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TRADITIONAL CHINESE MEDICINE
Here's a research paper I did in the tenth grade to learn how to write reports using the dictated MLA format for a formal paper. It is actually interesting to compare these two forms of medicine... yep yep! NOTE: Please don't take this without my permission.
Although TCM and WSM follow many of the same overall methods of diagnosis, some differences are apparent. The most basic method of diagnosis in both forms of medicine is through pulse diagnosis; however, it is practiced in distinct ways. Other more specific forms of diagnosis are contrasting in the approach towards disorders. TCM tends to focus on disease or disorders caused by an internal imbalance in the body that can be self-healed with guidance of herbs or physical therapy. Conversely, WSM concentrates on disease caused by an external source, and therefore, an external source is needed as a cure for complete recovery. The varied beliefs are usually caused by cultural differences, misunderstandings through bad translation, or sometimes the stubbornness of one side refusing to give into to other beliefs. TCM tends to have a complicated approach in comparison to WSM’s clear-cut and easily proved medical techniques; furthermore, TCM is rather slow acting and can be inconvenient for some. In truth, both forms of medicine are valid and viable. Some aspects, while not all, can also be scientifically and philosophically proven. Therefore, both methods are used and accepted in China. However, WSM is widely accepted in the world whereas TCM tends to raise controversy related to its effectiveness and whether it is accurately interpreted. This has led to western doctors to face the dilemma of whether the viability of TCM should be accepted for medical treatment. In order to thoroughly analyze the different sides of the conflict and to make a fair judgement, it is important to first gain an understanding of the background concepts behind TCM, such as Chinese culture, theories, etc. Then, using the basic knowledge gained, to decide whether the ideas behind TCM are scientific, to understand the history of TCM practices, and finally to pinpoint the advantages and disadvantages of using TCM. With this information, it is then possible to analyze what the best decision is: to accept TCM as a whole as a viable form of medical practice, to reject TCM, or to incorporate parts of TCM into WSM.
The foundation for many of the basic TCM beliefs originated from traditional Chinese concepts and beliefs. Dr. Duo Gao is a well-respected TCM practioner, and is considered by some to be one of the five best TCM practioners in the world. He has cured over thousands of patients with various diseases within the last five years in London and written a book as a guide to TCM theories, endorsed by the American Foundation of Traditional Chinese Medicine. According to Duo, TCM was first developed approximately 5000 years ago, and many of the ideas were based upon supernatural beliefs. However, as the Western society began to develop their form of medicine through laboratory techniques, the Chinese were also testing their form of medicine, by applying it as a form of medical practice (8). Throughout TCM history, doctors have kept track of the various successes and failures of the many possible tried combinations of medical treatment; thus, TCM is a combination of years of experience. The basis of all TCM theories is the importance of balance, a common Taoist belief. This is portrayed through the representation of "the five correspondences", or the five elements of wood, fire, earth, metal, and water, the opposites Yin and Yang, and Qi, the energy force (Duo 13). All organs in the body are believed to have a fairly balanced level of Yin and Yang, and neither is able to exist without the other. Although the level of the two forces changes depending on the mood of a person or environment, an overall equilibrium between the two opposites must be achieved. External forces, known as pathogens, can interrupt the balance within the body between the Yin and Yang, leading to a disease (Duo 21). Dr. George Lewith, an alumnus of Trinity College and Cambridge, has done consultancy work related to complimentary medicine, the integration of alternative medicines into WSM, for many institutes and organizations, such as the National Instititutes of Health and the World Health Organization. Lewith is also a co-director for the Center for the Study of Complimentary Medicine. He explains that there are five “Zang”, or important body organs in TCM, including the heart, lungs, kidney, liver, and spleen. These control most of the Yin and Yang. Therefore, when an imbalance occurs, these organs are believed to be weakened, sending out symptoms that the Chinese relate to the five elements. Diseases are mostly diagnosed through observation of the six different pulse patterns, taken at the wrist, which represent the important organs in the body. Cures are then applied to channels through physical therapy or herbal and natural remedies. The channels link to the vital organs present on the external parts of the body and control the Qi, or vital force, helping the body to heal. As a result, the TCM theory emphasizes on the restoration of balance and the link between the body as a whole.
