Chinese Medicine vs Western Medicine

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Differences between Traditional Chinese medicine and Modern Western Medicine

This is comprehensive review of the differences between Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Modern Western Medicine (MWM). This review should help you understand TCM better and make informed decisions when it comes to medical care. In my opinion, Western medicine is the best option for quick and temporary solutions such as injuries, acute infection or surgical and dental treatments, while TCM should be first considered for other medical conditions due to its non-invasive nature and less harmful effects on the body. TCM focuses on self-healing treatments that are more beneficial in the long term.


First thing first, what is the TCM and what is MWM?

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is a holistic approach that uses herbs,   acupuncture, massage, and other natural remedies to restore balance and promote health. It views illness as an imbalance in the body’s energy (QI) and emphasizes lifestyle changes to prevent disease. By addressing the root cause of the disease, preventing its onset, minimizing side effects, and reducing the risk of recurrence, TCM can help the patient to restore and maintain their health and wellbeing.  TCM is a medicine all about health.


Modern Western Medicine (MWM) has become the dominant medical practice, with the discovery of penicillin playing a key role in treating infections and diseases. MWM focuses on treating the disease itself. In addition to surgery, single molecular pharmaceutical drugs are commonly used in MWM.  MWM is a medicine all about diseases.


What is theory behind of these two medicines?

It is well established that TCM is a multi-disciplinary “advanced” science with its own unique theory, emphasizing the balance of UNIVERSE (天), EARTH (地) and HUMAN (人). Its core principles are based on the Ying-Yang, Meridians and the Five Elements, which remain mysterious and modern techniques have yet to be able to explain their mechanisms due to the current technology not having reached the level of analysis needed. Despite this, TCM has proven to be highly successful in treating numerous diseases in the clinic, such as headaches, hypertension, chronic cough, arthritis, and other chronic illnesses, which cannot be cured with conventional western medicine. TCM is also a science of physics that deals with temperature, humidity, pressure, velocity, power and time. It makes use of thousands of years of knowledge of the beneficial properties of herbs, some of which are already commonly included in our diets, in order to support and enhance the body’s natural healing abilities.

On the other hand, Western medicine is mostly about chemistry.  Western medicine follows the scientific method and uses anatomy, physiology, and pathology to diagnose, explain, and treat medical conditions. Treatment of medical conditions is typically done with pharmacological, surgical, and radiological treatments.  Western medicine also emphasizes preventive measures, such as vaccinations and regular check-ups, to reduce the risk of illness and injury.  Technology-driven diagnosis and surgery have revolutionized the practice of Western medicine at an unprecedented rate.


Treatment differences

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) pays more attention to the body’s own biological signals, the patient’s actual feelings and symptoms, rather than simply the names of diseases. TCM tailors medicines/formulations to individual patients according to the progression of their disease, meaning that the herbal formulation is not fixed but it is always adjusted throughout the course of treatment. Moreover, in the TCM system, one medicine/formula can treat multiple diseases, and one disease can be treated with multiple medicines/formulas, combining population-based and individualized precision medicine to target the true root cause of the disease. A good TCM doctor (practitioner) may cause the disease to worsen at the beginning of treatment (known as the Ming-Xuan reaction), allowing for the hidden issues to come to light so that the true cause of the disease can be identified and treated. The effectiveness of the cure is judged by whether the root cause is eliminated or not.


MWM treat the patient according to the name of diseases.

When Western medicine cannot fix a disease, it often opts to surgically remove the diseased organ, or administer a harmful dose of chemotherapy drugs or radiation. Sometimes, healthy organs with little inflammation are also removed, as they are thought to be useless (such as the duodenum or tonsils), only to be later discovered to be essential for our health.  Precision medicine is becoming increasingly important among WMW, which is targeting single gene/protein.  However the changes of biomarker in different disease stages and shared nature in certain diseases has not been addressed yet.

The effectiveness of the cure is judged by when the behavior or appearance symptoms disappeared, regardless the root cause is eliminated or not. 


Negative side effects

TCM employs a principle called “Jun-Chen-Zuo-Shi” to treat diseases. Jun (king of formulation) refers to the key element of herb that directly addresses the pathological factor related to a disease. Chen is a component/s that can help enhance the king herbs’ function for curing the diseases. Zuo is the corrector or addresser of adverse effects (limiting factor), which can prevent adverse effects that are related to the denominator or enhancer in order to limit abnormal responses. Shi is the messenger herb/s that can bring the function of the denominator to the target site. TCM considers in advance the possible side effects that the main ingredient/s might cause, and TCM doctors always add other components to compensate those effects while potentially increasing the efficacy of treatment (synergy or additive effect).

In contrast, drugs used in Western medicine (MWM) target a specific gene or molecule and often have unwanted negative side effects. MWM rarely uses three drug combination, and the side effects of MWM are difficult to avoid and are inherited from the system. No measurements can prevent them, but side effects are clearly mentioned in the drug labeling. Thus, TCM provides a holistic approach to treatment with fewer side effects.


Diagnosis and prognosis

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) relies on the signs and symptoms of a patient to make diagnosis and prognosis without the use of complicated or harmful instruments, such as observation, smell, questioning, pulse taking, and reflexology. TCM uses the Six Meridians for differential diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis, and all the methods used are non-invasive. These diagnosis/prognosis and treatment methods are also combined with the differentiation of Ying-Yang, Inside-Outside, Hot-Cold; and empty and filled status of the body’s organs. In contrast, Western Medicine (WM) heavily relies on instruments to make diagnosis and prognosis, and sometimes invasive biopsies are required. Without the use of instruments, a well-trained doctor is unable to make judgments for the patients. Even with many technologies involved, the diagnosis is still limited to answer all the questions. Almost all the diagnosis methods available can only detect the tangible problems (such as physical change in organs, or proteins/DNAs), but not the non-tangible problems (such as energy distribution in organs, or cells).


Characteristics of drugs used

TCM uses all-natural herbs for healing purposes.  The herb selections are based on the physical characteristics only such as smell, taste, floating up/sink down, and colors.  TCM methods don’t induce drug resistance and tolerance.   Drug resistance/tolerance is a major issue for modern medicine, such as antibiotic resistance that leads to the eventual failure of drugs.


Cost of treatments

TCM is cost effective since it uses natural herbs, some you can find in your kitchen. 

This situation will not last forever as more and more people have suffered enough side effects with chemical drugs and now are looking for alternative natural way to treat their diseases. Rarely TCM asks patients to take medicine forever.  People usually have a false impression that TCM treatments take a long time to get into effective.  However, the good TCM practitioners can cure the acute diseases pretty fast. Because the doctors go after the root causes, it takes TCM doctors time to cure the chronic diseases.

In MWM, It takes over 18 years to develop a drug, resulting in high costs for the patient; even with health insurance, the financial burden can be significant. Patients may need to use medication for long-term or even lifelong use, such as bone density drugs or cholesterol-lowering medications. Once patients start using these drugs, they are often stuck using them for the rest of their lives. Western medicine often gives patients fast relieve for their symptoms while not eliminates the true root causes of diseases.


In a nutshell, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is a healthcare system that emphasizes prevention and holistic healing, and is based on natural principles. On the other hand, Modern Western Medicine (MWM) is primarily focused on treating symptoms of diseases, and is based on chemical principles.

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