A Comparison of Traditional Oriental Medicine, Homeopathy, and Western Medicine

Throughout my years treating patients, giving seminars, and working with herbal companies, I have encountered individuals who wonder the differences between Traditional Oriental Medicine, Homeopathic and Western Medicine. Below is a simple explanation of the three medical approaches to medicine.

Traditional Oriental Medicine (TOM)

The roots of Traditional Oriental Medicine date back to more than 5000 years, making it the longest recorded history that uses 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 basis itself 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 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 related to the balance of the functions.

Key components:

  • 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, 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 free-flow 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 get utilized for their healing purposes. Formulas combine these herbs and given as teas, capsules, tinctures, or powders.

The most significant aspect of TOM Herbal Medicinal Formulas is that medicine happens to get prescribed in combinations. Each of the herbs in the mixture 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 health food stores, a practitioner of TOM rarely prescribes a single herb. Instead, a formula will contain several herbs chosen for specific qualities concerning the patient’s whole health condition. 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 assign different tasks to bring about multiple physiological changes, all to balance 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” assist the chief herbs to target the primary condition and 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 individual 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.

Homeopathic Medicine

Homeopathy, also known as homeopathic medicine, is a medical system developed in Germany more than 200 years ago and 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 presented by the patient.

As an example, homeopathy takes an active ingredient (derived 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. This idea thereby meets 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 dilution occurs in a stepwise fashion and shaken vigorously between each dilution. Many people believe the process, referred to as “potentization,” transmits 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, practitioners believe 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

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 strict adherence to the formal scientific process.

Western medicine encompasses all types of conventional medical treatment, including surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, physical therapy, and medication.  Most Western pharmacological substances come from herbs, animals, and minerals in the same way Homeopathic & TOM utilize 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.

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