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Millwoods Acupuncture Center
102, 2603 Hewes Way
Edmonton AB,   Canada

Phone: (780) 466-8683


Traditional Chinese Medicine versus the conventional medicine


What is the difference between the Traditional Chinese Medicine and the conventional medicine?

 You may notice that there are lots of differences between the TCM and the conventional medicine, in terms of diagnosis and treatment. Actually, there are differences in their understanding the body structure and function, the relationship between the human being and the environment too. Such a differences actually reflect two completely different philosophy that guide the both medical systems, the Traditional Chinese philosophy and the current scientific philosophy.

 (1). Traditional Chinese Medicine studies the human being within the nature. It believes that human being is the product of, the ingredient of, the whole universe. The body function, emotion, and spiritual development is affected by the sun, the earth, and every fact on the earth, such as the temperature, wind, radiation, the environment of living and so on.

 Old Chinese summarize their understanding of the universe as Yin and Yang. The movement and interaction between the Five Elements (Wood, Fire, Soil, Metal and Water) or the Weight Gua system and Sixty-four Gua system. They feel that this philosophy can well explain and predict the dynamic movement of things, and the development circle of things on the earth. They hold the same view on the structure of human body and its function, in normal or disorder conditions. 

 On the other side, the conventional medicine, as a result of current science, looks human body as a machine. In the eyes of the medical staff, the emotion and the spirit of the body is not important. The staff can find wrong things in the body and solve it just as we find a wrong thing in a car and fix it as fix a car. They look the human body as individual in the nature. It seems that the human is something isolated from the nature, not a part in the nature. So, if there is too much bacteria growing in our body, we can kill them. If there are some parts of the body that cannot work properly? We will remove it and replace it with a new one. It seems that the body has no self-healing function. Any problem in the body needs outside invasion to solve it.  

  (2). Traditional Chinese Medicine understands the body structure and function according to the relationship between and among the organs. The whole body functions are summarized into five systems, e.g. the Heart system, Lung system, Liver system, Spleen system and the kidney system. Any other structure and functions can all be included into one or more of these systems. For example, eye belongs to the Liver system, and the muscle belongs to the Spleen system. Therefore, disorders in the eyes are considered as the disorders in the Liver system, in a broad concept and the muscle pain or paralysis is considered the disorder in the Spleen system. See, it is a summarizing, comprehensive medical system. It is trying to link things together according to their common characteristics.

 Someone may say that this is the weakness of the TCM system, that it should also look the body in detail as the conventional medicine does. But, in practice, it appears that we do not need to know so detail about the body. Just as we look at a paining. We should keep a distance to see the painting. The painting looks as a painting. When we walk so close to it, touch our nose on it, the painting no longer looks as painting. It looks nothing!

 In the conventional medicine, the disease means something structurally wrong in the parts of the body. The damage of the parts can be verified by lab tests, or physical detections. If nothing can be found chemically or physically, it feels hard to start any treatment, or denies the presence of any disease, or simply contribute it to a psychological problem or neurasthenia, no matter how hard the patient may feel.

 For example, a person may feel bloating or pain in stomach, dry mouth, little nausea or constipation, a kind of diarrhea, or poor sleep. His tongue may show little yellow in color, and pulse feels some kind as a string. He visits his family doctor and the doctor may find nothing wrong in his stomach, liver, spleen, kidney, heart or lung, or in any other organs after series of tests. But in Chinese Medicine, it can be diagnosed as Live Qi stagnation and dishummany between the liver and the spleen. A kind of herb formula works very well for such condition. For conventional medicine, what can we use for him? To give him some drugs for bloating, for pain, for diarrhea, for sleeping, or just tell him that he has nothing need to take?

  (3). Traditional Chinese Medicine is developed in the clinic. It is therefore called a clinic evidenced medicine. It is the summary of the clinic experience of many famous doctors in the history. These doctors claimed that their idea was originated from the Chinese philosophy. It works, as we always say so, though the concept is not so easy to understand by those who is not doctor, or by those who are familiar only with the current scientific terms.

The principle of the TCM has been well established 2000 years ago in the book “Huang Di Nei Jing”. There are no major developments in the principle so far. What the development is the practical remedies following the principle, rather than throw out the previous principles. The TCM doctor needs his whole life to understand information in this book and become a master of the Traditional Chinese Medicine. In this way, it is said that not everything that happened thousands of year ago is old and behind. In another words, no everything developed now a days is better or advanced than a previous one. See, we still do not know at all how old people build the Pyramid in Egypt and how old man could create a sword thousands of years ago in china, that shows no any rust when it was find thousands of years later. I personally believe that the knowledge in the TCM bible may not come from our current generation of human being, but previous!

Conventional medicine developed along with the progress of current science, which is still in a development and still under the way to understand the truth of the nature. Science just means that it has not reach the final truth of the nature yet. So, does the conventional medicine. The conventional medicine is therefore also an immature behavior of human being to understand the nature of our body.

In conventional medicine, the medical drugs are mostly developed in guinea pigs. It therefore implies that the body structure, bio-reaction of a guinea pig is the same as millions of human being and that the emotion, weather it has or not, in a guinea pig is the same as millions of human beings too. Therefore, it is not hard to understand that if we did not observe some side effects from the guinea pig, it could happen to human being later, or it works in the small animal that live in a constant environment (reasonable amount of food, regular light-dark circle, constant temperature, etc.), but not work in human being, which live in largely variable environment in terms of living condition, financial condition, personal relationships, emotional stress, etc..