One of the most frequently raised points related to the TCM controversy is whether the theories are scientific. According to Webster’s Ninth Collegiate Dictionary, science is the “understanding of basic laws, theories, and principles” or having “systemized knowledge.” Furthermore, it states that science is based upon observations, which are used to form hypotheses, and finally verified through experimentation (1051). Using this definition, it is possible to analyze which concepts of TCM are scientific. The history of TCM shows that a formal scientific method was followed; observations were made through the results of treatment for various patients, and successful treatments were repeated to further test the effectiveness (Duo 19). The idea of balance also follows logic, and some basic aspects of being healthy in WSM standards are similar in that one needs to maintain a balance of physical, mental, and social health in order to be considered 'healthy.' Recently, Western doctors have also used medical technology to prove some of the TCM theories, two of which are pulse diagnosis and acupuncture. Pulse diagnosis has been verified graphically using technological advances of the Western society, showing the differences between the types of pulses that the Chinese claim exist. In addition, acupuncture has also successfully cured many disorders, when implemented into WSM. However, Stephen Barrett, a retired psychiatrist who contributes weekly to various credible online medical newspapers, notes in his paper about the disadvantages of TCM that the scientific proof of acupuncture is neither sufficient nor well designed, but rather based on observations of the practitioner. Furthermore, many of the other TCM theories are difficult to prove scientifically. The classifications of disease through heat, cold, and wind, although have some logic behind it, are mostly theoretical and impossible to prove. It relates to how getting wet will cause one to have a cold, but the idea that the immune system is weakened from the wetness is much clearer to prove than that a pathogen has invaded the body, causing an internal force imbalance (Lewith). The fact that TCM is based on Taoism also makes it seem less scientific and more superstitious. Dr. Yu Chau Leung Edwin is a member of the Hong Kong College of Pediatricians, an Honorary Clinical Associate Professor of the University of Hong Kong, as well as the director of the Center of Western and Chinese Medical Exchange and Development. Although some people claim that it there is insufficient amount of scientific verification for the viability of TCM, Yu claims it is difficult to determine how much “scientific proof” is needed in order to convince Western doctors that TCM is effective and viable. It also should be taken into consideration that with the high scientific demands and the belief that TCM needs to be proven scientifically with Western techniques, much bias is present in both sides of the situation. Westerners tend to be very reliant on science, as reflected by the term "Western Scientific Medicine"; however, science does not provide all answers and many things are effective even though they are not completely scientific. It is also significant to note that even though more of the WSM concepts are scientifically provable, not all of them are. Lastly, the 5000 years of TCM history has also added credibility to the practice itself, as it is unreasonable to preserve a practice for so many years if it is not effective. Therefore, although TCM may not appear to be completely scientific, it should not be the reason to reject the viability of the practice itself.
The history of TCM practice and application has also raised some conflicts. TCM was first illegal in the United States until about 1975 (Duo 7). When it was finally legalized, many Chinese refused to share the knowledge with the Westerners and hid many important concepts from them. Thus, much of information was lost throughout the years (Duo 25) and the information that was passed on was slightly misinterpreted and badly translated (Lewith). Furthermore, as the complicated concept TCM needs to be intricately understood in order to be utilized effectively, many practitioners have abused their knowledge and carelessly ignored many of the important factors. Therefore, malpractice was common among the history of TCM (Lewith). In some cases, the Westerners underestimated how complicated TCM concepts can get, and have created ‘do-it-yourself’ kits for acupuncture, adding additional risk to using TCM (Barrett). On the other hand, there have also been many cases of positive contributions made to medical developments by TCM. In the 80s, TCM researched on a drug known as Qinghaosu that is now proven to be able to treat malaria and help with urinary problems. This won TCM the Albert Einstein World Science Award (“Traditional Chinese Medicine and Qigong”). Because of this, TCM development is now regulated and has been proved to successfully treat tumors, bone fractures, cancer, heart disease, and many more disorders. TCM treatments are also carefully watched in order to minimize any side effects because many of the drugs are ‘custom-made’ according to the individual’s conditions and symptoms. As mentioned before, any effective treatments are recorded for further reference since 1766 B.C. (Duo 15). In 479 B.C., observers began to verify the effectiveness of treatments and ever since, investigations have always been encouraged (Duo 19). If treatments are extremely well made, they can cure many disorders at once (Ou et al. Introduction-I). In order to establish the credibility of TCM gained from its medical contributions, the World Health Organization has created seven TCM centers, prompting the slow acceptance of TCM. Therefore, although TCM has some negative points shown throughout its history, it has developed into an interesting effective form of medicine. The past will inevitably affect the views on TCM; however, it should not affect the future of TCM itself and should be eliminated as a factor in this conflict.
