Why Traditional Medicine needs to change.

Ever since the creation of money as a store of value and the advent of commoditization, we have witnessed a changing scape in the way we do things. Every ‘thing’ can receive an addition of value; new products can be created; even services can be monetized.

Chinese Medicine was saved during Mao’s era when an inadequate health system required practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine to be trained and sent out to the villages. In the urbanized parts of the country, Western medicine continued to be the mainstay, the result of a gradual shift toward a more rational approach to medicine during the late Qing dynasty.

These days, traditional medicine is making a comeback. Often driven along by people who were considered hopeless by Western doctors, but who had found hope in traditional medicines, healing traditions like TCM are also seeing a revival and acceptance in the contemporary world.

What’s wrong with Western Medicine?

Nothing really. In fact, I think that the entire Western Medicine framework is beautiful. It is founded on clarity and makes sense. Anyone who undergoes an education in Western medicine, who understands its precepts, is more likely to marvel the genius of generations of minds hard at work to discover and unveil the handiwork of nature. This is one likely reason the Chinese physicians during the late Qing era felt so attracted to embrace these ideas of the West.

Yet today, we observe a change of heart in many places. I do not think this is wholely the fault of Western science. It may be human nature at work again – the inappropriate use of statistics to pass drugs through a stringent approval process, the influential lobby of the dominant medicine of the day. Or it could be the inevitable course of commoditization – where quantitive monetization of diagnostic machines – have eroded the more human aspects of healthcare. It may have been the changing pace of human life, and the resistance of modern day people to take personal responsiblity for their health.

In any case, we may blame the invisible hand of a profit-seeking system, but it would be unwise to throw away a relatively young framework of medicine that has granted wonders to modern society in a short span of only 300-odd years. It is a beautiful system of reductionism that recognizes its own inadequacies, but still is built on rock-hard foundation.

Traditionally speaking:

What I feel we should do is to continue the exploring the healing traditions of past, with the benefit of modern eyes and the tools of modern techonology. Which is what is happening today. Thousands of scientists are researching various aspects of ancient medicine. There is proof – using the language of science – that certain treatment methods work. For some, the pathways have not been clearly ascertained, but those that work, do work. In a commoditized world that is today, active ingredients are being seeked out. I can already link certain compounds in a plant to the medicinal function of the plant itself. While the the representation is slightly skewed here, we must admit that there is progress in such associations.

However, it is truly difficult of fully discover the true richness of plants and herbs this way. As Psychologist Carl Jung believed, although science attempted to understand all of nature, the experimental method used would pose artificial, conditional questions that evoke only partial answers. Robert Anton Wilson criticized science for using instruments to ask questions that produce answers only meaningful in terms of the instrument — he felt that there was no such thing as a completely objective vantage point from which to view the results of science.

We should use whatever is available to treat people. East or West. But ideology has to be considered when creating a new integrative framework of healthcare.

What is important?

It is important we ensure the safety of patients. This is why many regulatory authorities over the world decide to ban or limit the use of plants that may be potentially harmful. Herbalists often are resentful and assert that the regulators are not practitioners and do not really understand herbs. The arguments made include saying that herbs are not just their active ingredients, and that herbalists know well enough how to put together herbs such that one herb can counter the ill-effects of another herb. It is often a lone incident that sounds the alarms on one particular herb, and this too should be re-looked into, for the potential benefits derived from allowing a plant to be used may actually be many times the potential cost.

The problem

Even though one might finally come to a conclusion that all cancers can be effective cured using herbs, a regulatory authority may still be at its wits end on how to implement a system in which this can happen. This is because Chinese herbal treatments make use of a poly-pharmaceutical approach, tailored to the needs of an individual. Hence, each treatment will vary based on more than several parameters. How then can a healthcare system be tweaked to accommodate, and more importantly, APPROVE, such a free use of different plants?

Gradual Change

What is happening now is we are using the language of modern science to give credibility to an ancient framework. The framework is still useful for the practitioner, but the modern science is needed to convince a world colored by rational approach. The practitioner may also employ the recent discoveries of modern science regarding the use of herbs to put together a most effective poly-pharmaceutical treatment. But science is here to stay.