A Comparison of Western vs. Integrative Approaches

Western medicine’s primary emphasis adheres to a paradigm of health from a reductionists viewpoint. It analyzes and describes in terms of distinct, isolated components (e.g., low testosterone, high cholesterol, thyroid disease, heart disease). In contrast, Chinese medicine approaches health through a functional system understanding. Chinese medicine considers the importance of separate body systems and evaluates symptoms which correspond to an overall patterns of imbalance within and between these systems. Treatment approaches emphasize balanced interactions for restoration of health.

While western medicine continue to prove superior for emergency type intervention, it creates life long users of medication for chronic disease. While we should not underestimate the necessity of western medicine, even in chronic disease state management, many people are unable, refuse to, or have no desire to make the necessary changes required to pursue health from a natural perspective. American health has continued to deteriorate. A study from Princeton University issued in December of 2015 explains the main culprits of this deterioration. Americans, including Millennials, are dying faster, as a mortality study from 2016 reveals. Look around and the quality of life is diminishing – Low energy, obesity, and chronic stress seem to be as accepted now as the sun rising everyday.

Where western medicine used to have “doctors” the undue influence of the pharmaceutical industry has shifted the treatment approach towards “prescribers”. Western Medicine’s version of “healthcare” is rooted in “sick-care”.  Patients are conditioned to believe lifestyle, diets, and stress management practices have little correlation with their pains and disease processes. The reason for this is western medicine’s fundamental approach and paradigm of treating and viewing the body.  A simple illustration, while western medicine overrides physiology, Chinese medicine looks to support one’s own physiology. The danger of overriding physiology can be seen in severe negative side effects which can accompany western medicine’s main intervention approaches (drugs and surgery).  No one has a deficiency in Oxycodone, Viagra, Tylenol, statins, etc. These medications are NOT meant to restore health, instead they are used to address individual conditions. Medications have an appropriate time and place for use, however, this should not be in lieu of making the necessary changes to support the body to heal.  If changes are not made, it is a downward spiral requirement of more medications to address emerging or worsening conditions.

Unfortunately, being conditioned to the western approach, many people have the same expectations when looking at Chinese medicine treatments. Specifically, there are some magical needles or herbs which will override all of the things that have led to the condition(s) they are experiencing.  Chinese medicine treatment effects are cumulative and supportive in reestablishing a homeostatic balance among body systems. In the same way an obese person wouldn’t hit the gym two or three times and conclude exercise doesn’t work, one should not expect to get acupuncture for long standing, chronic internal disease and conclude that acupuncture doesn’t work after only a few sessions. Chinese medicine’s core concept is to support the body’s physiology not to override it.

While there can be immediate results of both acupuncture and herbs one must take into account the core principles as to what is being done. The core principles of the Chinese medicine is supporting and optimizing one’s own physiology to allow the body to do what it was designed to do, self-heal. In the case of an emergency one would want western medicine as a primary intervention as savings one’s life and overriding physiology, i.e. a life saving, dramatic and instantaneous change is of utmost importance (despite possible negative side effects).

If one wants a “magic bullet” or believes just a few Chinese medicine treatments will magically transform them, than we recommend continuing with western medicine’s approach of overriding the body and forcing it to do something it currently is unable to do on its own.

Chronic disease accounts for 65-80% of the cost for healthcare but all our systems are structured around acute care management. In no other sector of the economy would you allow such a strategic mismatch between the structure of services vs. the needs and expenses.

With respect to supportive natural interventions such as Chinese medicine, and western medicine treatment, we should be clear as to differentiate where each path leads. As long as one is clear of the options and the implications of those choices they can make better informed decisions with respect to their personal health.