I have worked in surgery for 20 years. A few years ago I experienced what I thought was a calling to further my education and career in medicine. Somewhere along the way I found that quest unfulfilling. I knew I wanted to help people but started questioning the capacity in which I was supposed to do it. One day I came across an article about acupuncture and it peaked my interest. This interest turned into applying to an undergraduate program and a newfound zeal for Eastern medicine. I am currently studying Chinese medicine. This article is a very small glimpse into the world I found fascinating.
A professor of mine once said, “western medicine is excellent emergency medicine, but eastern medicine is great for chronic disease”. By definition Alternative Health is a range of medical therapies that are regarded as unorthodox by the medical profession. Such as herbalism, massage therapy, dietary changes, homeopathy, chiropractic, and acupuncture. Some people would also throw in lifestyles that involve meditation, essential oils, yoga, tai chi and at times spiritual healing. In principle, it is treating mind, body and spirit.
Western medicine is excellent emergency medicine, but eastern medicine is great for chronic disease.
So what is Eastern alternative Health Care? Alternative or integrative health is an approach to medicine that involves taking an active role in your health. Eastern medicine looks at each individual patient and treats them according to their whole body constitution and not just the symptoms they present. Licensed acupuncturist go through a rigorous program with more than 2500 hours of training, over 500 of those are in biomedical studies. There is a common misconception that very little training is needed to “insert needles” into patients. The truth is Chinese medicine has been around for over 3000 years because it works. It is in its own right a sophisticated and often misunderstood medicine. It is based on energy called Qi (pronounced chee) that flows within channels in the body. There are points in the body accessed with needles that improve the flow of this energy. If qi is flowing freely, organ systems work properly and health is maintained. However this is a very vague explanation and I’ve only scratched the surface of how acupuncture works.
So who benefits from eastern medicine? It is the person who has suffered from fibromyalgia and finally finding help in other sources besides conventional and expensive medication with harmful side effects. It is people who live with pain choosing to try something other than invasive procedures or pain medication. It is finding relief from anxiety or depression in an acupuncturist’s office. This same office helps others with common cold or allergies. There are cancer centers utilizing acupuncture alongside traditional treatments. From a patient’s perspective, acupuncture and integrative medicine is asking questions and seeking new information. It is having the option to work with both their primary doctor and a licensed integrative practitioner.
In the age of information technology more and more people are searching for different ways to take care of themselves. The high cost of medicine has only increased interest in other healing modalities. These medical practices are generally not recognized by the medical community as standard or conventional medical approaches, and integrative medicine is usually viewed as quackery. I believe you can have both. It doesn’t have be one or the other. My hope is that the medical community will stop discrediting integrative medicine and give their patients the option to make an informed decision about their health. I’ve spent 20 years of my life working in conventional western medicine. I know it can be beneficial. I have also seen alternative medicine like acupuncture or herbs work wonders on people’s illnesses that western doctors found perplexing. I have seen women that were told they couldn’t have children finally conceive after a few visits to a licensed acupuncturist. I’ve seen people with schizophrenia function without medication, or children with ADHD have no symptoms after months of acupuncture treatment. Integrative medicine is meant to accompany, not replace, standard medical practices. Done correctly, sought out carefully and diligently, intergraded healing modalities can be very beneficial. The key is to empower patients to do the research, to ask questions and to seek the advice and counsel from their regular Doctor. I’m looking forward to the future of medicine and integrating alternative healing into conventional healthcare.