Integrating Eastern Practices Into Western Medicine

Integrating Eastern Practices Into Western Medicine

Western physicians have for decades largely been aware of the usefulness of some ancient Chinese remedies, but there are few American doctors who look to the East as a potential source of information, let alone for specific herbal formulas.

Among physicians’ barriers for adopting a more Eastern and holistic whole-body approach is due to the West’s desire to concentrate so completely in areas of specialized medicine, such as oncology for example. Another is the risk of side effects from herbal remedies with chemical-based pharmaceuticals and other potential dangers of using both forms of medicine simultaneously. Even with these current obstacles, the desire to formally integrate both Western and Eastern medical practices is on the horizon.

Ancient Herbs as Modern Treatments 

One reason for this desire is the multitude of recent studies touting the usefulness and efficacy of Chinese herbs and treatments. In 2006, study results published in the medical journal Diabetes showed promising results when administering berberine, a type of Chinese plant root and bark, to Type II diabetics for the purposes of lowering blood sugar by activating a certain enzyme.

In 2010, Science Translational Medicine published study results that showed that a specific combination of Chinese herbs known as Huang Qin Tang (a combination of peonies, skullcap, licorice, and fruit from the buckthorn tree) helped lessen the side effects of chemotherapy by reducing inflammation in the gut.

More recently, in 2014, the Chinese herb corydalis, another member of the poppy family of plants, was found to be excellent for fighting low-level chronic pain that for years has been treated in the West only with highly addictive pain medications. Not only is corydalis non-habit forming but it doesn’t lose its potency or effectiveness over time, unlike traditional synthetic opiates.

And just this month the American Journal of Physiology — Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology reports that an extract from the Chinese herb, thunder god vine or Tirpterygium wilforii, may help kill off deadly pancreatic cancer cells. That is among the most promising news since the five-year survival rate for pancreatic cancer patients is still devastatingly low. Even with the West’s aggressive research into how to fight various cancers, pancreatic cancer remains the most deadly and least responsive to current treatments.

Tai Chi

Yet another recent study, this one published in 2014 in the journal Cell Transplantation, confirmed that the Chinese practice of Tai Chi helps benefit those with moderate Parkinson’s disease and/or fibromyalgia not to mention its usefulness for reducing pain, improving balance, lowering blood pressure, and reducing stress. The same study also examined whether or not regularly practicing Tai Chi can literally slow the aging process by increasing the body’s blood stem cell production and blood flow. While more research is needed, initial results seem promising.

Addressing Language Barriers

Why then are so few American physicians looking to the East for potential life-saving remedies? Among the reasons may be the lack of quantified scientific literature on the subject as well as very little concentration on ancient Chinese remedies in Western medical schools.

To address this need, several American and British publishers have recently published both a comprehensive database of traditional Chinese medicine as well as a Chinese medical textbook series.

The database, called ‘Chem-TCM’, features information on more than 12,000 chemicals found in the plants used in Chinese medicine in relationship to their specific uses, preparations, applications, and potential interactions with Western medications, and more.

The textbook series, published by Springer Asia, is set to become the most authoritative text to date to bridge the East-West medical treatment gap. That series is co-authored by 14 distinguished scholars from Hong Kong, Mainland China, and the United States. It features diagnostic and treatment information as well as the principles and practices of Chinese medicine, including facts about acupuncture meridians, acupoints, and moxibustion (the act of applying heat to acupuncture needles for therapeutic purposes).