versus diagnostic healthcare. Alternative versus conventional medicine.
Holistic versus homeopathic. East versus west. It can be difficult to narrow
down the differences between so many medical practices and approaches available
to us today. But the general consensus seems to be that a holistic or
preventative approach to health boasts health and wellness in the longterm,
with overall mind-body-spirit wellness
at the forefront of its principles. Conversely, there are seemingly endless
cases of diagnostic failures, overprescribed pill-popping patients, and the
subsequent slew of adverse effects leading to chronic illness often associated
with western medicine’s disease and symptom-based approach to healthcare.
The medical landscape
appears to be changing and beginning to recognize alternative therapies like
acupuncture, therapeutic massage, herbal remedies and mindfulness techniques.
Additionally, other forms of what are traditionally considered to be eastern
medical practices are en vogue. You might also find yourself curious about the
main differences in approach and exactly when western culture will make the big
switch to incorporate eastern medicine’s more holistic and preventative
approach to wellness.
As we learn more about
the medicinal benefits of natural preventative health measures, we may
begin to wonder why these practices are not more widely accepted and encouraged
by medical doctors. But first, what is eastern medicine and what are the
fundamental principles that differentiate its practices from those of
The term ‘eastern
medicine’ generally refers to Traditional Chinese Medicine or TCM. TCM
approaches health and medicine by encompassing how the human body interacts
with all aspects of life and the environment. This includes the body’s reaction
to seasons, weather, time of day, our diet and even emotional states. In TCM,
the key to health is the harmonious & balanced functioning of body, mind,
and spirit. It holds that the balance of health depends on the unobstructed
flow of qi (prounounced “chee”) or what is known as “life energy” through
the body, along pathways called meridians. In Traditional Chinese Medicine
practitioners see disease as the result of disruptions in the circulation of
One of the many
techniques applied by TCM practitioners, and probably the most commonly known,
is acupuncture. The health benefits that this widely practiced procedure boasts
are many! In TCM acupuncture has been used to treat addictions to cigarettes,
heroin and even cocaine. Patients have seen relief from chronic low back pain,
dental pain, migraine headaches, fibromyalgia and symptoms of osteoarthritis.
It can assist in emotional pain syndromes such as post-traumatic stress
disorder, as well as conditions ranging from emotional disorders (anxiety,
depression) to digestive issues (nausea, vomiting, irritable bowel syndrome).
Other TCM treatments include: herbal formulas, moxibustion, Qigong (“kee-gong”),
tuina (pronounced “tway-na”), and cupping.
After a thorough, albeit
unorthodox, assessment upon your initial visit with a TCM practitioner, a
treatment plan will be customized to support the flow of qi in your unique and
individual body. Diagnostic assessment typically follows their Four Pillars of
Diagnosis: 1) Inspection (visual analysis of the face, skin features, and
particularly the tongue); 2) Auscultation (analyzing the smell or odor of the
body); 3) Palpation (wrist pulse, abdomen, and meridian points); and 4) Inquiry
(analysis by asking questions about the patient’s past health and habits).
A treatment plan may include dietary advice, acupuncture,
a prescription of one or more herbal formulas or any combination of
treatments. This followed by several repeat visits to address any adjustments
needed in the treatment plan. It is the very opposite of the ‘quick fix’ that
western medical science prescribes in the form of so many prescription medications.
Now, let us compare
these TCM practices with common practices and beliefs held in western medicine.
In western medicine pharmaceuticals rule the roost. Modern western
medicine finds its focus on chasing and treating symptoms, and rarely addressing
The traditional approach
in western medicine has always been to diagnose a particular disease or
condition from known symptoms and then to treat it with medication, surgery or
various procedures. Focusing on diagnosis and treatment works well for
infectious diseases, however, it is not very useful for multi-factorial chronic
diseases such as cancer or cardiovascular disease. This flawed approach sees
doctors approaching the human body as a collection of individual parts (organs)
rather than a system of organs working in concert to support the life of
the human being. It is this focus on the function of the parts that overshadows
the view of the body.
Treatment often includes
the prescription of standardized medication, typically administered by the
patient independently, without the need for a return visit. Patients often are
not expected or even encouraged to make lifestyle changes to support the
treatment or the medication prescribed. This is largely due to the
influence of the pharmaceutical industry on western medical science and
practices. The pharmaceutical industry makes trillions of dollars from the
selling of drugs for ongoing diseases. These drugs may relieve symptoms, but
rarely do they cure conditions.
however, seem to be recognizing the flaws of this current system of care for
their patients and are implementing changes to better serve those under their
care with preventative lifestyle options and practices. A shift has begun
toward what is known as integrative medicine. An approach to health
that mirrors, in some ways more than others, the TCM approach to lifelong
health and wellness.
Integrative medicine is
based upon a model of more complete health and wellness, as opposed to a model
of disease. The integrative medicine model recognizes the critical role
the practitioner-patient relationship plays in a patient’s overall
healthcare experience. It favors, whenever possible, the use of low-tech,
low-cost interventions. With integrative medicine, western doctors are adopting
the customized, personal care that comes with the whole-person
perspective long held and practiced in eastern medicine. It combines
modern medicine with established approaches from around the world.
We may yet be seeing a much-needed
shift in the perception of complete health and quality of treatment in the
field of medical sciences. With much ground left to cover and a trillion-dollar
pharmaceutical industry to combat with, it is unlikely that such a shift will
come quickly or easily, however obvious the need.