People have been debating of the issue of whether TCM is the best form to use over many years. Some have argued that the many years of TCM history and experience has led to acceptance of its effectiveness (Yu). Many of the TCM theories are also “astonishingly accurate”, one being how the Chinese interpret the connection between Zang and Qi. It follows the idea of circulation; the heart (one of the Zang) is one of the dominating factors of Qi, similar to how the heart dominates blood circulation (Lewith). TCM’s positive outlook towards diseases and positive approach to medicine has also appealed to many. Instead of seeing mental diseases and a disorder, the Chinese believe that it is linked to a physical, conscious fault; thus it is curable. This sense of hope provided has allowed many to turn to TCM, and the incurable in WSM standards has suddenly developed into the curable in TCM standards (Yu). Furthermore, not only is the ‘mind over matter’ theory helping to enforce the viability of TCM but it is also allowing patients to experience the difference between the two types of medicine. Through this experience, many have discovered that although both forms of medicine are effective, TCM has less side effects and is also able to provide alternatives to surgery that is typically required in WSM (“Traditional Chinese Medicine and Qigong”). Unfortunately, some of these advantages are also closely linked to the disadvantages. Because TCM is so carefully planned to treat each individual differently in order to minimize side effects, there is a large risk that the prescribed treatment is incompatible with the patient. Everything needs to be closely monitored and any factors such as the weather or environment could suddenly transform an effective treatment to an incompatible one. This would lead to adverse effects that could possibly be even more severe than WSM’s side effects, sometimes leading to death from a typically non-fatal disease (Yu). For an example, if acupuncture is malpracticed, it could lead to fainting, punctured blood vessels, known as hematoma, nerve damage, or in some cases hepatitis B resulting from use of non-sterile needles. As a result, very few insurance companies include insurance for acupuncture treatments, as they feel that it is not sufficiently verified by modern science (Barrett). The frequent dosage changes, inconvenience of intake, slow development of the medical practice, and passive, slow curing techniques, dependent on self-healing, have also led many to avoid TCM. In the case of an emergency, TCM would not be able to cure diseases such as internal bleeding efficiently to prevent the situation from getting worse (Ou et al. Introduction-II). The early Chinese people also followed a very unsystematic method of passing on TCM knowledge. They tended to pass on the majority, but not all, of the knowledge from father to son. Therefore, if the son were not interested in the practice, important knowledge would be lost once the father died (Duo 15). Another disadvantage is how many natural remedies are made from animal products. This has led to the endangerment of many animal species, mainly tigers, bears, sea horses, turtles, cobras, musk deer, and rhinos. Moreover, if herbal alternatives are used, there is the risk that habitats are destroyed as well (“Chinese Medicine Causing Wildlife Concerns”). Nonetheless, the most apparent disadvantage to TCM is how it is perfectionistic, hard to support scientifically, and complicated to understand. Due to its long history, TCM is incredibly hard to perfect and time consuming to understand, including the most basic and important concepts such as Qi. As a result, many practitioners may not be fully qualified, even though they appear to be. This has been one of the greatest problems of TCM that humans have been unable to solve for 2000 years (Lewith). Because of this, many people are undermining the credibility of TCM as a whole theory as opposed to its practitioners. TCM has also developed into a billion-dollar industry, leading some to question whether practitioners are honestly prescribing for the sake of curing or only for money (“Chinese Medicine Causing Wildlife Concerns”). As the risk factor is not always worth the final results, in some cases it is better to use WSM. Side effects, although less common can be graver, and are unnecessary to risk if WSM is able to provide the same results. Therefore, the acceptance of TCM is unnecessary if this is taken into consideration.
Presented with the various opinions and facts, it is possible to evaluate which of the earlier suggested options is best. By fully accepting TCM as a viable form of medicine, an intricate sense of understanding would be needed to maximize the benefits of the TCM knowledge. If done so correctly, TCM would act as an effective form of medical practice that could be used to replace WSM or cure any diseases that WSM cannot cure. However, it would be difficult to fully understand the complicated concepts and thus, the risk factor that malpractice might occur is high. If TCM were completely rejected, on the other hand, some effective medical methods would be lost or wasted and some lives could not be saved. Furthermore, in cases where WSM could not cure certain diseases, the patients would be discouraged, as death would seem inevitable. Therefore, even though the risk is eliminated, there would be many disadvantages present if TCM were to be rejected. As a result, the best option is to incorporate the best of TCM into the best of WSM, or accept the viability of only some of the aspects of TCM. The provable methods, leaning towards physical therapy such as acupuncture or pulse diagnosis, should be used and implemented in to WSM. On the other hand, the rather theoretical ideas such as the principles of Yin and Yang could be rejected. Many WSM practitioners have already implemented some methods of TCM into WSM after carefully verifying the effectiveness, as in the case of acupuncture. Therefore, although they may not be willing to accept the fact, WSM already tends to ‘borrow’ the 5000 years of medical wisdom from TCM, and simplify it. However, they do not necessarily extract the important ideas of TCM. Nevertheless, by incorporating TCM into WSM, the risk factors would be minimized and the benefits would be maximized. Although, this would mean that further levels of education would be needed to master the ‘new’ form of medical practice before becoming a qualified practitioner, it would be best. As in many cases, it is most beneficial to society to incorporate the best of everything into one and minimize the amount of bias present. This would lead to the use of the most effective form of medical practice, complimentary medicine, for the future.
Barrett, Stephen. "Acupuncture, Qigong, and Chinese Medicine.” 26 Dec. 1999. 26 Feb. 2001 .
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