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The Practical Herbalist

Science and Oriental Medicine

One of the big complaints that I hear about Oriental Medicine is that it is non-scientific. That type of commentary has always left a bad taste in my mouth because I know it to be untrue. My background is in biology and chemistry. I have always been fascinated by the process of figuring out how the universe works. More and more I realize that the claims that what I do is non-scientific, is based in fear and ignorance. In many ways that is the reason I write this column, and regularly give lectures. There needs to be a better understanding of this system of medicine and the benefits that it can bring.

The basis of science is the scientific method. This is a line of thought or reasoning to acquire knowledge. It starts with observation of the phenomenon, which leads to a hypothesis of what may be the explanation. The Hypothesis is tested through experimentation and a theory to explain the results is formulated. The theory is tested by more experiments to see if the theory holds up to repeated investigation. If the theory proves reliable and reproducible it becomes accepted as fact.

All of these parts are found in Oriental medicine. Ancient healers just like their modern counterparts observed various phenomenon of how the body worked. They saw patterns of function and proposed hypothesis as to what it meant and how it could be changed. They saw the same patterns repeated in other people and saw that people responded similarly to the proposed treatments. They tested their theories through the treatment of people, and got reliable results confirming their theories. Those theories continue to be examined and refined to this day.

The common arguments that I hear are that there are no scientific studies, or controlled double blind studies proving the effectiveness of Oriental medicine. This is simply not true. Research is a constant in China, However few of these studies get translated to English. Many are not accepted by the Western medical establishment. The reason is that they are a continuation of hundreds of years of study. Western medical science wants to see basic studies- "does this work". The truth is that many of the researchers already know that herbs and acupuncture work, they are designing experiments to refine the knowledge and make treatments more effective. In many ways the reverse situation would be for another culture to come in and ask if there is any basic research on the effectiveness of setting a broken bone verses not setting it. We all accept that setting is better based on many years of experience rather than a current research study on the topic. Yet, this is what Western medicine is demanding of Oriental Medicine, to create studies to prove what is already known to be true.

The problem is one of medical language and of approach. It is hard to think that there is more than one type of medicine. There should be just one explanation of how the body works and thus only one way to heal it. Life is not that simple. Many people in pain have a choice of surgery, medication or exercise. Sometimes the choice is based not on what is medically correct, (they all may be) but rather what the patient is most comfortable with. Oriental Medicine has its own way of describing medical conditions, often in language that is as confusing as the latin used in hospitals. Just because it is different, does not make it any less scientifically valid.

David Bock

This article was from David's LakeCountryOnline.com column, "The Practical Herbalist"

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David Bock, C. Ac., Dipl. OM, FABORM
Wisconsin Certified Acupuncturist
National Board Certification in Oriental Medicine
Fellow American Board Of Oriental Reproductive Medicine

Bock Acupuncture & Herbal Medicine
888 Thackeray Trail #206
Oconomowoc, Wisconsin 53066