Published November 5, 2016
Water is the essence of life. The human body cannot survive without water because it is so critical for all...
— William Wilberforce
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) originated in ancient China and is one of the oldest healing systems practiced for thousands of years.1 2 The discipline relies on the following four guiding principles:
The body has a natural self-healing ability—Your body contains all the necessary instruments it needs to heal itself. It has the capacity to regenerate just like nature does. In some cases it may appear that the self-healing ability is decreasing, however, in most cases, it is not completely lost.1
Prevention is the best medicine—Your body is constantly displaying signs of its state of health. Often times, these signs are subtle and can easily be ignored until they become more prominent. According to TCM, this is not an effective strategy for maintaining a healthy body. TCM postulates that the best strategy is to be proactive about your health by understanding the ways in which your body communicates to you.1
The body is connected to the external environment —Your body is constantly communicating with the external environment. The external environment refers to all the elements outside of your body such as the weather, geographic location, relationships, etc. The body responds physiologically or pathologically to changes in the external environment.1 3
Given the basic understanding of the principles of TCM, a logical question is to ask is why do we get sick?
From a TCM perspective, the body is equipped with the ability to resist becoming seriously ill from exposure to pathogens. As a result, the body’s anti-pathogenic force and pathogenic forces both play important roles in the creation of diseases. However, TCM places greater emphasis on the body’s anti-pathogenic force than to the pathogens itself.4
When the body’s internal strength to resist disease begins to decline, it is attributed to an internal cause. According to TCM, this is the key factor that determines the occurrence or non-occurrence of a disease. The pathogenic forces are known as the external cause and conditional factor. In other words, when the body’s immune system is strong, pathogens are unable to cause serious illness.
The opposite happens when the body’s immune defenses are weak—pathogens are able to successfully cause illness.4 This perspective on the cause of diseases is also clearly supported by the clinical model—no matter how virulent a pathogen is, not everyone gets sick or, if they do, are unable to recover.4
In TCM, the concept of why we get sick extends beyond bacteria and viruses. It includes factors such as variations in weather that are considered equally threatening.4 When the body is weakened by stress, fatigue, poor diet and so on, it becomes susceptible to sudden temperature changes, wind, cold, heat, dampness, etc.4
For example, a person is likely to catch a cold or influenza if their body is weak and they are exposed to cold damp wind in the fall months when Vitamin D levels are low due to the lack of exposure to sunlight.4 According to TCM, symptoms of disease, such as influenza or flu-like respiratory and gastrointestinal illnesses, are an indication of detoxification. High fevers, diarrhea, nasal mucus, vomiting, coughing, sweating and rashes are all symptoms of the body cleansing itself.4 TCM recommends that best approach to protect the body from getting sick is to maintain a healthy lifestyle that includes proper nutrition, plenty of water, exercise and sufficient sleep.4
According to TCM theory, childhood diseases such as measles, chickenpox and mumps are a result of fetal exposure to toxins in the womb that are passed on to the baby at conception.5 These toxins are believed to be caused by the mother’s lifestyle and diet before and during her pregnancy. They remain inactive within the child until activated by challenge from a pathogen.5 The toxins are then pushed to the surface of the body and expelled through the skin in the form of rashes, blisters or other symptoms.
In TCM, it is very important for the rash and other symptoms to fully manifest so that the toxins are entirely removed from the body. The thorough expulsion of toxins from the body is believed to be the reason why most people do not contract these diseases more than once in their lifetime.5 This theory is also supported by Western medical literature suggesting that children who have contracted and overcome common pediatric infections are much healthier.5
Given the basic understanding of the etiology of diseases, contracting certain diseases is viewed by TCM as a way in which the body detoxifies itself. As for childhood diseases, children are more likely to recover quickly and easily since their bodies have not accumulated years of metabolic wastes.6 We are taught to fear disease but perhaps the question we should be asking ourselves is: Do we sometimes get sick so we can be well?
1 Traditional Chinese Medicine World Foundation. What is TCM? Traditional Medicine World Foundation 2015.
2 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Traditional Chinese Medicine: An Introduction National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health Oct. 2013.
3 Integrated Chinese Medicine Holdings Limited. Holistic Concept of Chinese Medicine Shen-Nong 2006.
4 Sircus M. Getting Sick in the 21st Century International Medical Veritas Association Nov. 25, 2009
5 Helmer R. The Vaccination Dilemma: A Traditional Chinese Medicine Perspective on the “Immunization” Controversy Vitality Magazine 2015.
6 Flaws B. Keeping Your Child Healthy with Chinese Medicine The Main Cause of Children’s Diseases (page 8). Boulder, CO. Blue Poppy Press 1999