Ayurvedic Medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine: What They Have in Common

Ayurveda and TCM are holistic and complementary treatment options. Learn more about what they have in common and the differences between the two.

Natural ingredients, herbs, and an illustration of a man with chakras on a table

Thinking of optimising your health but hesitant about taking overly-processed supplements? Ayurvedic medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) might just be what you are looking for.

They are two leading complementary treatment options based on natural herbs. These two treatments are also popular among people seeking to build and sustain a holistic lifestyle.

Follow us as we explore several similarities and differences between these two therapeutic practices honed since ancient times and how they can support modern medicine. 

Origins and Approaches to Therapy 

Natural ingredients, herbs, and a vintage scale on top of a drawer
Natural medicine and the maintenance of a holistic lifestyle hold much appeal.

Originating in India, the term Ayurveda comes from Sanskrit and means knowledge of life. People in India have been practicing Ayurvedic medicine largely for thousands of years. It is based on the concept that imbalance in a person’s constitution (prakriti) and life force or humour (dosha) leads to illness. 

The therapy mainly involves lifestyle adjustments, aided by herbal remedies, massage therapy, yoga and meditation. These are used to restore balance to the patient’s physical and emotional states.

On the other hand, TCM, as the name suggests, originated in China. The TCM approach to therapy is significantly different from Ayurvedic medicine. It also has a long history of usage and supports the notion that a balanced constitution is key to well-being.

In TCM, there are many ways to tackle imbalance: imbalance of the organs, imbalance in qi (vital energy) and xue (blood), imbalance in the five elements, Yin and Yang, and so on. A TCM practitioner may decide which approach to best implement during therapy.

More often than not, no one approach is superior to another; the accuracy of diagnosis and the corresponding appropriate treatment determine treatment efficacy. 

Doshas in Ayurveda  

An illustration of the three doshas in Ayurveda
A trained Ayurvedic practitioner is best placed to diagnose your dominant dosha.

First, let us look at the underlying concept behind Ayurvedic measures to promote health. In Ayurveda, a person’s constitution has unique ratios of the three doshas: vata, pitta and kalpha, with one or two doshas usually taking precedence. 

A person with dominant vata has more air and space elements. He is also prone to mood changes, appetite and digestive issues. To overcome an excess of vata, one should consume warm foods and drinks while managing their emotional well-being through meditation and other relaxing activities. 

Whereas for pitta-dominant people, elements of fire and water mean that they are usually athletic, have a fast metabolism, sensitive to heat, and are prone to acne, inflammation, as well as mood swings. They should avoid spicy food and aim for equal work and leisure. 

For those with dominant kapha, the abundance of earth and water is usually denoted in a strong, thick-boned constitution. Having slower metabolism, kapha-dominant people should focus on regular exercise and sleep routine accompanied by a healthy diet that keeps their bodies warm. 

“Different elements can cause the same ailment in people with different doshas,” explains Anna Natalya, who has been practicing Ayurveda since 2009. For example, an excess of joint fluids may cause knee pain in a kapha-dominant person. However, in vata types, it might be due to joint fluid deficiency. As for pitta types, it might be due to joint inflammation. “Consequently, different treatment methods would be applicable for each dominant type,” she adds. 

Five Element Theory in TCM 

A diagram depicting the five elements in TCM and the corresponding internal organs, as well as how they relate to one another
Five Element Theory in TCM and how it depicts the relationship between internal organs.

TCM has a robust system based on empirical use. Over the years, practitioners and researchers have developed many treatises from which TCM’s body of knowledge continues to expand, including into denominations such as Traditional Korean Medicine.

The Five Element Theory is one of the main concepts of TCM. All things in this theory can be categorised. One of the earliest applications of this theory in TCM is in the classic text, Huangdi Neijing. Another important guiding theory in TCM recorded is the Yin and Yang theory.

In TCM, treatment involves identifying disease symptoms and diagnosing an excess or deficiency of one or more elements in a patient’s organs, meridians or emotions – they are all interconnected.

Thereafter, a tonifying or sedative therapeutic measure (often used in conjunction) corresponding to the element imbalances can be administered via acupuncture, herbal concoction, exercise techniques or a combination of all three. 

As with Ayurvedic medicine, physicians will customise treatments based on each patient’s unique body composition. For example, the same TCM prescription may apply for different ailments (headache and fever due to Yin deficiency) because they involve addressing the same element imbalance (tonifying yin).

Conversely, the same ailment may require different prescriptions in two patients because of the variable factors in each patient’s health condition.

Herbal Therapeutic Solutions in Ayurveda and TCM

Turmeric, star anise, and a pestle and mortar on a wooden table
Turmeric (known as Jiang Huang) is a herb used in both Ayurvedic and TCM.

For both Ayurveda and TCM, it’s a common practice to use herbal remedies to regulate the body. Physicians also use them to improve a body’s well-being and balance, as it is the most accessible therapeutic solution for most people.

TCM herbal concoctions typically consist of a mixture of herbs prescribed by a TCM physician. In contrast, Ayurvedic therapeutic solutions might involve abhyanga or massage using essential oils. Physicians will usually pair them up with a recommended diet and herbal remedy.

One common herb used in both disciplines is turmeric. People usually consume it to regulate inflammation in the body and maintain general good health. You can have the best of both worlds with Teramin, which contains Curcumin. It is an antioxidant that derives from turmeric through modern technology and integrates traditional trusted herbal solutions with the convenience of modern medicine. 

As always, we recommend consulting a licensed Ayurvedic medicine or TCM professional for more in-depth evaluation. They can provide you with the best recommendation to lead your best holistic lifestyle.

References

  1. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Ayurveda. [online][Accessed 20 Jan 2022]  
  2. Traditional Chinese Medicine World Foundation. Yin and Yang Theory. [online][Accessed 20 Jan 2022]  
  3. Medicinal Research Reviews. 2021. The Yin and Yang of traditional Chinese and Western medicine. [online][Accessed 20 Jan 2022]  

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