Common Question #1: Traditional Oriental Medicine/Homeopathy/Western Medicine: A Comparison
Throughout my years treating patients, giving seminars and working with our herbal companies, I have found many individuals wondering what the difference between Traditional Oriental Medicine, Homeopathic and Western Medicine is. Below is a simple explanation of the three medical approaches to medicine.
Traditional Oriental Medicine (TOM)
The roots of Traditional Oriental Medicine date back more than 5000 years, thereby making it the longest continuous, recorded history in the world of using medicinal herbs to treat various health conditions. Underlying the practice of TOM is a unique view of the world and the human body that is different from Western medicine concepts. This view is based on the ancient Chinese perception of humans as microcosms of the larger, surrounding universe—interconnected with nature and subject to its forces. The human body is regarded as an organic entity in which the various organs, tissues, and other parts have distinct functions but are all interdependent. In this view, health and disease relate to balance of the functions.
- Yin-yang theory—the concept of two opposing, yet complementary, forces that shape the world and all life—is central to TOM.
- In the TOM view, a vital energy or life force called qi (or chi) circulates in the body through a system of pathways called meridians. Health is an ongoing process of maintaining balance and harmony in the circulation of qi.
- The TOM approach uses eight principles to analyze symptoms and categorize conditions: cold/heat, interior/exterior, excess/deficiency, and yin/yang (the chief principles). TOM also uses the theory of five elements—fire, earth, metal, water, and wood—to explain how the body works; these elements correspond to particular organs and tissues in the body.
The Chinese Materia Medica (a pharmacological reference book used by TOM practitioners) contains hundreds of medicinal substances—primarily plants, but also some minerals and animal products—classified by their perceived action in the body. Different parts of plants such as the leaves, roots, stems, flowers, and seeds are used. Usually, herbs are combined in formulas and given as teas, capsules, tinctures, or powders.
Perhaps the most significant aspect of TOM Herbal Medicinal Formulas, is that they are generally prescribed in combinations. Each of the herbs in the combination may have dozens of active alkaloids and other ingredients, creating a dynamic and synergistic effect. While many single herbs such as Ginseng are sold in many health food stores and self-prescribed by many Americans today, a practitioner of TOM rarely prescribes a single herb. Instead a formula will contain several herbs chosen for specific qualities in relation to the patient’s whole health condition and in relation to each of the other herbs. By combining the herbs the risk of side effects is reduced and the strengths of the single herbs are enhanced to create an effective therapeutic result.
In a single prescription, herbs are assigned different tasks to bring about multiple physiological changes, all for the purpose of balancing the entire person to both eliminate the immediate symptoms and to treat the root cause of the illness. There is a hierarchy of ingredients within an herbal formula. “Chief” herbs correct the main imbalances of the body. The “deputy” assists the chief herbs to target the primary condition and/or treat a secondary condition. The “assistant” reinforces the action of the chief and deputy, as well as harmonizing harsh effects or toxicity of the herbs. Finally, the “envoy” is the messenger herb that directs the effects of the formula to certain channels or areas of the body and integrates the function of the rest of the herbs.
Prescribing herbal formulas is a complex discipline that takes years of training and experience to master.
Homeopathy, also known as homeopathic medicine, is a whole medical system that was developed in Germany more than 200 years ago and has been practiced in the United States since the early 19th century.
It is a form of alternative medicine in which practitioners treat patients using highly diluted preparations that are believed to cause healthy people to exhibit symptoms that are similar to those exhibited by the patient.
Essentially, homeopathy takes an active ingredient (that comes from herbs, animals, and minerals) that would cause a runny nose in a person, dilutes it, and gives it to the person with a runny nose (thereby meeting the homeopathic principle of “treating like with like”). The principle of dilutions (or “law of minimum dose”) states that the lower the dose of the medication, the greater its effectiveness. In homeopathy, substances are diluted in a stepwise fashion and shaken vigorously between each dilution. This process, referred to as “potentization,” is believed to transmit some form of information or energy from the original substance to the final diluted remedy. Most homeopathic remedies are so dilute that no molecules of the healing substance remain; however, in homeopathy, it is believed that the substance has left its imprint or “essence,” which stimulates the body to heal itself (this theory is called the “memory of water”).
Western medicine, also known as “traditional medicine” or “allopathic medicine,” is the term used to describe the treatment of medical conditions with medications, by doctors, nurses and other conventional healthcare providers who employ methods developed according to Western medical and scientific traditions. It differs from Traditional Oriental Medicine, or “alternative medicine,” in its approach to treatment, which relies heavily upon industrially produced medications and a strict adherence to the formal scientific process.
Western medicine encompasses all types of conventional medical treatment, including surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and physical therapy, and medication. Most Western pharmacological substances come from herbs, animals, and minerals in the same way Homeopathic & TOM utilizes these substances. However in Western Medicine, the active ingredient is isolated and highly concentrated, which is often the cause for many of the side-effects seen from pharmaceutical drugs.