Busting TCM myths
Thought of as our grandparents’ domain, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is something many of us are unfamiliar with, and even shun. For the longest time, my knowledge of TCM was limited to herbal tea, and I certainly had no desire to find out more. My poor grandma’s well-meaning attempts at getting me to take pi pa gao for coughs were always met with a series of “eww”s and mock-gagging noises.
But come to think of it, if TCM were all that ineffective compared to the Western meds we’re used to receiving at hospitals and polyclinics, it wouldn’t still be in existence. Turns out, there’s more to this age-old practice than meets the eye:
1. The one principle that sets it apart from Western Medicine
While a visit to a GP will give you a quick cure for headaches and sniffles, it’ll merely treat symptoms. It’s an entirely different school of thought with TCM, where the physician looks at the body as a whole, examining which parts are functioning below optimal level and how to help it get better.
If you’re coughing, your lungs might be too “cold”, and the medicine prescribed will tackle that underlying issue rather than just the cough itself. By nipping things in the bud, there’s lesser chance for the problem to resurface. Prevention is better than cure, and it’ll save you hefty medical fees in the future!
2. TCM docs can assess your health without tech
Western doctors ask you what’s wrong after you sit down and diagnose you based on that, but TCM docs are already watching you the moment you step in - your gait reveals whether you have good energy, the colour of your fingernails indicate whether you’re healthy overall, and the doctor will check different pulse points to find out if the corresponding organs are well. This way, you get a more complete diagnosis that isn’t only focused on the area experiencing symptoms.
3. "Instant" TCM fixes are a thing
Taking a quick glance at the array of dried stuff displayed in TCM stores, it’s easy to assume that it all has to be soaked and boiled in a “cauldron” for hours till it becomes a sticky concentrate. And ain’t nobody got time for that.
Hold that thought, ‘cause contrary to popular belief, you CAN get the goodness of TCM in pill/bottled form for easy, instant consumption. Everyone knows how much we millennials value convenience, and TCM has moved with the times to cater to our hectic lifestyles.
The next time your bestie is down with the flu, consider bringing her a bottle of Essence of Chicken as a caring gesture. Even if she already has meds from a Western clinic, your thoughtful gift will make her happier and boost her recovery, and she’ll be up on her feet ready for more cafe-hopping adventures with you in no time.
Tip: If you're getting Essence of Chicken, it's important to note that not all Essences of Chicken are made equal - make sure you're not getting a cheap knockoff. Eu Yan Sang's renditions have no caramel coloring, have been stringently checked to ensure they're made of the highest quality herbs, and are suitable for eyes, brain, skin, womb, and lungs.
4. How to not get scammed into buying fake ginseng
Just like how Pokemon have varying CP, Chinese medicinal herbs come in different grades - I’ve seen a giant ginseng root that cost $77,000! The older the ginseng, the larger it gets, and the more nutrients it absorbs from the soil. Unfortunately, there are unscrupulous black sheep in the industry who try to cheat consumers by using sticks, wires, or glue to gel herbs together because broken pieces fetch a lower value.
It’s best to check with your neighbourhood TCM hall regarding the kind of QC measures they use, as different places have different methods of determining standards. Eu Yan Sang uses machines to scan the “fingerprints” of individual herb specimens to weed out the fakes from genuine stuff of premium quality - interesting how there’s a Science to a natural form of medication!
5. Natural "sleeping pills" and "pink panadols" exist
If you find yourself unable to get good shut-eye due to the 99 problems on your mind, hold off on those synthetic sleeping pills - they’ll cause side effects like daytime drowsiness and diarrhoea. As a safe natural alternative, reach for a Lingzhi capsule to manage your insomnia instead. Its calming effect will help you sleep with less tossing and turning, all while improving your immunity.
Females who suffer from the torture of period cramps can turn to Bak Foong pills to banish their monthly discomforts. With a mix of ingredients including Angelica Root and Cinnamon Bark, it also helps to improve womb health and rejuvenate the body in general.
6. #Fitspo supplements can also be TCM-ified
You don’t have to be hacking your lungs out to turn to TCM, it’s also great for general upkeep of your body. Fitness buffs can benefit from Eu Yan Sang’s new Flex 360°, a supplement containing deer antler, which boosts energy as well as strengthens and heals bones and joints. No more excuses to skip leg day!
Ladies will be glad to know that other than covering 17 out of the 20 amino acids that the human body needs, bird’s nest also helps to improve the complexion.
When it comes to bird’s nest, people are usually concerned about what grade it is and how they should go about preparing and consuming it. But these are already bottled for convenience and have their grades stated on their boxes.
7. You can adjust your bird's nest sugar level like bubble tea
Just like how we get to pick different flavour combinations and sugar levels for bubble tea, TCM products also come in variants to suit our tastebuds. For example, there’s the option of bird’s nest with rock sugar, 20% less sugar, or no sugar at all. Being so much like a dessert, you’ll easily forget that you’re even ingesting medicinal herbs.
8. The nastiest types of TCM can be the most helpful
Going to a TCM hall can be like a museum trip, as there are interesting specimens like flying lizards, seal’s penis, and cordyceps all lined up in their jars and showcases. Yes, things that we assume are novelties actually have hidden medicinal value.
Fun fact: Cordyceps are bugs-turned-plants. Its name in Chinese, “dong cong xia cao”, literally translates to “Winter worm, Summer grass”. Starting out as bugs, they get attacked by a virus while burrowing in the soil, and eventually morph into plants. Sounds like sorcery, but these curious bug-plant mutants detoxify the body, improve overall immunity and might even help prevent the onset of certain forms of cancer.
TCM as an alternative cure
So the world of TCM isn’t as daunting as we thought. And having been passed down from generations, it’s pretty much tried and tested to the point where there’s almost a Science to it. This doesn’t mean that you have to completely reject Western medicine - the two can complement each other, and TCM can be an alternative for when Western meds don’t work out.
The next time you visit your grandma, surprise her with a pretty boxed set of bird’s nest as a little token of appreciation - it’s the least you could do for years of brushing off her waxing lyrical about TCM as mere “old wives’ tales”!
About Eu Yan Sang
Despite looking relatively modern compared to other TCM halls, Eu Yan Sang has a rich history. Founded way back in 1879 in Perak by Chinese businessman Eu Kong, its traditional Chinese herbs helped save many tin mine coolies from the ill-effects of opium. The family business eventually expanded to other regions of Southeast Asia, including Singapore. Today, Eu Yan Sang is an award-winning TCM establishment that keeps traditional medicinal herbs accessible and relevant.
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This post is part of Influential Brands 2016, where we highlight the most influential brands in Singapore.