Essential Takeaways

  • The credibility of TCM comes from 5,000 years of continuous research and development.

  • TCM continues to be relevant today as a source for science-backed innovation in medical research.

  • Elix is proud to harness the healing potential of TCM by blending technology and a science-backed approach to expand access to personalized herbs.

“Traditional Chinese Medicine is a philosophy for treating illness that has been practiced for thousands of years. It is a holistic medical paradigm that takes into consideration a patient's mind, body and spirit, which distinguishes this approach from 'conventional' Western allopathic medical approaches. Traditional Chinese Medicine is, by design, the original form of personalized, precision medicine.” Dr. Liem Quang Le, Elix Medical Advisor


The credibility of TCM comes from thousands of years of research and development.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) boasts a venerable history that dates as far back as 5,000 years and has been preserved through medical literature that carefully documents its research and growth. As TCM is still widely practiced today in over 120 countries, there is no doubt that it is a proven source for healthcare and improvements in modern medicine. 

As one of the oldest forms of healing, its credibility comes from ages of experience. Different practitioners and healers have shaped TCM theories based on extensive tests and findings. They have essentially held their own version of clinical trials for thousands of years and across millions of people. Take a look at the history that has given us TCM today:

2700 - 2500 BC

Shen Nong: A farmer named Shen Nong contributed to the early development of TCM by testing hundreds of herbs and compiling his results in the book The Divine Farmer’s Materia Medica.

  • He is viewed as the father of Chinese Medicine.
  • His book describes the first form of TCM pharmacology and includes instructions on herbal combinations for prescriptions.
  • In fact, many of the herbs he noted are still used for modern pharmaceuticals — sage, magnolia, licorice, and peony, for example.


Huang Di: Huang-Di Neijing, or The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine, was also published in this time period (true authors unknown but attributed to Emperor Huang Di). 

  • It is considered the foundational text of TCM and contains explanations on medical anatomy, physiology, and acupuncture.
  • It also establishes the idea of Yin and Yang as the key for balance in the body, which is a fundamental aspect of TCM today.

1700-1100 BC

Yi Yin: This government official and chef first introduced the idea of food as medicine and worked on creating herbal decoction methods. 

  • Diseases were also studied during this time, particularly outbreaks

982 - 992 BC

Wang Huaiyin: This practitioner further developed Shen Nong’s work with over 16,000 herbal prescriptions, along with detailed steps for administering herbs and creating formulas. 

1578 AD

Li Shizhen: One more cornerstone text is the book Compendium of Materia Medica (displayed as our featured image), written during a time when interest in TCM peaked.

  • Li Shizhen spent at least 27 years creating an in-depth study of the medicinal properties and applications of over 1,600 plants, animal substances, metals, and minerals.

1670 AD

Zhang Zhicong: This physician went back to the Huang-Di Neijing text and clarified many of its complex medical concepts.

These various publications of medical literature reveal how the theories and principles of TCM were patiently refined and tested over time. Throughout history, practitioners intentionally followed up on previous findings with more concrete, expanded knowledge. 

In fact, those years of refinement also put TCM at the forefront of many health discoveries. Chinese practitioners and healers like Yi Yin were already researching the connection between food and medicine about 4,000 years ago, noting that food is much more than fuel and certain foods with functional benefits besides nutrition can serve as medical treatment. This idea was bolstered by Shen Nong’s earlier findings (5,000 years ago) as well. To this day, people in China often treat minor illnesses with specially prepared medicinal meals or herbal tonic soups. 

Coming to the West

TCM was first introduced to the United States in the 1970’s and has gained tremendous respect and adoption with both consumers and the medical community. The Western medical community is now using TCM herbs and practices for treating some of the most challenging chronic conditions with over 26,000 research articles published in the last ten years and a drastic increase in clinical trials (from 3,294 in 2004 to 23,384 in 2013). At the moment, records show that there is a database with over 200,000 clinical trials with TCM, and that number continues to rise. 

Despite this momentum, it remains challenging to quantify the effectiveness of TCM in the Western medical community’s eyes because the usual “gold standard” of randomized clinical trials (RCT) are not designed for a personalized, multi-faceted method of treatment. RCT studies struggle to properly measure the success of a holistic healing approach because patients receive personalized treatment that could include combinations of herbal formulas, acupuncture, diet, and lifestyle changes to address the root cause of symptoms. But that has not stopped people from going outside the biomedical sphere — 38% of adults in the U.S. currently use Complementary and Alternative Medicine, which includes TCM.

TCM is a source for science-backed innovation. 

Plenty of evidence points to TCM as a source for science-backed innovation, making it a fixture of modern medicine. Ancient records from 270 - 430 AD describe how a doctor named Hwa Tuo used herbs for general anesthesia during both minor and major surgeries — an achievement well before William Morton’s documentation of using ether for anesthesia in 1846. Hwa Tuo only had natural elements and tools at his disposal as well, making his achievement even more remarkable. 

