Medicine: East and West

I believe that there is a place for every type of medicine and that each has its strengths and weaknesses. I am also a huge proponent of combining different types of therapies, not just in my practice, but in general. In my experience, all healing therapies positively complement and enhance the effects of each other, and the more people you have on your health care team the better. Still, there are some important fundamental differences among the various schools of medicine. When it comes to what I practice, eastern medicine, and the predominant medical system of our culture, western medicine, I find that they differ in four key ways: theory, diagnosis, treatment, and how they are practiced. These observations come out of my experience as both a patient of western medicine and a practitioner of eastern medicine. I go to see a medical doctor myself, as do the vast majority of my patients.


Medicine: East and West


Western medicine takes a very mechanical view of how the body works. From replacing joints like you would replace a part in a car, to removing diseased organs as if they were optional, to the chemical reactions that are the focus of the pharmaceutical approach, the doctor is more like a mechanic. In eastern medicine, however, the body is a living, unified whole and every part is just as essential for optimal functioning as any other. In this system, the body is more like a garden that the doctor tends, caring for the patient by nourishing and supporting them to promote and facilitate the natural healing process. Please click here for more information about the theoretical differences between eastern and western medicine.


In western medicine, doctors rely heavily on imaging and quantitative measures like testing to make a diagnosis. This is often done via the process of elimination, an inexact way of defining what a condition is by determining what it is not. Unfortunately, just because you know what something isn’t, doesn’t necessarily mean that you have correctly identified what it is. In eastern medicine, diagnosis is made by pattern recognition. This is done by looking at all the symptoms in every organ system at once, seeking to identify the common underlying imbalance. Eastern medicine has an extensive system for diagnosing disease, even when it is in its early, vague stages when medical testing has been inconclusive. Every symptom, no matter how small, has a meaning. My diagnosis text is over 1,000 pages long! Please click here for more information about the diagnostic differences between Eastern and Western medicine.


Western medicine often takes a symptom-management approach to disease and doesn't really offer treatments that can replenish substances and energy reserves or restore and normalize the functioning of the internal organs. While relieving symptoms is an important treatment principle, in the long run, if this is all that is done, the underlying imbalance that caused the symptoms will continue to progress beneath the surface. This is why people sometimes need to increase the dosage of their prescription medication or add an additional medication. In eastern medicine, it is just as important to treat the underlying imbalance as it is to provide the patient with symptomatic relief. In fact, there is an entire category of herbs and acupuncture points that tonify, replenishing and restoring to both resolve disease and prevent its reoccurrence. Please click here for more information about the differences in treatment between Eastern and Western medicine.


Eastern and western medicine differ not only in their theoretical understanding of how the body works and how they diagnose and treat disease, they also differ in how they are typically practiced. As it is, I see fewer patients in a week than most physicians see in a day. Unfortunately, for physicians, the combination of high student loans, high malpractice insurance fees, high office overhead, and low insurance reimbursement rates leaves little room for any but a high-volume practice. For me, working in an unhurried manner and spending ample time with each individual allows for a deeper understanding of their case and superior care. I think the high-volume, high-pressure model of Western medicine not only lowers the quality of care, but it also makes it more probable that things can be missed and mistakes can be made. Please click here for more information about the differences in practice between Eastern and Western medicine.
"I have been seeing Dr. Hyton regularly for years, both for physical treatments and spiritual balancing. My holistic button is always reset when I leave." ~Gary Anderson
West Asheville Acupuncture
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