Chinese Medicine is Preventive Medicine
by Brian Benjamin Carter, October 2001,
updated October 2002.
Preventative or preventive medicine for maintenance
of your health... Chinese medicine can provide total personal
health care for the prevention of disease.
"The sages of antiquity did not treat those
who were already sick, but those who were not sick... When a disease
has already broken out and is only then treated, would that not
be just as late as to wait for thirst before digging a well, or
to wait to go into battle before casting weapons?" - The
Yellow Emperor's Classic
words, from a classic Chinese Medical text written 4601 years
ago, express the primary importance of Preventive Medicine. They
are proof positive that Chinese Medicine has long valued Preventive
Medicine above emergency disease intervention.
Historically in China,
each village was under the care of one doctor. In return, they
took care of him (fed him, clothed him, etc.). What's so different
about this from the exchange that goes on in modern healthcare?
The traditional Chinese doctor's job was to keep the village from
getting sick in the first place. Once people got sick, they were
unable to support the doctor. It made more sense for him to keep
them well than to wait until they were sick.
The most prestigious
position for a Chinese doctor was to become the Emperor's personal
physician. However, if the Emperor got sick, the doctor could
end up executed. The best physician in China was blessed and cursed;
for him, preventive medicine was a matter of life and death!
doctors were rewarded for preventing disease, and punished for
allowing their patients to get sick. Western Medicine is only
rewarded if there are sick patients to cure. If no one got sick,
most of our health care industry would quickly go out of business.
These cultural influences may be one reason why Chinese Medicine
put so much into developing its complex and effective understanding
of the causes of disease.
If you've had much experience
with Western Medicine, you've probably heard the word 'idiopathic'
come up a lot. Idiopathic means literally 'unknown cause.' If
you ask persistently, you'll find out that in Western Medicine,
quite a lot of diseases are considered idiopathic. I'll refrain
from concluding, then, that Western Medicine is 'idiodic.' :)
There may be some understanding of the underlying pathomechanisms
(the ways the disease progresses from nothing to something), and
the untangling of the human genome holds great promise, but for
now Western Medicine must admit there is much they do not understand
about the causes of disease. This explains their blank-spot in
terms of the ability to deliver preventive care.
In Chinese Medicine,
the only idiopathic disease is the one you have not properly diagnosed.
The advantage of CM's simplicity is its ability to lucidly explain,
in its own terms, 99.999% of disease processes, and then to right
away be able to suggest preventive solutions. Wouldn't it be nice,
if you had a family history of diabetes, cancer, or stroke, to
have a Chinese Medical Practitioner suggest preventive solutions
for your specific constitution and lifestyle?
This is quite a contrast
from our conventional Western Medicine and health care system.
M.D.'s enjoy a great deal of respect and prestige. We are fascinated
with the saving of lives in dramatic situations. And it's comforting
to know that these capable docs are there when we need them. It
is not coincidental that the most popular medical TV show in history
focuses on the ER. We are interested in action and human drama,
and the Emergency Room provides plenty of that!
But imagine for a second
a TV show about Preventive Medicine. What would the storyline
be? Our hero, John Q. Healthy, goes to work (but not for too long),
comes home and plays with the kids (showing a great deal of heart),
eats moderately and healthily (no fast food, plenty of vegetables),
takes time out for spiritual devotions, and connects genuinely
with his friends, coworkers and spouse. Not too sexy, is it? Doesn't
possess the excess, violence, or drama typical of American culture,
Forget about TV. Forget
about fiction. Let's talk about you... yeah, YOU! Do you
want to die of a heart attack? Smother to death in advanced emphysema
from a lifetime of smoking? Lose your legs to diabetic neuropathy
because of your fascination with rich foods? I hope not!
