Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and the Ayurvedic system of medicine originated in India are among the time-honored holistic approaches to healing, beginning thousands of years ago that are still utilized today. Practitioners in TCM and Ayurveda base their healing recommendations on an individual’s constitutional condition—or group of generalized symptoms—and not on what usually consider a diagnosed disease or disorder. After obtaining a detailed verbal health history, carefully noting the pulse, and performing a physical exam, the TCM or Ayurvedic practitioner may suggest a variety of interventions with the goal of re-balancing the organ systems and the body’s energy. These interventions usually include herbs, but may also include diet and lifestyle changes, exercise, meditation, acupuncture and other approaches.
Since both TCM and Ayurveda are based on individual assessments, people with similar diagnoses from a conventional physician may receive different feedback and treatment suggestions from a TCM or Ayurvedic standpoint. The personal evaluation and holistic treatment philosophy that began millennia ago are not only increasingly recognized as valid today, but are being expanded upon with an increased focus on personalized medicine and more rigorous scientific validation of both complementary and integrative approaches to medicine as a whole.
How do these traditional medical systems compare?
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), sometimes called Oriental medicine, is an ancient Chinese system of healthcare dating back more than 2,500 years. Its goal is to promote health by restoring the balance of natural forces (yin and yang) that can block the flow of vital energy (qi) in the body and trigger disease. Treatment approaches may involve acupuncture, dietary changes, herbal therapy, meditation, physical exercise, (tai chi and qi gong) and therapeutic massage, among other approaches.
The traditional Indian medical practice known as Ayurveda takes a similarly holistic approach to ensuring health. More than 3,000 years old, Ayurvedic medicine is based on the belief that wellness is the result of harmony between the body, mind and spirit, and that illness results from a disruption of this harmony, often as the result of stress. The goal of Ayurveda is to promote harmony by addressing each individual’s unique mix of the life forces, or doshas, which control physical and mental processes, and restoring them to proper balance. Treatment approaches may include therapy involving herbal compounds and/or proprietary products such as oils and laxatives, lifestyle changes, massage, exercise and changes in diet.
How might these systems provide benefit?
Patients with ITP vary significantly in their symptoms, duration of the disease and treatment responses.1 To verify their approach, TCM researchers have attempted to map the most common TCM diagnostic patterns corresponding with the known platelet antibody and immune system variations in ITP. Their results suggest a correlation, indicating that there may be value in looking at the disease from both approaches.2, 3 Another study suggests that TCM can also be used to evaluate the degree of immune dysfunction in ITP.4 Because these traditional medicines work with individual signs and symptoms rather than broad disease diagnoses, they are often able to translate these findings into specific and effective treatment choices.
TCM and Ayurveda not only involve a treatment approach that is carefully tailored to each individual, but they are multi-faceted as well, addressing the mind, the body and also the spirit of each patient. While there have been no clinical trials measuring a combination of complementary therapies for ITP, there are many clinical trials demonstrating that a holistic approach to healing that includes aspects of stress reduction, diet improvements, exercise and increased community can improve health. Research suggests that the holistic approach may also help regulate the immune function and increase the body’s repair mechanisms,5 help control prostate cancer,6 improve cardiovascular disease and reduce inflammation,7, 8 plus help protect against cell aging and death as measured by telomere length.9 Functional Medicine, a model that determines how and why illness occurs and restores health by addressing the root causes of disease for each individual and the Preventive Medicine Research Institute’s program emphasizing lifestyle changes, are both conventional contemporary options that incorporate some philosophies of traditional medicine. With this integrative approach in mind, PDSA’s diet and lifestyle insight may be helpful for ITP patients.
Because research into the effects of TCM and Ayurveda is relatively limited, scientific evidence for their effectiveness is largely inconclusive. It is known, however, that—just as with conventional treatments for ITP—TCM and Ayurvedic approaches can have harmful side effects. There have been published reports of some practices, herbs, foods, supplements, and other factors that might cause low platelets,10 or interfere with platelet function. The National Institutes of Health National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) cautions that in some circumstances these medical systems may be ineffective or even harmful, and warns that medications and/or products used in connection with treatments have not been evaluated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) due to possibly missing listed ingredients or being contaminated with drugs, toxins or heavy metals. Learn more important outside influences that impact your blood platelet levels.
While the NCCIH advises against using either TCM or Ayurvedic medicine to replace or postpone conventional Western medical care, these non-mainstream approaches may be helpful when used with conventional medicine in a complementary manner. However, because treatments are individualized and can vary by practitioner, it is important to work with someone who is both an appropriately licensed professional clinician and also very knowledgeable and experienced in the use of Traditional Chinese or Ayurveda medical systems. Learn more about the credentials and licensing of complementary health practitioners and questions that can be helpful for choosing a healthcare provider.
National Institutes of Health
- National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine / Ayurveda
- National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine / Chinese Medicine
Traditional Chinese Medicine
1. Provan D et al. “International consensus report on the investigation and management of primary immune thrombocytopenia” Blood, 14 January 2010, Vol. 115, No. 2, pp. 168-186. http://bloodjournal.hematologylibrary.org/cgi/content/full/115/2/168
2. Yang YF et al. “Preliminary analysis of relationship between immunological changes and syndrome differentiation-typing in traditional Chinese medicine and prognosis with chronic idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura.” Zhongguo Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Za Zhi. 1995 Jul;15(7):401-4. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7580059
3. Yang YF. “Analysis of the correlations between immunological changes and syndrome groups in patients with immunological thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP).” Zhongguo Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Za Zhi. 1992 May;12(5):263-6, 259. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1392474
4. Zhan WY et al. “Research of the relation between the type of asthenia of the spleen and kidney and platelet associated antibodies and T-lymphocyte subsets in idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura]. Zhongguo Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Za Zhi. 1992 May;12(5):283-4, 261.” http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1392480
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7. Dod HS et al. “Effect of intensive lifestyle changes on endothelial function and on inflammatory markers of atherosclerosis.” Am J Cardiol. 2010 Feb 1;105(3):362-7. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20102949
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