Your Guide to Saigon’s Most Popular Traditional Medicine Techniques

By: Arik Jahn

Traditional medicine is recognised by many as a way to cure diseases in Vietnam. Often dismissed as esoteric mumbo-jumbo, these techniques, which were developed long before the era of modern medicine, are starting to catch on worldwide.

In Ho Chi Minh City, there are several reliable institutes that perform traditional medicine, such as the government-owned Traditional Medicine Institute in Phu Nhuan District or the Tam Duc Traditional Medical Clinic in Tan Binh District.

Then there’s also the CMI (Centre Médical International), one of the most renowned Western clinics in downtown Saigon. “Not many people know that the CMI has a traditional medicine department,” Dr. Anh Thu, working at the clinic since 2012, says laughing.

Her family has been working in traditional medicine for over five generations. When asked about the core theory behind it, she summarises: “Our body consists of a giant web called [the] meridian system. It links the parts of the body, supplying them with the qi, the vital energy, and regulates the distribution of blood and body fluids. This way, it maintains the balance between yin and yang and the five elements to protect the body against diseases.”

This is the core theory of traditional medicine.

Ready to try it? Then the next question is how to choose the right practitioner. “Best is, as always, to follow recommendations,” Dr. Anh Thu says. Observe how the doctor communicates with you during your first consultation and, most importantly, as Dr. Le Hai from Hanoi-based AcuVietnam adds, make sure they have an official licence.

Finally, there’s a range of techniques to choose from. We’ve picked the three most common ones.

Acupuncture

traditional medicineImage source: healthplus.vn

What Does It Help Against?

It is most commonly used for pain relief, but can also cure various other conditions such as migraine, insomnia or anxiety disorders, and even help you to stop smoking.

How Does It Work?

Certain points along the body’s meridians are stimulated by inserting fine, sterile needles into the skin in order to clear energy blockages and adjust the flow of qi.

How Long Does the Treatment Take?

A session can take from half an hour to two hours. Dr. Anh Thu recommends two to three sessions per week during one month for average cases, but the frequency and number of treatments differ from person to person.

Does It Hurt?

If performed by a good practitioner it shouldn’t hurt. When the needles are inserted, you might feel a short moment of numbness, but it’ll pass after a few minutes.

Are There Possible Side Effects?

The treatment might leave some bruises and a sore feeling but serious complications like infections or damaged tissue are extremely rare. Most side effects, like nausea or even fainting, are caused simply by a fear of needles.

Why Should I Do It?

Acupuncture is a very safe treatment method—as long as you seek out a capable practitioner. In many cases you’re likely to feel an improvement after the very first session. See for yourself!

Cupping

traditional medicineImage source: chaarg.com

What Does It Help Against?

Cupping is mainly used to deal with muscle pain, inflammation, fever or minor illnesses. Detoxification is another area of application.

How Does It Work?

Heated cups made of glass, bamboo or silicone are applied to the skin. When the air cools down, a vacuum is generated, creating a suction effect that increases the blood flow. The mildly terrifying, so-called ‘wet cupping’ includes making tiny cuts with a scalpel to draw out small quantities of blood.

How Long Does the Treatment Take?

The actual application of the cups takes only 10 to 20 minutes. It can be accompanied with massages. You’d usually have a session every two weeks.

Does It Hurt?

No, you just risk having a tight feeling on your skin during the treatment.

Are There Possible Side Effects?

Bruises, burns or even skin infections are possible side effects. More often, you’ll just have cup-shaped marks on your skin that disappear after some days.

Who Believes in This?

‘Posh Spice’ Victoria Beckham, all-time record holder of Olympic gold medals Michael Phelps and none other than Justin Bieber do!

Herbalism

traditional medicineImage source: tallahasseenurseries.com

What Does It Help Against?

It helps against pretty much anything, really, depending on the herbs used.

How Does It Work?

Herbalist remedies exist in many forms: infusions and syrup, lotions and creams, or powder put in capsules.

How Long Does the Treatment Take?

Normally, the patient takes the medication for one week, then sees the doctor again to adjust the formula according to possible changes in the patient’s condition. From there, the treatment can take from three days to a lifetime.

What About the Taste?

Really not good. Luckily, you mostly get herbalist medicine in capsule form. An old-school infusion is said to work better, though.

Are There Possible Side Effects?

As with everything you swallow, there can be side effects. Skin irritation or sleepiness would be two common ones.

Do I Have to Go to the Doctor for This?

Yes. Herbalist medicine varies strongly in quality, and not infrequently contains drugs or heavy metals. So it’s all the more important to know the ropes—and reliable suppliers.

Banner image source: expatliving.hk

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