More recently, TCM received worldwide attention in 2015 when pharmacologist Youyou Tu won a Nobel Prize for discovering the compound artemisinin, a key ingredient for antimalarial drugs, in the Chinese herb sweet wormwood. Those drugs currently save millions of lives. 

Another popular Chinese herb called thunder god vine, used for thousands of years to treat inflammation and joint pain, has been sought after to manage autoimmune diseases like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. It has also been shown to carry anti-tumor properties, making it a strong contender for anticancer drugs. Even acupuncture is used more often in cancer treatment today, with 63% of studies showing reputable results

The Psychology of Healing

In addition to earlier advancements of medicinal research, TCM also documented how psychological factors affect physical health thousands of years ago. Unlike the idea of people going to a doctor to treat the body, a therapist to treat the mind, and a pastor or priest to treat the soul, TCM has always focused on a holistic approach to mind, body, and spirit. 

According to one TCM theory, the Liver organ regulates feelings, so anger, frustration, and resentment affect the Liver and lead to symptoms like digestive issues, heartburn, mood swings, and headaches. Studies have also revealed the effectiveness of TCM in treating symptoms that involve psychological stressors. Only fairly recently has the mind-body principle of TCM been accepted and practiced, with techniques like acupressure, meditation, qi gong, tai chi, and even acupuncture showing improvement in anxiety, immunity, and GI symptoms.

The unique standing of TCM comes from its breadth of experience and knowledge that has been continually proven over time and still remains relevant today. From influencing the development of life-saving drugs to upholding the importance of mind-body balance for whole body healing — TCM has been a forerunner for numerous aspects of modern medicine, especially the effectiveness of a balanced, holistic approach.

Elix’s Role in Honoring TCM

Elix is proud to harness the healing potential of TCM today. Using technology and a science-backed approach, we are expanding access to personalized herbal formulas that support holistically healing at the root causes of symptoms. Our herbs are backed by thousands of clinical studies for efficacy and we proudly source and extract our formulas using the TCM tradition of decoction — which enables our community to experience the highest level of quality, potency, and clean formulation. To learn more about how the ancient wisdom of TCM can support your cycle and your health, take the Elix Online Health Assessment.

Other Sources

Aung, Steven K H, et al. “Traditional Chinese Medicine as a Basis for Treating Psychiatric Disorders: A Review of Theory with Illustrative Cases.” Medical Acupuncture, Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., 1 Dec. 2013, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3870484/. 

Chen, Yi-Bing, et al. “Current Research Trends in Traditional Chinese Medicine Formula: A Bibliometric Review from 2000 to 2016.” Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, Hindawi, 3 Mar. 2019, www.hindawi.com/journals/ecam/2019/3961395/. 

Dong, Jingcheng. “The Relationship between Traditional Chinese Medicine and Modern Medicine.” Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, Hindawi, 30 July 2013, www.hindawi.com/journals/ecam/2013/153148/#introduction. 

Wang, Xijun, et al. “Traditional Chinese Medicine: Current State, Challenges, and Applications.” Serum Pharmacochemistry of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Academic Press, 20 Jan. 2017, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9780128111475000017. 

Gu, Shuo, and Jianfeng Pei. “Innovating Chinese Herbal Medicine: From Traditional Health Practice to Scientific Drug Discovery.” Frontiers in Pharmacology, Frontiers Media S.A., 16 June 2017, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5472722/. 

Han, Xue-yan, et al. “Factors Influencing the Quality of Clinical Trials on Traditional Chinese Medicine-Qualitative Interviews with Trial Auditors, Clinicians and Academic Researchers.” Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, Churchill Livingstone, 13 Sept. 2019, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1744388119300921. 

Lee MS;Huh HJ;Jeong SM;Lee HS;Ryu H;Park JH;Chung HT;Woo WH; “Effects of Qigong on Immune Cells.” The American Journal of Chinese Medicine, U.S. National Library of Medicine, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12856872/. 

Linn, Yeh Ching. “Evidence-Based Medicine for Traditional Chinese Medicine: Exploring the Evidence from a Western Medicine Perspective.” Proceedings of Singapore Healthcare, vol. 20, no. 1, 2011, pp. 12–19., doi:10.1177/201010581102000103. 

“Traditional Chinese Medicine Could Make ‘Health for One’ True.” Www.who.int, www.who.int/intellectualproperty/studies/Jia.pdf. 

Wang W;Wang F;Fan F;Sedas AC;Wang J; “Mind-Body Interventions for Irritable Bowel Syndrome Patients in the Chinese Population: a Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, U.S. National Library of Medicine, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27646279/.

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