CM, Western Medicine and Fertility
Chinese medicine is based on concepts that are individually quite simple, but in the clinic are multi-layered and complex; there’s an old Chinese saying…..
“Chinese medicine is easy to learn, but difficult to practice”
In China concepts of Yin and Yang, or that different foods and drinks have Hot or Cold properties are accepted and part of general thinking. It’s also accepted climate affects health; with temperatures in Beijing ranging from -20°C in winter to 40°C in summer their seasons are clear-cut and extreme, which makes the connection easier!
Chinese and Western medicine look at the human condition and illnesses from different angles, and using hyperthyroidism as an example, it has a pretty clear-cut illness in Western medicine related to the ability to regulate thyroid hormones, however there are 10 explanations for how it develops in Chinese medicine, which means that in practice there are 10 ways to treat it, and which of them are chosen depends on the diagnosis of how well the different ‘systems’ are functioning in the individual. This has some interesting connections to a couple of developments in 21st century medicine:
- Personalised functional medicine is based on the results from functional, genomic and nutritional tests that allow physicians to give specific targeted medicinal and nutritional and lifestyle treatments to raise health and wellbeing. It’s a quite different approach to Public health advice where ‘one sizes fit all’ as it digs down to what the individual needs are and in many ways it mirrors Chinese medicine, that’s always relied on a personal diagnosis based on how well different body systems are functioning and often involves quite different treatments for people with the same illness.
- ‘Systems biology’ is a similar development but on a much bigger scale (this is where most medical research is now going), which rather than looking at in linear ‘micro’ way at health (how a certain chemical or gene affects health) it has a holistic approach and tries to understand ‘the bigger picture’ and how systems within the body function and interact. It’s complicated and requires cutting edge western science and super-computers, but their models are often based on Chinese medicine models!
- Chinese medicine has a holistic viewpoint: a person’s physical, mental, and emotional health are connected and when one aspect is out of balance it usually affects the others
- To understand how illnesses develop (and the best ways to treat it) a wide range of information is needed to make an accurate diagnosis
- Physical complaints (say indigestion) are often connected to other problems such as insomnia, anxiety or changes in temperature or energy, and these usually form part of a ‘pattern’ linked to ‘indigestion’
- This needs a wide-ranging (sometimes apparently random) diagnosis pattern, very different to the extremely focused Western approach
- One benefit is that if one complaint (the indigestion) is responds, the other apparently unrelated symptoms such as the insomnia or anxiety usually improve
- A theme in Chinese medicine is “there’s no cure all”; people with the same problem may have different reasons for having it
- Chinese medicine is based on understanding how different body systems function, the symptoms seen when they’re not doing so well, and how to adjust whole systems towards their optimum to resolve conditions, rather than just addressing a specific issue
- This has meant a focus on preventative medicine has been important in China for thousands of years (long before our self-help books!) and an appreciation that a healthy pregnancy relies on good health, so it’s not surprising infertility rates in China are so low!
- Western medicine has a reductionist approach, where the focus is on understanding the disease process at a cellular level and to then making specific changes there to improve things
- This allows quick and focused treatment, which makes it exceptional for crisis medicine
- Western medicine has developed amazing tools to test health; from blood tests to remote imaging of internal organs, or surgery that can remove obstructions to pregnancy and restructure the body to improve the chances of conceiving
- The whole process of reproduction; including hormone balance, egg collection, fertilization and the first stages of embryo growth outside the body are possible with IVF. Amazing!
- Despite these differences in approach and treatment, the two medical systems can complement each other through their different strengths. The evidence is that ‘the sum is greater than the parts’ when they’re used in combination to raise fertility[i]