Approaches to Medicine in the East and the West

Traditional Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture are no longer confined to Asia but are now thriving parts of the international health care scene. The rapid spread of Eastern medicine has meant that many people in the West have interesting views of what it entails.

Many people believe that acupuncture only works if you believe in it, implying that the cure happened by accident or via the placebo effect. On the other hand, we also see patients who are completely against Western science and medicine and will only seek out alternative treatments in almost a pseudo science religious way. Maybe these patients had an unfavorable or life threatening experience with Western medicine, or maybe they were “lost” in the system and did not feel that their issues were adequately addressed.

Either way both of these modes of thinking can be roadblocks in understanding how Eastern and Western medicine can work together to resolve a patient’s issues.

In actuality, Traditional Chinese Medicine has been around for well over two millennia and is the result of critical thinking and testing of observations made in the natural world and in the clinical setting. Furthermore, Eastern medicine is embedded in the logic, philosophy, habits, and civilization that are very different from our own and so has its own perceptions on illness and health.

As a result, Chinese medicine views certain aspects of the body in different ways than Western medicine. For example, Chinese medicine does not have a concept for the endocrine system as Western medicine does, but is able to treat endocrine disorders such as hypothyroidism. Moreover, there is no diagnosis in Chinese medicine for Streptococcus pneumonia, but there are many treatments discovered before antibiotics that might work just as well for the patient.

A more accurate description for Western medicine is biomedicine and its main concern is to isolate diseases and disease categories in order to control, change or destroy the disease. A Western doctor will often begin with symptoms and from there determine a mechanism for the underlying cause of the disease. Cause and effect are a huge way of thinking about disease in Western medicine. Furthermore, the scientific method is used where a hypothesis is synthesized from observation then tested in a research plan where measurements are made and recorded.

Its important to note that the scientific method has also been effectively used in making discoveries in Chinese medicine, but Chinese medicine might also be seen as an accumulation of thousands of years of observation and experience. Through this lens the Chinese doctor will look at the whole physiological system of the individual. All symptoms are woven together, like a web, into a pattern of disease or a “pattern of disharmony.” Health in the Eastern frame of mind is seen as a balanced state, while disease is seen as an unbalanced state. Cause and effect is not as important in Chinese medicine as actually understanding what the relationship between symptoms is with the whole person and his or her life. No single part of a person or his or her illness can be understood without understanding the relationship to the whole.

Although both ways of doing medicine can be very different in their approach, it is important to realize that the relationship is not mutually exclusive. One can successfully use both Eastern and Western methods to treating disease. For example, when faced with cancer, as many of our patients are, one could go with the Western approach of chemotherapy and radiation, yet, use the palliative affects of acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine to improve the quality of life and combat nausea and vomiting. As a result, the chemotherapy and radiation might be made more effective because the patient now has an appetite, and with an appetite can eat healthy foods that might make him or her stronger in order to fight the disease.


  • Kaptchuk, Ted J (2014-12- 21). The Web That Has No Weaver: Understanding Chinese Medicine. BookBaby. Kindle Edition.
  • Tsuei, J. J. (1978). Eastern and Western Approaches to Medicine. Western Journal of Medicine, 128(6), 551–557.

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