||[Jan. 23rd, 2007|02:54 am]
|||||The dragging of feet||]|
|||||Inuyasha theme song from the television||]|
Somebody recently posted a statement that all traditional and alternative medicines are purely bogus and there is absolutely no proof or scientific research to back up the propositions of such systems, and that most traditional systems are completely incompatible with the laws of chemistry and physics.
Speaking as someone studying medicine from a biochemical level, someone studying Western medicine towards a surgical field, and as someone studying Traditional Chinese Medicine directly, there *are* measurable effects, there *are* measurable studies that have been, and can be done repeatedly in trials and case studies. The reason it's called alternative medicine in the first place is because it's seen as an *alternative* to Western medicine. Western medicine has a very long history of using herbal systems of medicine up until about the 1930s and 40s, when allopathic medicine (direct extracts and synthesizations of pharmaceutical drugs) began dominating the health care industry (understandably, given the perception of the miraculous properties of substances like penicillin). My knowledge is mostly within the scope of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) because TCM has such a long and unbroken history of documentation. The Western traditional system of Europe was broken and fragmented by the constant warring and destruction of literary archives; the Native American system was passed down orally and was decimated by the advent of Western invaders, both bacteriologically and militarily; South American systems followed in the same footsteps or have gone largely undiscovered or unpublicized. African systems were scattered and were never united under a single system or doctrine. Hence, Chinese medicine is the easiest to speak about because the most documentation still exists.
Did you know - the conditions and symptoms of multiple sclerosis were unknown in China until the advent of industrialized processes. A lot of nasty chemicals started entering the environment in a lot greater quantities than simple cottage industries could produce. A lot of nasty conditions started arising in the population that were previously unknown. That's not to say they were untreatable, but they were new problems that took a long time to get a handle on and properly address; some conditions are still untreatable and some treatments are still less than effective. But medicine in these fields is still progressing and does not remain static by any means.
Now, do remember that it was common to use substances like mercury to treat certain diseases (notably, genital STDs), and some treatments were downright poisonous. The advantage of modern chemistry, physiology, anatomy, and kinesiology have helped understand the mechanisms of the body and have ruled out some of the more harmful treatments. Please note, these harmful treatments are the exception, not the rule, otherwise the system of medicine would have died out long ago. Modern science has only served to increase the effectiveness of using the natural world to the advantage of humans. Understanding sanitation is a wonderful means of studying disease, but that is not to say that ancient peoples did not understand some of the dynamics of healing and disease prevention. Russians have used garlic for centuries as an antibiotic - it's folk tradition to rub a raw clove of fresh garlic on a wound to kill off the bacteria that would fester in the wound. Modern chemistry reveals that garlic is chock full of antimicrobials, antivirals, and and antibacterials - it took well into the 20th century to realize that, whilst people had an understanding of the properties of the plant for thousands of years without the need for microscopes or modern germ theory. (Anthrax is another interesting example; a naturally occurring spore, as you know. Anthrax can taint individual animals and whole herds and render their meats and milks useless and poisonous to the people that consume them - with poverty levels being what they are, Africans actually developed an herbal means of cooking and preparing meat so as to render the anthrax spores harmless, a mechanism still not fully understood by Western chemistry.)
It is important to note that Chinese medicine kept the life expectancy of the average citizen between 70 and 100 years of age - roughly the same, if not better than today's health standards in America. A key difference is that by that age in life, the body isn't nearly as burned out as the modern Western body is. Alzheimer's is all but unknown. The elders in systems of traditional systems stay functional in society almost literally until the day they die. I've met elders in Kenya that were 90 years old and still hunting and skinning their own prey. The systems of traditional health are a lot more integrative, including and extending to diet, exercise, mental attitude, stress management, maintenance of a healthy lifestyle, *and* herbal systems and traditional practices. Health is a lifestyle, not something to think about only when it breaks.
Herbal systems are indeed pharmacological in nature, but there is a certain understanding of the nature of such herbs that is lacking in modern medicine. Plants contain dozens, hundreds of substances that go hand in hand with their active ingredients that serve purposes beyond simple plant growth. Modern medicine isolates useful substances from herbs and uses them in a medical manner - salicylates for example, extracted from willow bark, are used for a variety of reasons, chiefly known to the common public as aspirin. However, the salicylates isolated to concentrate the effects are incredibly harsh on the digestive lining when unbuffered - when in pure and *isolated* form. This is true of most pharmaceutical drugs - codeine, ibuprofens, and phenobarbitals are very damaging to the liver, tylenol can cause permanent damage to the kidneys, and so on. Plant systems naturally contain a variety of other substances that work synergetically with the active ingredients; chemicals that help to buffer toxicities, augment effictiveness, and increase versatility of the plant, especially when used in conjection with other plants in a formula. Isolation removes the active ingredients from their chemical context and uses them in the human body in what you might refer to as an unnatural dosage and exposure. I challenge you to find me an isolated pharmaceutical drug without side effects.
Western medicine is an absolutely wonderful means of directly attacking a problem with a direct physical link - removing cancerous growths, working with bipolar disorders, killing off viral and bacteriological infections, etc. But what Western medicine lacks is the ability to keep the body running properly on its own, to stimulate the body to fight its own battles. Western medicine solves the body's problems for it, but doesn't properly help the system to recover - it eliminates the immediate problem and lets the body heal itself. If the body is too abused by the treatment or the course of the disease, the body takes longer to recover, if it recovers at all. One advantage of the potentially more subtle approach of TCM is that it can bolster the body's defenses in the process of recovery.
Western medicine labels conditions and diseases that they don't have a chemical to combat as untreatable. This is not true of other forms of medicine - things like diabetes are things that can be fought and cured over time; the degeneration caused by multiple sclerosis can be halted and reversed; chronic fatigue can be resolved, and even conditions like asthma can be undone. Chinese medicine has always been about bringing the body back up to speed (and maintaining that status) until the body can work through the problems of its own accord. TCM has its own miracle-treatments for 'hopeless' cases. Although case studies are still limited and not widely recognized, there have been some pretty amazing results by combining the best of Western medicine with the best of Eastern medicine - Western medicine can remove cancers from the body and TCM can strengthen the body's defenses to keep the cancers from taking hold again elsewhere in the body. It's not typically cancer that kills the body, it's the chemotherapy used afterwards in the process of recovery. For AIDS sufferers, the drug cocktails given to patients are harsh enough on the body's organs that they no longer have the strength to ward off infection and disease later in life. It often delays the inevitable, rather than actively rebuilds.
Both sides have their pros and cons. Eastern medicine is perfect for keeping the body in balance - during the times when it falls chronically out of balance to the point that disease or affliction strikes and the body is unable to defend itself, Western medicine can buy the body enough time to reach a homeostatic equilibrium again, until it is strong enough to maintain the balance on its own. Western medicine is forceful and effective, but lacks the subtle touch of healing over the long-term. Some of the mechanisms of traditional medicines have yet to be studied and understood by science, but that does not mean that they are without effect. The gaps are bridging, slowly but surely. Western science has much to learn and benefit from by studying the thousands of years of human observation, just as alternative medicine stands to greatly strengthen its own approach by utilizing the knowledge produced by scientific analysis. Health is not a thing for which one answer or path exists in recovering; it is instead a puzzle with many solutions. Use what works.