Traditional Chinese Medicine is not Alternative

A New Look at an Old Way of Life


Do we need to take a new look at an old way of life?  Traditional Chinese medicine has been around for thousands of years.  It is often met with skepticism by Western medicine or the new medicine that has been around in a traditional sense since the last century.  Health care skeptics view what is referred to as alternative medicine as a fraud, not based in science.  Why is it then that Eastern medicine traditions have been around for thousands of years?  They must be doing something right or people would not still be using them today.  

Critics claim that many Chinese therapies (such as meditation or acupuncture) are the result of the placebo effect, but little by little, new findings from both Western and Eastern sources are proving them wrong.  Hippocrates, the father of medicine stated thousands of years ago to “first do no harm”.  Is the Western medicine model today doing more harm than good?  Many would feel this is the case.  Western medicine is by far superior in an acute life threatening situation, but is failing in the area of disease prevention and chronic disease management. 

Western medicine 

is built on a disease care rather than a health care model.  Insurance companies recognize and reimburse for testing and expensive pharmaceutical drugs.  This is a lose-lose situation not only for a stable economy, but also humanity.  Something has to change and quickly.  Is it not time to be open and adaptive to the benefits that Eastern medicine can provide?  If current health care providers were not so quick to judge and dismiss the benefits of Eastern medicine, would we see better health outcomes?  According to the Common Wealth fund, the United States is the most expensive health care system in the world and ranks last among the top 11 developed countries.

It is not completely Western medical professionals fault.  They are trained to treat symptoms, use drugs, and orders tests.  Why is this?  For several reasons, such as:  that is what the standard of care dictates, what is recognized to be paid for services, patient demands, and risk of being sued.  It is a fear based system on a hamster wheel entrenched in corporate influence on many levels and throughout many industries.  It is time to take a stand whether you work as a health care professional or you are a consumer of health care services. 


There are many Eastern medical traditions that have been around for thousands of years that could teach Western practitioners a thing or two to help to solve this health care crisis we are in.  For the purpose of this article, let’s look at what Chinese medicine is and what it can offer. 

 Traditional Chinese medicine asserts that the human body and the environment are closely related and when the body’s rhythms are upset, treatment and ultimately prevention can come from the environment. 


Herbs and other plants are widely used in Chinese medicine to bring balance back to the body.  Meditation, acupuncture and massage are used in conjunction with the mind and to bring harmony to the body.

According to the Chinese, the forces in the universe are believed to affect everything in life, including our health.  These forces are represented by the symbol of yin and yang, the two most powerful cosmic forces in the universe. Yin is the female force and is represented by the moon, while yang represents the masculine force and is represented by the sun.  From these ancient beliefs, the Chinese developed a technology for health care that in many ways rivals that of Western medicine. 


 Chinese Medicine and alternatives methods for a long time have been viewed as “quackery,” but as scientific evidence continues to surface it is beginning to dispel this belief.  That scientific evidence has been difficult to come by. The huge drug companies aren’t going to put costly research efforts into techniques that won’t bring in piles of money. It wasn’t until the mid-1990s that funding for alternative medicine (“traditional medicine”) began to appear in academic circles.  Since then, it’s become a form of therapy and healing that’s widely accepted around the world.  It still is not regularly seen integrated in the Western medical model, though some insurance companies are beginning to reimburse for acupuncture treatments. 


Furthermore, Chinese research has recently said that combining Western and Eastern medical techniques was a good thing for both the patient and medical research in general. For example, research shows that a combination of Chinese herbs and radiation therapy for cancer patients can greatly reduce the number of tumors and enhance the immune system while receiving radiation.


Also contained in the Chinese research reports was proof that acupuncture does affect the central nervous system by releasing endorphins (pleasure hormones) from the brain and other areas of the body. These hormones are known to promote the health of the organs in our bodies.  The simple act of daily meditation can promote immune system defense cells such as T-Cells that kill harmful viruses.


In order to combine the best of both the Western and Eastern philosophies, an understanding must be reached that addresses lifestyle.  The Eastern philosophy embraces prevention of disease by cultivating a more healthful lifestyle through diet and exercise, whereas the Western philosophy tends to treat illnesses only after they appear, with little thought to prevention or psychological support.

 To understand Eastern medicine further, you first want to understand the underlying principles behind it.  The concept of Eastern medicine is steeped in tradition and social interaction with centuries behind it. Yin and yang have long been a part of that tradition and one of the premises of Eastern medicine is that yin and yang divide our bodies into regions.  Our internal organs are considered to be yin, while yang represents our external organs (such as our skin). The foods, including herbs that we eat, contain universal elements that help to stabilize our bodies.


If we eat the correct combination of yin and yang foods, our bodies will be in balance.  Most illnesses are the result of us not eating the proper foods and not exercising and resting our bodies and minds. If you eat an excess of either yin or yang foods, even though they’re “good” for you, your balance will be disrupted and illnesses or aches and pains may occur.  Besides eating the proper foods to balance our bodies, Eastern culture developed exercises such as Tai Chi. Tai Chi is an exercise in which you move slowly to promote balance and equilibrium. Both this exercise and others, such as yoga, also stimulates increased blood flow.


Western medicine has been slow in accepting Chinese medicine and other alternative methods of healing and disease prevention.  This needs to change if this health care crisis is going to be solved.   Dr. Mehmet Oz, a prominent surgeon frequently seen on the popular Oprah Winfrey Show, recently said that he uses the Eastern methods of reflexology and massage on each of his patients that undergo surgery. Dr. Oz said that he’s found the healing process after surgery to be accelerated when using these techniques.  This ultimately leads to better patient outcomes, lowers health care costs and reduces harm to the patient as Hippocrates so wisely stated thousands of years ago.    

The ancient findings of Eastern medicine, combined with our modern technology, can lead the way back to improved health care in the United States that would end up costing less and promote optimal health. 


It’s also important to realize that the Western health care system treats many people who may not be as open to the Eastern way of thinking about health care options. The very words, “alternative medicine,” conjure up witchcraft and religious connotations that many find distasteful and downright scary.  Chinese medicine is neither of these things, but should be viewed as the original or traditional medicine that has much to offer.  It should be an integral part of every health care system. 


On must have hope that in time, and with help from both Chinese and Western understanding, each can benefit from cross-cultural communication and can take the confidence level of the people mired in current Western medicine to a higher plane.


The bottom line in health care is that we need to provide the best treatment or therapy for the patient, and as we cross cultural lines and begin to understand the philosophical framework of Western and Eastern medical practices, we’ll bring new and better methods of treatment to the world.

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