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How Acupuncture Differs from Western Medicine

Posted by Jennifer Shipp | May 07, 2014


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Traditional Chinese Medicine bases its model on the idea that there are multiple Meridians, or lines of energy, that run through the body, and that the energy running through these meridians must be balanced appropriately in order for a person to be healthy and happy.

Acupuncture as a Treatment for Allergies and More...

As Americans, we think about health and medicine in a culturally unique way. For most of us, medicine is something that is practiced in sterile settings and usually health is achieved by taking pills or doing surgery. Doctors use specific tools such as stethoscopes and tongue depressors to examine patients. According to our worldview, there is a long list of diseases and every patient should receive a diagnosis of one of these if they visit a doctor and express a complaint about their well-being. Patients even experience distress when they experience pain or discomfort and their doctor can’t assign a disease from this list. Our way of doing medicine seems best to us, but practitioners of acupuncture would beg to differ.

It’s a mistake to assume that your acupuncturist will understand or even be able to make use of a diagnosis that you received from a Western medicine doctor. Acupuncture is not just a different treatment modality, it is an entirely different way of looking at health and well-being. Some westerners view this alternate view of health as refreshing. Others feel lost when it becomes clear that they can’t cling to even the most rudimentary aspects of western medicine.

But acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine have their virtues.

For example, there are a number of ailments that western medicine can’t cure. Seasonal allergies are a good example of a pervasive health-related problem that western doctors cannot cure. If you go to a western doctor complaining of allergies, chances are, you’ll be sent to a “specialist” who will poke you with a lot of needles (big, sharp ones, not like the hair-thin ones used in acupuncture) and then suggest drugs like Claritin (also known generically as loratadine). There are a variety of different allergy drugs on the market that your doctor might suggest, but all of them have side effects. Long term use of Claritin, for instance, can cause high blood pressure. A number of allergy medications like this one can also affect sexual function in both men and women. Always read the fine print when your doctor suggests pharmaceuticals.

In contrast, if you go to an acupuncturist, you’ll probably be given a short exam that will specifically involve a thorough, but brief look at your tongue. The acupuncturist is also likely to check your pulse, examine the appearance of your skin, and ask you some questions about your symptoms and mental health. Then, if you're being treated for allergies, for example, you’ll be told to hold some little glass jars that contain the “essence” of a large variety of plants. Your acupuncturist will do a simple, non-invasive test using these plant essences to determine what you’re sensitive to, and then will be able to proceed with the treatment.

The acupuncture treatment for allergies is quick and easy even for people who are afraid of needles (there are needle-less options available for treatments as well). You may have to return to your acupuncturist three or four times if you have an allergy to trees as well as grasses, for example, but after you’ve spent a mere 24 hours avoiding the outdoors following the treatment, you’ll be allergy-free. Acupuncture for allergies has no side effects.

It may seem ludicrous to think that curing allergies could be that simple. We’ve been taught to believe that there is no cure for allergies. Rather, there are treatments that merely cover up the allergies (and create a host of new problems at the same time). Acupuncture isn’t magical. It isn’t even “New Age”. It’s just a different system that looks at health from an entirely different perspective. And sometimes, that perspective gives acupuncture an advantage over our western way of doing medicine.

The simplicity of my argument may make my summary regarding acupuncture seem flimsy, but too much information can make the acupuncture vs. western medicine debate overly complex. It takes a leap of faith to give alternative medical treatments like acupuncture a try, but just remember that the Chinese have embraced acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine for centuries as their primary method of combatting disease. While western scientists and doctors were creating antibiotics and vaccines, acupuncturists in China were considering how to manipulate the flow of Qi to battle disease. And their methods worked and continue to work. And acupuncture has no side effects and does not lead to the mutation of dangerous viruses and bacteria.

Acupuncture is another, alternative system of medicine in its own right. It doesn’t always work to cure discomfort, but neither does western medicine. At the very least, acupuncture doesn’t contribute to the development of new ailments whereas many pharmaceutical treatments and surgical procedures in the United States do. For westerners, the most important difference between acupuncture and western medicine is the fact that we’re raised to believe in western medicine as though it were the only medical model in the world (even though this couldn't be farther from the truth).

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