comparing TCM and Ayurveda

Being familiar with both Ayurveda (Indian traditional medicine) and TCM (traditional Chinese medicine) gives me a unique perspective on understanding disease and sub-health conditions. If symptoms or complaints don’t fit neatly into one system of understanding, I can just use the other. I can also use the two systems in conjunction to find additional information or offer a larger variety of treatment options.

Die-hard advocates of either may consider my view heresy. Some may say they are mutually exclusive and shouldn’t be allowed to overlap nor to bias a proper syndrome differentiation nor influence a prescribed treatment plan.  To me that is an extremely limited viewpoint. We can and should use all knowledge and resources that can help to understand, diagnose, and cure ailments.

Here is an example–

Diagnosis by Ayurveda: Pitta-type person has minor acne, bitter taste, foul smelling sweat, low appetite, loose stool, slight fatigue, indigestion (burping up), minimal coating on the tongue.  But all of these symptoms were relatively subdued. Except for the fact that they were rather subtle, this is textbook Pitta-type accumulation of ama (toxins), and therefore extremely easy to diagnose.

Now, what about treatment? The treatment options for Ayurveda are not quite a readily available as those of Chinese medicine, at least in the States, just because TCM is more prevalent and wide-spread. The advantage of an Ayurveda treatment approach, at least in this example, is it can be done largely at home.  The goal is 2 fold: to increase digestive fire, and to clear toxins. Increasing digestive fire can be done with ‘fire-type’ herbs, including dried ginger, black pepper, long pepper, etc. To clear toxins, a purgative is required: triphala, avipati, etc. This can be supplemented with a chant (yes, literally daily chanting): “Om-I’m-Cream-Numb-uh-ha” (pronunciation shown, not Sanskrit). A change in diet is also advised: no dairy, no fish (no fish oils), minimal meat, minimal fat. The drawback of this approach is the need to take the herbs daily for as much as 4-8 weeks, remembering that the herbs act as a purgative.  All-in-all, not impossible, but definitely a commitment.

Treatment by Chinese medicine:  As I mentioned, there are numerous doctors of Chinese medicine, namely acupuncturists around. Even considering the clear-cut diagnosis in Ayurveda, acupuncture is still a totally valid treatment option: it restores internal balance and circulation so the body can rid itself of said toxins. Acupuncture will open the channels (meridians) to encourage lymph and Qi circulation, and move Qi with just a few acupoints. The advantages of this treatment: acupuncture sessions are usually once a week, painless, and relaxing; no dietary changes, nor herbs are required. The drawbacks: acupuncture can get expensive, especially depending on how many sessions, the initial results may be subtle which may be discouraging, and spending an hour even once a week can get time-consuming. Nonetheless, for many this is the preferred and easier treatment option.

And was there a diagnosis by TCM? Of course! Minor damp-heat shown through tongue coating, slippery fast pulse, and symptom discussion. However, the tongue and pulse were subtle compared to typical clinical manifestations of damp-heat, while a few of the symptoms were thrown out.

The result: acupuncture is undoubtedly effective at opening channels, encouraging balance, circulation, and regularity within the body. Overtime, it will decrease the symptoms or even cure the condition.  The number of weeks may be as many or more than those required for treatment by Ayurveda, and the money spent would definitely add up, especially since Ayureda herbs are relatively inexpensive. But in either case the dietary changes may still be necessary, or to speed up the process.


In summary, while the approaches may be different, Ayurveda and TCM are not that remote nor dissimilar. And they certainly can be used interchangeably. Knowing both can help to elicit additional information from a patient as well as offer more treatment options better suited to a patient’s preferences.