodenal ulcer, ulcerative colitis, neurodermatitis.

Most common practice in Traditional Chinese Medicine: Acupuncture

In most western countries acupuncture is considered 'new alternative', but in reality as already mentioned acupuncture is more than 5000 years old. Actually the first record about Acupuncture is found to be 4700 years old and is said to be the oldest medical textbook in the world. 
Basically, acupuncture represents insertion of very fine needles, which are sometimes combined with electrical stimulus or in conjunction with heat produced by burning specific herbs (latter is called Moxibustion), on the body's surface. Aim is to influence physiological functioning of the body. Acupuncture's relative is acupressure, which is less invasive method of massage therapy and is also very effective.   
Basic acupuncture theory theorizes that body has an energy force, called Qi, running through through it. Qi consists of all essential like activities, including spiritual, emotional and mental aspects of life. Besides Qi, human body is influenced by the combination of Yin and Yang forces, and if Qi is unbalanced, also Yin and Yang become such and illness may occur. Qi travels through special pathways on the body, called Meridians. Twelve Meridians are paired which means they occur on both sides of the body, and there are fourteen Meridians running vertically up and down the surface of the body (two of them are not paired). Connection between Meridians is very important and it ensures that there is an even circulation of Qi and balance of Yin and Yang.   In different words: spots where meridinas come to surface of the skin are called acupuncture points.    
In acupuncture six needles are commonly used, although acupuncturist can use as many as nine types of them. Most needles used today are disposible, which means they are used only once. Needles vary in length, width of shaft and shape of the head. Needles can be inserted anywhere in the range of 15 to 90 degrees relative to the skin surface. That depends on the treatment. There are also techniques that are follow immediately after insertion of the needles and are carefully chosen: raising and thrusting, twirling or rotation, combination of raising/thrusting and rotation, plucking, scraping (vibrations sent through the needle), and trembling (vibration technique).

How does acupuncture work?

Scientists have no real answer to this question, but there are few prevailing theories.
Theory called Augmentation of Immunity claims that by some unknown process in the body, acupuncture raises levels of triglycerides, specific hormones, prostaglandins, white blood counts, gamma globulins, opsonins, and overall anti-body levels. The Endorphin theory states that acupuncture stimulates the secretions of endorphins in the body. The Neurotransmitter theory states that certain neurotransmitter levels are affected by Acupuncture. Circulatory theory states that acupuncture has the effect of constricting or dilating blood vessels, which may be caused by the body's release of Vasodilaters, in response to Acupuncture.
The most popular theories is the called Gate Control theory. This theory states that the perception of pain is controlled by a part of the nervous system, called the 'Gate'. Pain signals must pass through a number of 'gates' as they move from the area of injury upward through the spinal cord into the brain. Pain moves through nerve, which can handle only a limited number of of nerve signals at one time.  Pain signals also travel rather slowly, since we can generate other signals which can move faster. And because the faster signals crowd out the slower ones (pain), acupuncture generates competing stimulus and effectively blocks the slow pain signals from reaching the brain.   

Compatibility between Chinese traditional medicine (acupuncture) and western medicine

In China, it is very common in hospital to have  an acupuncture and herbal treatment wing and a Western medical wing. In United States anatomical (medical) acupuncture is taught in 60 percent of medical schools and most chiropractic colleges. Moreover, acupuncture is accepted by several medical organizations including the the World Health Organization, American Medical Association, the National Institute of Health and the American Chiropractic Association.
This leads to conclusion that Traditional Chinese medicine is complete and well rounded healing system that can be used in conjunction with almost all other systems.