Eastern vs. Western Medicine: is one better than the other?

Plant Pill

Hmmm…well, let me start by musing that there is a HUGE difference between the two, and that it really begins in their philosophies. Both types of medical care have their time and place; let me explain why.

There is acute care, and there is chronic care. Acute care is synonymous with western medicine philosophies. (Namely, to fix what is broken immediately, and move on.) This type of care is amazing and essential within the frame of emergency situations. Say you fall and break your leg. You want acute care for that. Or, say your uncle has a heart attack. Again, acute care. You want doctors to see you immediately and fix what’s causing you immediate and extreme discomfort, or even save your life. NOW.

Acute care: Right now. Emergency. Quick, fast, essential.

The same thing that makes Western medicine great, also contributes to its downfalls: the treatment, whether acute or chronic, seems to be the same. What I mean, is that symptoms are treated, not the root of the issue. While this is fine for acute care, because acute care requires quick thinking and even quicker action, in a chronic care environment, is does not do us much good.

Chronic care is very different, and this is where Eastern medical practices come to play ball. If you are suffering from a long-standing gastrointestinal disorder, cancer, diabetes, hypertension, high blood pressure or gout, then you want to make use of the Eastern ways of doing things. Why? Because Eastern medical philosophies are aimed at treating the root of the problem, not just using “bandage” solutions to temporarily get you back on your feet.

Putting a stent into an artery to open it up and allow blood to flow back to the heart is acute care. Changing the diet and lifestyle of that heart patient to heal that person from the inside out and prevent another heart attack is to treat the root of the problem—that’s where Eastern medicine thrives.

To use another example, let’s use GI trouble, because that’s an area I know all too well. (*Sigh) Say you have Crohn’s disease, which is an auto-immune disorder characterized by the inability to absorb nutrients, because the gut is severely damaged. Symptoms include pain, chronic infection, bloody stools, urinary tract infections, insomnia, and a giant host of other awesome by-products. (That are not actually awesome at all.)

Someone trained in and practicing western medicine would probably order up some tests and refer you to a specialist, who would then tell you that you have Crohn’s disease and that you should begin Humera[1], which is a steroid designed to suppress the immune system so that you’re symptoms would subside and you could live your life more comfortably. Hopefully.

What does that do for you? While this drug can definitely offer the patient immediate relief, it basically puts a bandage over the problem by making it seem that your symptoms are getting better, when really you just won’t notice them as much for awhile. And when they come back in full-force? Or you experience side-effects from that medication that you aren’t enthusiastic about living with for the rest of your life? You’ll be prescribed a different medication, or perhaps your doctor will just increase the dosage of the original one.

Now, because this is a chronic problem and not an acute one (you won’t die from this condition within the next week or so), say you had the same GI issue and took it to someone practicing Eastern medicine, whose philosophy is to discover the root of the problem and treat IT, not the symptoms?

This medical professional would probably question you extensively about what you eat, if your exercise, if you’ve been travelling, and what inoculations you’ve received recently. They’d take a full list of symptoms and then decide where they believe the problem lies. For GI disorders, they would probably have you go on a strict elimination diet that makes you forgo dairy, sugar, processed food, GMOs, alcohol, coffee, etc. (There is a list of other foods that can be harmful to someone with Crohn’s, but I’m just using this disorder as an example, and can’t get into everything.) Basically anything that could be irritating your sensitive digestive tract.

From there, you would probably be put on not drugs, but probiotics, to strengthen your army of friendly bacteria that is so essential to a properly working immune system (90% of which lies in your gut), and perhaps also given specific foods to eat that are very high in nutrients, so that the intestinal tract can begin absorbing them ASAP. You might be given some natural supplements to try, such as oil of oregano, which is an antibacterial, antifungal, antiparasitic herb. You would be tested for intestinal parasites, among other things that may be causing your intestinal wall damage.

In other words, not covering the problem up with pharmaceutical meds, but rather treat the actual gut for what it may be lacking, and removing what might be clogging or harming it. Isn’t treating the root of the problem a good idea for chronic illness? Something is causing you unpleasant symptoms. Don’t you want to fix that something, and not just pop a pain killer?

There are more specific types of medicine that fall under the Eastern medicine category. The following definitions were taken from HERE[2]:

Biological Medicine:

-Prescribes non-prescription, pharmaceutical-grade herbal/homeopathic medications

-Personalized assessment of vitamin/mineral supplements

Functional Medicine:

-Investigation and treatment of symptoms such as fatigue, digestive dysfunctions, immune dysfunctions, hormonal dysfunctions, multi-system disorders, etc.

Environmental Medicine:

-Inhalant/pollen/mold allergies

Food intolerances

-Chemical sensitivities

-Other environmental sensitivities

So, I guess what I’m trying to say is that there are two very different ways to treat something that is going awry in your body. First, determine whether or not it’s acute or chronic. This should be relatively easy:


1-      Did it happen suddenly?

2-      Do you need immediate intervention?

3-      Is this an emergency room situation?

If you can answer yes, then it’s acute. Western medical practices will probably be your best bet.


1-      Have you experienced this problem before?

2-      Is this an ongoing issue?

3-      Are you confused as to why you have the symptoms that you do?

4-      Can you wait for an appointment to be treated?

If you can answer yes to these, then your problem is chronic. Eastern medical practices can probably help you better than a more acute approach.

Is one type of care better than the other? No—they both just have their special situations in which they thrive. The key is to match your ailment to the care that will best suit it. Decide if your issue is acute or chronic, and proceed from there.

Happy (Meatless) Monday!

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