COLORADO SERENITY - JULY 2005 Differences: Western Medicine and Oriental



Tracy Saraduke, RN, M.Ac. L.Ac.

3082 Evergreen Parkway, Suite 2

Evergreen, CO 80439

(303) 670-9181

East Meets West - What's the Difference?

Acupuncture has been around since before the time of Christ, predating western medicine by thousands of years.  Now, it is being taught in medical schools in the United States and Europe.  Yet acupuncture is still greeted with suspicion in some circles and relegated to the field of quackery in others.  Regardless of many people’s doubts, acupuncture is wonderfully effective for a great number of people who try it.  In fact, some find “Eastern” treatments succeed where “Western” medicine has failed them.

Depending on your cultural bias you may see acupuncture as a sound medical practice or a mysterious oriental ritual.  You may believe that western medicine is based on firm scientific processes and oriental medical practices are not.  Yet, this belief is not completely true.

The scientific method—a process of observation and experimentation used to prove or disprove a theory—was developed in Europe in the 19th Century.  However, thousands of years earlier, the Chinese were already using the same process to develop their practice of acupuncture.  A study of the ancient classic acupuncture texts indicates that these people were very curious and systematic in their observations of nature and themselves.  Methods were devised over years of trial and error and finally written down (some time around 270 B.C.) to pass on this information.

In the early 20th Century, a group of Japanese acupuncturists used clinical trials based on the classical texts to develop the theory and practice now known as meridian therapy.  Today’s Meridian therapy practice groups continue this tradition by devising study topics and research projects, improving their practice so treatments will be more effective. 

So the difference between the medicine of the West and the East is not the application of the scientific method, but how we view and describe illness itself.

Historically, western medicine tends to try to reduce things down to their smallest component.  In diagnosing a condition, a doctor might determine what organism has invaded the body or what body part has failed.  In Asian medicine, instead of attempting to reduce everything down to its smallest entity, we look at all of the indicators, symptoms, etc., to determine the person’s pattern of imbalance.

A favorite quote of mine is by Sir William Osler:  “Don’t tell me what type of disease the patient has, tell me what type of patient has the disease.”  In Acupuncture it is better to tailor the treatment to fit the individual, than to tailor the treatment to fit the symptom.  I recently had three separate patients who all had the main complaint of a runny nose.  After diagnosis, I selected a different treatment for each of the three people.

How acupuncture works is obviously a huge subject.  Here is a brief explanation: Channels of energy called meridians run through the body and over its surface.  Obstructed movement causes energy to build up in some areas of the body, while depriving other areas.  Placing needles on certain sites unblocks these obstructions.  From a modern medical standpoint, acupuncture seems to stimulate the nervous system, releasing chemicals in the muscles, spinal cord, and the brain, prompting the body to heal itself.  Western researchers have measured a difference in skin electrical resistance when stimulating an acupuncture point compared to stimulating non-acupuncture points.  In the West, being measurable is proof.  In the East, the proof is the results.