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10 Unexpected Health Habits That Come From Chinese Medicine

author image Vivian Manning-Schaffel
Vivian Manning-Schaffel is a journalist, essayist, senior copywriter and rabblerouser who lives and works in Brooklyn, N.Y. A contributing editor at Working Mother and Time Out New York Kids, her work has also been featured in US Weekly, CBS Watch!, Parents, Parenting, The New York Times and The New York Post.

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10 Unexpected Health Habits That Come From Chinese Medicine
Chinese herbs can be used to treat or prevent health issues. Photo Credit: marilyna/iStock/Getty Images

For (literally) thousands upon thousands of years, people have flocked to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) to either treat or prevent health issues using such mind and body practices as acupuncture and herbal medicines, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrated Health (NCCIH).

The theory behind TCM is that “qi,” or life-force energy, flows throughout the body via meridians, or points, in the body. By stimulating these points, you remove blockages of qi and improve your health. The effectiveness of many practices in TCM, such as acupuncture, are supported by scientific proof. However, some related practices can, according to Western culture, seem downright bizarre. We searched the globe for 10 of the oddest-seeming health practices inspired by Chinese medicine. Read on to see if you’ve heard of them — or would try them!

Urine Therapy
Urine therapy is popular in China, despite being outlawed. Photo Credit: BaltzarDK/iStock/Getty Images

Urine Therapy

Believe it or not, drinking your own pee is hugely popular in parts of China and is believed to be therapeutic, despite of a lack of hard science proving any benefits. It was outlawed in China in 2016, yet the Times of India reported that drinking urine somehow actually gained popularity in the wake of these laws. Practitioners are even organized: The China Urine Therapy Association (CUTA) counts its members at around 4,000, complete with group chats, blogs and viral videos extolling pee-drinking rituals that celebrate the practice’s effectiveness. Um … ewww.

Read more: Urine therapy gaining popularity in China despite ban

Api-therapy uses bee venom and honey as a cure. Photo Credit: SumikoPhoto/iStock/Getty Images


Science is just starting to dig into the therapeutic properties of bees and their honey, also called apitherapy. One study, published by Foods, an international food science journal, says honey has many antioxidant, bacteriostatic, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties, as well as wound- and sunburn-healing properties. Beyond honey, bee venom therapy is all the rage in China as a potential cure for arthritis and cancer. And yes, it’s as painful as it sounds. Studies examining the effectiveness of acupuncture and bee venom therapy combined have shown the practice to be promising in treating arthritis pain, though more research is needed. We bet a few allergies were discovered the hard way!

Listen now: Why America’s Obsession with ‘Happiness’ Is Totally Stressing Us Out

Stretch and Beat Therapy
Pai-da means patting and slapping. Photo Credit: Pixygirlly/iStock/Getty Images

Stretch and Beat Therapy

A beating as form of therapy? Yep. Also known as “pai-da,” (“pai” is patting and “da” is slapping in Chinese), this treatment involves getting slapped or slapping yourself while assuming different postures that stretch your muscles to improve blood circulation and draw out “sha,” or toxins. The treatment isn’t only a little out there, it’s also controversial. A BBC reporter recalled “excruciating” pain as she underwent one of these treatments to alleviate knee pain. It worked, but she questions whether the result was due to natural healing or pai-da. Either way, she was in no hurry to explore it again!

Read more: Pai-Da

Gua Sha (Skin Scraping)
Woman receiving Gua Sha treatment. Photo Credit: leaf/iStock/Getty Images

Gua Sha (Skin Scraping)

A traditional yet bizarre-sounding TCM treatment, practitioners using gua sha use a spoon or equally small, rounded object to literally scrape at the skin until it causes bruising to improve blood flow to the area scraped and thus, facilitate healing. As odd as it sounds, small studies have proven gua sha as part of a TCM program can help alleviate neck and back pain, perimenopausal symptoms. In one recent case, it even helped banish the tics of Tourette’s syndrome.

Read more: What is Gua Sha?

