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Chinese medicine is on the rise as a form of alternative treatment. And although modern Western medicine cannot properly explain how it works, Chinese medical techniques such as acupuncture have been recognized as effective ways to cure certain illnesses.

Western & Chinese Medicine

But Chinese medicine is more than just a branch of alternative medicine. It is a complete, extensive system of medicine with a history that goes backan estimated 5,000 to 7,000 years.

Here are some essential points of difference to know between Chinese and Western medicine.

Human Body: Just a “Body” Or Something More?

Chinese Medicine: The philosophy of Chinese medicine can be understood in the context of classical Taoism. Chinese physicians view the human body as an intricately universe, albeit a microscopic one, comprising the “five elements”—metal, wood, water, fire, earth—and governed by dichotomous yin-yang forces.

Western Medicine: Modern Western medicine understands the body as distinct parts that can be examined on their own. This approach stems from a 19th century understanding of microbes, and the “germ theory” formulatedby French chemist Louis Pasteur (1822–1895) and German “bacteriologist” (an anachronism) Robert Koch (1843-1910).

Battle Against Microbes Vs. Balancing Act

Chinese Medicine: Chinese medicine is based on ensuring a balance between the yin and yang elements in the body, and regulating the body’s vital energy, or “qi” (pronounced “chee”). Illnesses pop up when there’s a yin-yang imbalance in the body, or if the body’s internal pathways, or meridians, are blocked somewhere, thus impeding the flow of qi.

Western Medicine: Western medicine considers microbes most important. Finding microbes, isolating microbes, and preventing their spread is key in winning the fight against illnesses.

Natural Medication Vs. Synthesized Medication

Chinese Medicine: The legendary first Chinese physician Shennong identified 365 healing herbs 5,000 years ago and Chinese physicians have been adding to the list ever since. Minerals, insects, sea-animals and parts from larger animals are also used. These ingredients are mixed into liquid or pill form, and target general areas of the body to restore the yin-yang equilibrium.

Western Medicine: Western medicine also originally derives from various plants and herbs. However, today most medicines aren’t used in their natural state. Rather they are synthesized chemically in a manufacturing process. They are also largely designed to target specific symptoms and body parts, and it’s common that one medication is needed to counteract the side-effects of another, and another for those side-effects, and so on.

Two Different Approaches to Better Health

Chinese Medicine: Apart from herbs, Chinese medicine also has a number of treatment methods such as acupuncture, moxibustion (the burning of mugwort, an aromatic plant, to facilitate healing), tuina (a type of massage used to treat musculoskeletal ailments), and qigong (qi-regulating exercises that often include meditation). Be it needles, cupping techniques, and gentle exercises, these different methods all seek the same essential goal: to restore the yin-yang balance and regulate qi to treat and prevent illnesses.

Western Medicine: Other than medication and surgery, Western medicine has no other treatment methods. To try to keep your body in its best shape to prevent illness, Western medicine recommends keeping fit through exercise, eating a balanced diet, and taking daily essential vitamins. It treats symptoms, but does not have holistic underlying principles governing the body’s overall health.

Some Conclusions

Some Chinese probably explain and understand their illnesses in their traditional medical concepts, rather than Western medical principles and many Chinese consider both traditional Chinese medicine and Western medicine to have strengths and weaknesses. They choose traditional Chinese medicine or Western medicine for the specific types of illness.

In many cases, both approaches are used and when done properly does a good job in complementing each other. In China and Taiwan, universities often offer combined courses in both Chinese and Western medicine and the latter is also required courses in traditional Chinese medicine practitioner university programmes.

It is, however, important that your physician, whether of the Chinese or Western school, be aware of the treatment regimens that you are currently on so that they can take the necessary precautions to avoid contraindicating any existing treatments.


Chinese & Western Medicine Perspectives On Health
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