Treatment: East and West

 

Treat the Superficial Symptoms vs. Treat the Underlying Imbalance

Western medicine often takes a symptom-management approach to disease and doesn't really offer treatments that can tonify, replenishing substances and energy reserves or restoring 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 gave rise to 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 cause as it is to provide the patient with symptomatic relief. In fact, there is an entire category of herbs and acupuncture points that tonify, to both resolve disease and prevent its recurrence.
 

Invasive and High-Risk Therapies vs. Non-invasive and Low-Risk

One of the main hands-on treatments of Western medicine is surgery, an invasive and risky undertaking, as much because of the anesthesia as the tissue damage caused by the surgical tools. In contrast, the hands-on treatments of Eastern medicine include therapies like acupuncture, cupping, and tui na, which are much less invasive and come with very little risk of side effects. Another such comparison can be made between pharmaceutical drugs and Chinese herbal formulas. With the former, side effects are so common as to be expected. Because most of these synthetic substances are processed through the internal organs, this may include the possibility of damage to the liver and kidneys. Chinese herbal formulas, on the other hand, are designed so that the different ingredients modify the negative effects of each other and enhance the positive, making side effects rare. Before formulation, most single herbs are processed individually as well in ways that enhance the positive and neutralize the negative. This includes aging, fermenting, roasting, steaming, and stir-frying with wine, vinegar, salt, clay, or honey. On top of that, formulas are usually taken as a decoction, where the ingredients are simmered together in water that is reduced in volume over time. This process not only helps extract the medicine, it also moderates and harmonizes the formula. I generally prescribe tea pills, which are made by concentrating decoctions into a paste that is then rolled into pills.
 

Pharmaceutical vs. Herbs

Excels at Treating Acute Conditions vs. Excels at Treating Chronic Conditions

Western medicine excels at treating acute conditions like heart attacks, strokes, and tissue trauma like gunshot wounds and broken bones. Emergency medicine is, without a doubt, the forte of Western medicine. It can also keep people with very advanced medical conditions alive when other treatments may not. On the other hand, with its focus on correcting underlying imbalances, Eastern medicine excels at treating chronic conditions. It offers many a way to go beyond symptom management to the resolution of disease.
 

Treat Single Symptoms vs. Patterns of Imbalance

In Western medicine, many physicians specialize in only one system or surgical technique, while general practitioners tend to focus their treatments and therapies on their patient's chief symptoms. This can lead to a patient having multiple providers with conflicting treatment plans, contraindicated prescription medications, and no one who understands the big picture. In Eastern medicine, the default is to treat the person as a whole, tailoring therapies to simultaneously address symptoms in multiple systems at once by targeting their common underlying pattern of imbalance.
 

Focus on the Pathogen vs. Focus on the Individual’s Health and Healing Capacity

In Western medicine, disease is often thought of as an entity in and of itself, separate from the individual, as something to be fought or eliminated. It is rare for a treatment to consider what it is about an individual that has made them vulnerable or predisposed to a certain disease in particular. In Eastern medicine, though, there is an understanding that we are all born with certain weaknesses and strengths. This is the good and the bad that we inherit from our parents that influences our overall health. In short, our weaknesses predispose us to certain conditions, while our strengths protect us from others. Accounting for this is important in both the treatment and prevention of disease.
 

Antagonistic Approach vs. One that Facilitates Healing

In Western medicine, the main idea is to fight disease. With so many classes of drugs, this is done in an antagonistic way: antibiotics, antivirals, antifungals, anti-inflammatories, antidiarrheals, antihypertensives, antipsychotics, antidepressants, anticonvulsants, antifungals, antipsychotics, antianxiety, antihistamines, and so on. Most of these work by either killing a pathogen or blocking or overriding a chemical pathway in the body. Eastern medicine takes a much gentler approach: to facilitate the patient’s natural healing process. While sometimes the treatment principle is to eliminate a pathogen, just as often the main goal is to replenish substances and energy reserves or restore and normalize internal organ function.
 

Focus on Treatment vs. Focus on Prevention

The simple truth is that most common chronic medical conditions are easier to prevent than they are to treat. Though pharmaceuticals are theoretically intended to be taken only temporarily while dietary and lifestyle changes are made, in their true application, Western medicine relies heavily on them to indefinitely manage the symptoms of disease. Eastern medicine, however, puts great emphasis on wellness and prevention, offering treatments that can neutralize disease in its earliest stages and prevent long-term illness.
 
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