Natural Standard Monograph, Copyright © 2014 (www.naturalstandard.com). Commercial distribution prohibited. This monograph is intended for informational purposes only, and should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. You should consult with a qualified health care professional before making decisions about therapies and/or health conditions.
The below uses are based on tradition or scientific theories. They often have not been thoroughly tested in humans, and safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious and should be evaluated by a qualified health care professional.
Uses based on scientific evidence
These uses have been tested in humans or animals. Safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare professional.
Aging (quality of life in the elderly)
There is good evidence from several studies indicating that tai chi, if practiced regularly, may help improve quality of life in the elderly. Beyond improved balance and the preventive effects against falls, it appears that the practice may improve overall physical functioning and sense of well-being.
Tai chi may lead to improved sleep quality in older adults with sleep disorders. More studies are needed before definitive recommendations can be made.
Balance and strength maintenance
Early research suggests that tai chi practice may improve balance and maintain strength. These benefits may be similar to other forms of exercise. Additional research is necessary before a firm conclusion can be reached.
Body fat reducer (body fat redistribution in the elderly)
There is not enough scientific evidence to recommend the use of tai chi to change body fat distribution in the elderly.
Bone density improvement (in menopausal women and the elderly)
The data are mixed as to whether tai chi is beneficial for bone health in menopausal women and in the elderly. Although some early results are promising, others report that the beneficial effects of tai chi on musculoskeletal health are modest and may not translate into better clinical outcomes.
Based on a small study, tai chi may provide short-term benefits after traumatic brain injury; however, long-term studies are needed.
Tai chi chuan has been studied in breast cancer patients to improve functional capacity (specifically aerobic capacity, muscular strength, and flexibility). Larger studies are needed to make a firm recommendation.
There is evidence that suggests that tai chi decreases blood pressure and cholesterol as well as enhances quality of life in patients with chronic heart failure. Most studies have used elderly Chinese patients as their population. Additional research is needed before a firm conclusion can be drawn.
Tai chi, as a complement to existing exercise interventions, can be utilized for low and intermediate risk patients. Although promising, more study is needed to make a firm recommendation.
Chickenpox, shingles (varicella zoster)
A small trial showed that treatment with tai chi might increase immunity to the virus that causes shingles. This may suggest the use of tai chi in the prevention of chickenpox and shingles, but further well-designed large studies must be done before a recommendation can be made.
There is a lack of scientific evidence to conclude that tai chi is effective for chronic pain conditions. Further research is needed in this area.
Cochleovestibular impairment (vestibulopathy)
Early scientific evidence suggests that tai chi may be helpful as an adjunct treatment to regular vestibular rehabilitation regimes. Tai chi may improve body stability and footfall stability. More studies are needed.
Preliminary research suggests that tai chi may alleviate depression, anger, and fatigue. Better studies are needed before conclusions can be drawn.
Tai chi has been suggested as a possible therapy for improving body composition and improving blood sugar regulation in diabetics. Early results are mixed, and additional study is needed. Tai chi is not recommended over current standard of care for diabetes control.
Several studies suggest that tai chi is a form of aerobic exercise that can improve aerobic capacity. In particular, benefit has been reported with the classical Yang style.
Fall prevention (elderly)
Several studies have examined the effects of regular tai chi practice on balance and falling risk in the elderly. Results are not consistent, and many studies have been poorly designed. It is not clear if tai chi is safer or more effective than other forms of exercise in older individuals. Better research is needed before a recommendation can be made.
Tai chi may aid quality of life in fibromyalgia patients, but additional study is needed to make a strong recommendation.
High blood pressure
Early study shows that tai chi may help patients with high blood pressure to reduce blood pressure, cholesterol, and anxiety.
Tai chi may increase the body's immune response in older adults and in individuals with HIV. For example, patients receiving varicella vaccines and who practiced tai chi showed increased immune responses. Although early study is promising, more study is needed.
Lung function (after lung removal)
Tai chi practice may help improve lung function, activity capacity, and quality of life of patients after lobectomy (lung removal usually due to cancer). More study is needed in this area.
Women but not men may experience improved mood as a result of tai chi practice. Additional research is needed in this area.
A small trial in women with osteoarthritis reported that treatment with tai chi significantly decreased pain and stiffness compared with a sedentary lifestyle. Women in the tai chi group also reported fewer perceptions of difficulties in physical functioning. More well-designed studies are needed before a recommendation can be made.
Preliminary research suggests that tai chi may be beneficial in delaying early bone loss in postmenopausal women. Additional evidence and long-term follow-up is needed to confirm these results.
Community-based fitness programs, which include tai chi classes, may improve balance in Parkinson's patients and motivate patients to participate in routine exercise.
Quality of life (HIV)
Tai chi has been studied in individuals living with various stages of HIV. Preliminary study shows that tai chi may be helpful for stress and improving quality of life, but additional research is needed before a recommendation can be made.
There is not enough scientific evidence showing that tai chi reduces rheumatoid arthritis symptoms, although tai chi may help improve range of motion of the lower extremities.
Tai chi may reduce stress in various populations of people, including HIV patients and children.
Tai chi may benefit social and general functioning in stroke rehab patients but may not be as effective as physiotherapy for balance and speed of walking.
Early study suggests that tai chi practice may be effective in reducing tension headache impact and may also be effective in improving perceptions of some aspects of physical and mental health.
Well-being/fitness/physical functioning/breathing in the elderly
Several studies suggest that tai chi may improve heart and lung fitness, muscle strength, handgrip strength, flexibility, gait, coordination, and sleep and may decrease the risk of osteoporosis. It is not clear if these benefits are different from other forms of exercise. Nearly all of the studies that exist in these areas compare tai chi programs with a sedentary lifestyle, not with another form of exercise. Tai chi has been found to be of low to moderate intensity in the cardiovascular studies thus far, which makes tai chi a candidate for certain rehabilitation programs. Additional research is needed before a recommendation can be made.
*Key to grades:
A: Strong scientific evidence for this use;B: Good scientific evidence for this use; C: Unclear scientific evidence for this use;D: Fair scientific evidence against this use (it may not work);F: Strong scientific evidence against this use (it likely does not work).
For full grading rationale, click here.
Uses based on tradition or theory
The below uses are based on tradition or scientific theories. They often have not been thoroughly tested in humans, and safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified health care professional
Ankylosing spondylitis, anxiety, asthma, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), bronchitis, cancer, chronic lung conditions, circulation problems, congestive heart failure, coronary artery disease, dementia, emphysema, fibromyalgia, gastritis, gout, hemiplegia, hemophilia, improving concentration, increasing energy, kidney disorders, low back pain, lowering heart rate, multiple sclerosis (MS), neurasthenia, peripheral vascular disease, repetitive strain injuries, schizophrenia, self-esteem, substance abuse, tension, tuberculosis.
Many complementary techniques are practiced by healthcare professionals with formal training, in accordance with the standards of national organizations. However, this is not universally the case, and adverse effects are possible. Due to limited research, in some cases only limited safety information is available.
Natural Standard developed the above evidence-based information based on a systematic review of the available scientific articles. For comprehensive information about alternative and complementary therapies on the professional level, go to www.naturalstandard.com. Selected references are listed below.
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