Eastern Vs. Western Medicine: Two Approaches

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The roots of naturopathy/homeopathy go back to what is called traditional Chinese medicine, or TCM. What's known as western medicine has it's roots in Europe, and is the predominant medicine practiced in the United States and the western hemisphere.

Perhaps you're like a lot of people today who wonder what a naturopathic or homeopathic doctor is all about.  Well, let me try to clear up a few things for you.

After nearly 15 years working in the medical field I've seen many changes, but the growth of naturopathy is perhaps one of the most exciting. Naturopathy has to do with the use and implementation of natural-based remedies for the health and healing of the body.  Growing up in the middle of the last century, we had the typical family doctor who administered routine shots, monitored fevers, and performed annual physicals, all of the usual stuff.  When I first heard of naturopathy, I had kids of my own, and had no idea what it was all about. So I decided to learn.

The roots of naturopathy/homeopathy go back to what is called traditional Chinese medicine or TCM, and yes, it's from China, hence the term eastern medicine to describe it. TCM practitioners have centuries of history behind them.  What's more, historically they kept detailed records and made all kinds of charts, many still in use today, that portray things such as energy meridians, or pathways in the body that convey energy throughout the whole body.

What's know as western medicine has its roots in Europe, and is the predominant medicine practiced in the United States and the western hemisphere.  Although western medicine also has many centuries behind it, TCM is the hands-down winner with nearly twice as many.  But, these differences aside, the most important distinction between eastern and western medicine lies in the approach each one takes to the practice of medicine, so let's look at this.

With western medicine, a patient goes to the doctor and gets evaluated based on a symptom or problem.  The doctor's work usually revolves around focusing only on that problem or symptom.  Tests that are run and diagnostic procedures all relate to that specific problem to come up with an etiology, or medical diagnosis, of what's wrong.  Often, consideration is not given to other body systems that may or may not be contributing to the problem or symptom.

But this is different with eastern medicine or TCM.  When a patient goes to the TCM doctor with a problem or symptom, they evaluate all the patient's body systems to determine the "health" level of each one---individually.  This is because they operate from the premise that every body system, healthy or non-healthy, affects and is affected by all the others.  In other words, the body's systems are all "integrated" together, and none is isolated by itself.  Like your car, if the cooling system goes haywire, it may very well affect the way your cylinders function, or your transmission, causing them to also malfunction or breakdown.

For clarification, by body systems I am referring to these: the nervous system, the respiratory system, the circulatory system, the digestive system, the integumentary system, the endocrine system, and so on.  Each body system consists of many parts.  For example, the nervous system consists of the brain, spinal cord, and nerves throughout the body, the digestive system consists of the mouth, throat, esophagus, stomach, and small and large intestines.  In order for the digestive system to operate, it must have help from the nervous system, the endocrine system, the circulatory system, and so on.  Each system is not a closed system within itself, but interacts with all the others in a symbiotic give-and-take to make the whole body work in a healthy fashion.

Eastern medicine recognizes the important distinction of the overall general integration of the body systems.  So for example, the patient could be having problems with seasonal allergies, and the TCM doctor would examine the body's purification ability by looking at liver function and the state of their bowels as well as the state of the lymphatic system. They may be suffering from a congested liver or an over-burdened lymph system, and/or bowel problems. The doctor of western medicine would examine only the respiratory issues and treat the patient with allergy medications and maybe antibiotics if infection is present.  The TCM doctor will put the patient on a health-restoring regimen of diet changes and herbal medicinal supplements to bring correction to the problem systems, two vastly different approaches with two very different outcomes. In looking at the pros and cons, we can see some interesting things. 

First of all, TCM has been criticized for taking too long to heal or effect change for the patient.  It's true that herbal remedies often take weeks or months to "work", but their overall general help to the body can often have much longer lasting benefits, for when body systems come into a healthy state, they will function optimally for a longer time. Conversely, western medicine has been criticized for fast fixes with drugs/medicinals prepared in a lab, often with very limited amounts of testing to ensure their long-lasting safely.  This also is true, but there are many pharmaceuticals that have been used relatively safely for decades with proven ability to help.

Second, many people who have experienced western medicine are distrustful of eastern medicine---things such as acupuncture and other therapies are misunderstood, and may seen "strange" to the outsider.  On the other hand, western medicine also has its problems with therapies that don't work, or may cause additional harm while they work.

Lastly, western medicine has made huge strides in the fields of trauma care and emergency medicine, areas where eastern medicine may not be able to supply help as quickly.  So, while there are pros and cons to both sides of the equation, the one thing that gives eastern medicine higher marks than western medicine is the approach taken: integration---treating the sicknesses and diseases of the human body as affecting and being effected by all the major systems together.  It's worth considering for our health is one of the most important things we control in life.  I urge you to read and study, educate yourself, on the options available to you today.  You just might find eastern medicine has a wide array of things to offer that western medicine does not.  You might even find cures you never knew existed.  Now, that's something to think about.

Traditional Chinese Medicine

Traditional Chinese medicine also includes ancient techniques that include healing methods that include acupuncture and acupressure. Slowly, these practices have been including in western or allopathic healing. Many sports doctors, chiropractors and other doctors have finally accepted that both acupuncture and acupressure are a valid way of healing many types of injuries of the back, neck, shoulders, arms and legs.

More Homeopathic Remedies

There has been proof for years that certain homeopathic remedies can cure and or help alleviate symptoms of the flu. Umcka is an ancient remedy from an African flower that has been shown to help cure respiratory ailments associated with the flu and tuberculosis. In the United States, everyone can buy Umcka from the company Nature’s Way at the first sign of the flu and studies show that it does help.

Ayurvedic Medicine

Ayurvedic, otherwise known as Ayurveda, is one of the world’s oldest healing medicines and thoughts. Ayurveda originated in India more than 3,000 years ago, and is still of part that the country’s medical system and healing beliefs.

As with any type of homeopathic healing methods, it is always best to contact a doctor and especially a doctor that is versed in naturopathy. The main reason is because some of the recommended herbs can interfere with traditional western medications.

Liked this article?  Watch for my next installment on this subject where I discuss some of the modern strides and therapies in western and eastern medicine.

Leslie Pryor is a published author, teacher, and freelance writer.  My book is titled: "In Search of . . . Wisdom the Principle Thing". 


Leslie Pryor
Posted on Aug 11, 2010
William J. Felchner
Posted on Aug 11, 2010