Medicine (CM) contributes a great deal to our Western understanding
of risk factors and behaviors. Because CM was practiced for over
4000 years without lab tests or visual studies, it developed other
methods of disease detection. We are able to catch subtle manifestations
earlier, and to reverse imbalances quickly instead of allowing
them to worsen over years into life-threatening illnesses that
finally show up as a blip on the Western Medical screen. Once
we know the nature of your imbalance, we can suggest foods, habits,
exercises, and herbal medicines that will stop the disease process
in its tracks, or at least slow it down.
health doesn't sound like much fun. You don't live fast and
hard. You might not get to eat all the rich, greasy, or sweet
foods you want. You might have to give up coffee (maybe I'll join
me) and alcohol. You might have to choose a job that doesn't
pay as much so that you have more time to relax, and nurture yourself,
your friends and your family. You might not get the vacation in
Tahiti. You might not need it. You might choose to move to Tahiti
instead. Preventive medicine calls us to re-examine every aspect
of our lives, our choices, our values, and our plans.
But relax! The good
news is that you don't have to change everything all at once.
Don't even think about it. Our goal is to make progress rather
than attain perfection. If you choose to embrace Preventive Medicine,
you are bucking your culture, the mainstream media, the marketing
messages that come from some of the richest and most powerful
companies out there. And you are joining a growing society of
health. Baby Boomers in particular have flocked to Alternative
Medicine... so much so that M.D.'s are following us now! They
have changed their schools to put more emphasis on compassion,
rapport, and the human side of medicine. They take courses in
acupuncture. They are writing books about spirituality.
It's clear that,
as challenging as it may be to live healthily, Americans are sick
of being sick. They want more life, more happiness, and more health.
They want solutions. Practical ones. The kind of solutions that
two-thirds of the world's population has already gotten from Chinese
Medicine. As more and more qualified practitioners flood a starving
American healthcare market, Chinese Medicine (acupuncture and
chinese herbs) will play a huge part in that solution.
Practical Steps to Preventing Disease with Chinese Medicine:
a practitioner near you.
them a call. If you have more than one to choose from, interview
them. Check on their license. Find out about their education and
experience (The requirements vary from state to state; many states
rely on the National standards. Other states, like California,
have higher standards.). Find out if the practitioner was educated
in the formulation of chinese herbs. And, make sure they are a
good fit for you personally!
your practitioner a few times, at least. The first visit is
usually long, perhaps an hour or more. We're quite thorough -
we like to get all the information before making a diagnosis.
We can treat effectively with acupuncture before herbs (but of
course, it depends on your condition). It takes a pretty accurate
diagnosis to get the right herb formula.
a personalized herbal formula for your imbalance, and take
it regularly. Get Acupuncture as often as they suggest. You
may have a talk with them about your financial constraints, if
any. Hopefully it is your practitioner's goal to get you well
as quickly as possible. Then, (in #6 below) you can negotiate
how frequently you visit for maintenance and prevention.
your time, change a few things, and stick with it. Be nice
to yourself by commiting to your own well-being, and in allowing
yourself to progress imperfectly, to be human, to make mistakes.
Some practitioners are extreme- they want you to change everything
right away, re-arrange your diet, stop eating all the 'bad' things,
take lots of herbs, and see them weekly so that they can regularly
shame you into healthy living. But even if your practitioner nags
you a bit, you still might get something out of it. Or you might
want to have a talk, or try a different practitioner. As a self-confessing
coffee addict and former smoker, I understand how difficult it
can be to change dietary and lifestyle habits. My belief is that
acupuncture, herbs, and dietary therapies exist to help you
make the transition from imbalance to well-being both possible
and comfortable. Real change takes time; moving too fast can
lead to short term mega-progress but ultimately result in relapse
and a net gain of zero.
with them until you hit a plateau. After achieving a new level
of health, it's time to talk about your progress and where you
want to go next. Perhaps your insomnia is gone but you want to
work on your occasional anxiety attacks.
some point, you may experience total well-being. You might
feel that you are functioning optimally. In that case, to prevent
illness, return to the practitioner on a seasonal or other
basis (for example, if you are a teacher, you might want to
return right before school starts to make sure the new stress
doesn't knock you down. Just before the Holidays is another time
to get in good shape to prevent vulnerability to stress and dietary
Best wishes in your
journey of health!