Woman receiving cupping treatment. Photo Credit: mariangarai/iStock/Getty Images


Who knew that simple suction could alleviate pain and a host of other symptoms? A cousin of gua sha, “cupping” is a strange-seeming TCM healing practice in which patients lie on a massage table and the practitioner applies a round glass cup to the skin, creating suction. Once the cup is removed, it creates the effect of a hickey, leaving a bruise that theoretically removes blockages, improves blood flow to the area and, eventually, eases pain. As bizarre as it all sounds, science confirms the positive effects of cupping: Studies show it actually helps to improve fibromyalgia pain, and one Iranian study even found it to relieve nausea after anesthesia. Need more proof? Jennifer Aniston is a fan.

Read more: Efficacy of cupping therapy in patients with the fibromyalgia syndrome-a randomised placebo controlled trial.

Eating Crocodile
Crocodiles are eaten in Asia for their curative properties. Photo Credit: Ingram Publishing/Ingram Publishing/Getty Images

Eating Crocodile

According to an article in Quartz, crocodile farming is all the rage in Africa due to the revenue from exporting these animals; 85 percent of crocodile exports to go China, Taiwan and Hong Kong. So why are they so crazy for croc? Their use in TCM goes back to the 16th century, when eating crocodile was believed to cure respiratory illnesses like asthma. They stew it, boil it or serve it on skewers.

Read more: Why China loves crocodile meat

Moxibustion herbs Photo Credit: xb100/iStock/Getty Images


Ever wonder why TCM offices sometimes smell like marijuana? It’s not pot; it’s herbs used in moxibustion, a form of heat therapy in which sticks made of herbs called “moxa” are burned on or very near the area of discomfort (as close as possible to the skin) to warm and activate the flow of qi in the body, easing pain or qi blockage in the area. A study published in Scientific Reports found this technique, along with acupuncture, to decrease fatigue. Another Chinese study found it to have a “superior effect” in both the short-term and long-term for neck pain caused by cervical spondylosis.

Read more: Acupuncture and Moxibustion have Different Effects on Fatigue by Regulating the Autonomic Nervous System: A Pilot Controlled Clinical Trial.

Hand Massage (Tui Na)
Hand massage may relieve muscle pain. Photo Credit: Wavebreakmedia/iStock/Getty Images

Hand Massage (Tui Na)

You would think having your hands twisted around would be a weird way to seek relief from pain, but many TCM practitioners swear by tui na’s benefits. It is massage focused on the meridians, done by pushing, finger twisting, patting, palm twisting and other techniques that resemble hand torture. A 2016 study published in Journal of Chinese Medicine found this form of Chinese massage therapy relieves pain and can maybe even boost extensor muscle strength in patients with knee osteoarthritis.

Read more: Effect of Chinese massage (Tui Na) on isokinetic muscle strength in patients with knee osteoarthritis

Drinking Poop Tea
A goat and a pig. Tea made from goat and pig feces was a famed cure in Hunan. Photo Credit: bazilfoto/iStock/Getty Images

Drinking Poop Tea

VICE once reported on the practice of drinking tea made of goat and pig poop being all the rage in Hunan province. In the article, one woman claimed the concoction cured her of cancer. Though this cure sounds revolting, there is burgeoning science connected to fecal matter transplants (FMT). In a New York Times video titled Gut Hack, a scientist who suffers from IBS attempts to cure himself with a fecal transplant — and it works. This is not something to be done at home, and it will likely take years of research before FMT is considered a trusted medical procedure.

Read more: Drinking Poop Tea with the Chinese Villagers Who Swear by It

Eating Cobra
Cobra is famed for its exotic healing properties. Photo Credit: skynavin/iStock/Getty Images

Eating Cobra

According to an article in the Daily Mail, an assortment of wild animals (such as cobra) and animal parts are hot commodities in the Chinese and Asian TCM markets, where it is largely believed these animals contain exotic healing properties — though there is no science to back up these claims. What’s worse, this practice is said to be “the driving force behind the $20 billion illegal wildlife network.” Yet many articles in publications like Smithsonian detail research into snake venom, noting that for as deadly as it can be, it can also contain healing properties scientists hope to harness.

Read more: Decoding the Deadly Secret of Snake Venom

What Do YOU Think?
Acupuncture diagrams of the human body. Photo Credit: SteveAllenPhoto/iStock/Getty Images

What Do YOU Think?

Do you know of any odd remedies or practices inspired by or related to TCM? We’d love to hear about them. Did any of them actually work? Leave us a comment below.

Read more: 10 Natural Herbs and Supplements to Help Calm Anxiety

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