Overview

For 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 the oddest-seeming health practices inspired by Chinese medicine. Read on to see if you’ve heard of them — or would try them!

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1. 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.

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2. Apitherapy

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!

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3. 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!

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4. 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.

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5. 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.

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6. 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.

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7. 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.

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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.

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About the Author

Vivian Manning-Schaffel

Vivian Manning-Schaffel is a journalist, essayist, senior copywriter and rabblerouser who lives and works in Brooklyn, N.Y. Her work has been featured in Science of Us/New York magazine, The Week, DAME, US Weekly, CBS Watch!, Parents, Parenting, The New York Times and The New York Post.