Just as the current science, what they claim the finding today may be turn off tomorrow. The doctor has to keep learning new concept from new books to update their knowledge. The text book has to be under continuous modifications to update the “new” findings again and again. How can we trust such a believing system to guide us what to do and what not to do?

Some in the conventional medicine may claim that the therapies used by them have been under the tests by large-scale, double-blinded experiments. Dare they say that most of the surgical operation procedures have been under such large-scale, double-blinded experiments before used in clinic? Is there any organ transplantation surgery under such tests before used to patients?

(4). Traditional Chinese Medicine believes and emphasizes the flexibility of the patient condition which changes from time to time or affected by the treatment. So, it emphasizes the close match of the treatment to the patient condition. A TCM doctor may prescribe thousands of different herbal formula to thousands of patients. A patient may need several formula to recover during the treatments. The formula should change or be modified according to the status of the disease.

However, you may find that a doctor may use basically one formula for most of his patients with largely variable disease. For example, a doctor may use the same formula to treat thousands of patients with variable disorders from ear rings, lower back pain, frequent urination, lower sexual ability, hair loss, or night sweat. This is possible in the TCM doctor, similar to the artist, who can use one pen to paint large amount of different paintings.

Because the therapy used by TCM doctors are largely variable, so does the clinic effects. It means that you still have chance to get help to go to different TCM doctor, if you cannot get it from current doctor. According to our experience, it is much difficult to become a GOOD doctor in the Traditional Chinese Medicine.

In conventional medicine, the principle for the treatment is relatively (we mean, relatively) the same from doctor to doctor, and from one hospital to another, since they all have to follow the same “guideline” for the disease, once the diagnosis is established. Perhaps we may have some kinds of surgical treatment, such as organ transplantation, or gene therapy, in some hospital, but no in all hospitals. Or for some rare disease, we may have to go to some special hospital to have the final diagnosis that cannot be done in general hospitals. For so much similarity for the diagnosis and treatment from doctor to doctor and from hospital to hospital, you may have no more hope if your current doctor fails to help you.

(5). Traditional Chinese Medicine believes that, the large scope Infectious disease can be predicted, based on the understanding of the nature (the years circle, the weather change, etc.). In old times, doctor may prepare some related herbs for use.

In conventional medicine, large scope infectious disease is hardly to predict. It never precisely predict any rupture of infectious disease in history. What it can do is to try to find out first the reason for the disease (such as in the rupture of SARS in 2002). Then try to solve it. Without knowing the reason (bacteria, or virus, or whatever), there could have no way to go.

With development of gene study, people dream that we could predict disease in individual or in a group of people. They forget that, the presence of a “disease” gene in a body may not necessarily mean that the body will really eventually have such disease in his life. They do not want to think that, the development of a disease needs proper environment and condition to happen in the body. So many times a bacteria infection happens only when our body defence system crashed, or we become very weak due to some physical or emotional stress. The bacteria are the one that actually normally live in our body but did nothing hurt us! 

(6). Traditional Chinese Medicine does not need to create new herbs for the treatment of new diseases.

There are thousands of kinds of herbs being used in the Traditional Chinese Medicine. Thought there are new kinds of diseases coming from time to time in the history, the increase in the number of the new herbs is largely relatively limited. This is true for single herbs and for herbal formula. They are used thousands of years ago and are still used today. This is similar to Chinese dishes: largely variable dishes can be cooked with limited kinds of raw cooking material. This is also similar to the Chinese characters: new phases can be easily created by choosing the characters available, while for English, we have to create completely new words to match the development of new concepts in science: e.g. computer, antibiotics, robots, genes, DNA… the words that does not exist even hundreds of years ago!

Due to the fast turnover rate of the drugs in the conventional medicine, more and more new drugs have to be developed. It is now harder and harder to predict how long a drug can be available in the market. So many times scientists were so happy to declare it was revolutionary in the treatment of some diseases (say, the treatment of bacteria with antibiotics) with their new drugs. Later, it is also the scientists who told us that we should not take it, for the reasons that it causes lots of side effects, or the bacteria or virus, or whatever the target of the drug, developed resistance to the drugs. The development of new drugs is a continuous process in the lab of pharmaceutical companies. This means that they still do not find the BEST solutions to the current diseases, not to speak of the solutions to future new diseases!

(7). Traditional Chinese Medicine is simple in terms of the use of equipments and cheaper in costs. The doctor uses the herbs, or acupuncture needles, his hands, or even just the diet (the diet therapy). For diagnosis, he mostly depends on the patient illness history, patient complain, information obtained by looking at the tongue and feeling of the pulse. None costs lots of money and the results of the diagnosis are right away available.

For the conventional medicine, a diagnosis depends more and more on the lab chemical tests, bacterial culture, gene detection, and the physical exams, such as X-ray, Ultrasound, CT, MRI, and others. The results are mostly not available right away after the exam and the costs are more and more with the increased number of the tests and the repeated tests, not to speak of the damage cause by some tests, such as X-ray and CT.

Once come into the treatments, the conventional medicine uses either chemical drugs, which have been developed after spending millions of the dollars before the drug comes into the market, or surgical modality, which needs complex equipments and sterilized environment. If it comes to the use of organ transplantation or gene therapy, the costs becomes rocket rising without any guarantee on the results. Nearly all of the treatment processes need the participation of more staffs in the medicine (Lab technicians, surgical assistants, etc.).