Chinese Herbal Medicine Vs. Western Medicine

Chinese Herbal Medicine Vs. Western Medicine

Carlos Durana Ph.D., M.Ac. practices acupuncture in Washington D.C., Reston, Virginia, and in Bethesda, Maryland.

Those of us who have lived our entire lives in a Western nation are pretty familiar with Western medicine. Western medicine is a relatively new phenomenon that is based on the idea of hypothetical deduction. Whereas, traditional Chinese medicine and other Eastern medicine practices follow the inductive method. One of the biggest differences between the two is that western medicine clearly divides health from the disease, whereas, Eastern medicine considers health a balanced state and disease an unbalanced state.

There are various reasons why people seek out alternative or complementary treatments via Chinese medicine. In order to better understand the benefits of Chinese medicine, it helps to understand some of the differences between Chinese medicine and Western medicine.

Divergent Approaches to Patient Exams

Every time you go to see a doctor that practices Western medicine, they are going to be most interested in your vital signs—weight, height, body temperature, blood pressure, etc. Additionally, they are going to be interested in any signs of illness or disease that your body may be manifesting. In contrast, a doctor who practices Chinese medicine will examine the body as a whole. This means the practitioner isn’t just interested in your physical body, but they will also be concerned with other aspects of your life as well. This can include your relationships with family members, stress levels, and spiritual state.

Western medicine teaches doctors to treat two different patients with the same ailment with the same treatment. Chinese medicine understands that each patient is an individual, prescribing individualized treatments instead of implementing Western medicine’s “one size fits all” philosophy. Chinese medicine considers the needs of each individual and their unique body and develops a treatment plan that is in accordance with their unique needs.

Differences in Diagnostic Practices

Chinese medicine practitioners have a different view of the world and the human body. These practitioners view the world primarily in terms of two diagnostic frameworks: 1) the Eight Principles (yin or yang, exterior or interior, cold or hot, and deficiency or excess) and the Five Substances; and 2) the Five Elements.

An example of an Eight Principle classification of a problem could be a hot condition exhibiting as an exterior pattern; this may manifest as symptoms including fever, chills, sore throat, dehydration, and a rapid pulse.

The other framework, the Five Elements, is a way of describing the manifestation of qi (or chi)—life force energy. This energy is what flows within the human body. Each individual displays five aspects of this energy (wood, fire, earth, metal, and water). Each element is associated with the different seasons, colors, and organs found within the body. When any of these elements get out of balance, or the flow of qi is interrupted, health problems occur. Practitioners of Chinese medicine work to reestablish the flow of qi and return the elements to balance. Additionally, the treatments used in Chinese medicine are aimed to help facilitate the body’s own ability to heal itself.

Some of the most common methods that practitioners of Chinese medicine use to correct any imbalances and reestablish harmony within the body include:

  • Diet therapy
  • Acupuncture
  • Massage
  • Herbal Remedies
  • Chinese exercise
  • Meditation

While most Western practices rely on pharmaceutical therapies to address and rectify any health issues, Chinese medicine relies on natural substances. It is not uncommon for patients to use a combination of both Chinese and Western medicine. When this occurs, it is important to share with your doctor all the treatments and therapies that you are currently using.

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