Perhaps I was a bit cheeky in the title of this blog. Perhaps I am hugely bias (I probably am). However, the more I look at medical research and the direction in which it is going the more heartened I am. For so long the medical approach has been a reductionist and generalized one. Looking at ever smaller tissues, cells, compounds, and molecules for the answer to medical issues and taking averages over ever widening populations. It is amazing what we have learnt, but now we are beginning to see the limitations that this approach has. Of course, there have been some incredible leaps in understanding and treatment, infant mortality is much less as is death from infectious diseases, to name but a few. However, the problem we face now cannot be reduced to nuts and bolts. We are facing systemic diseases that are as complex as they are individual. Metabolic syndrome, autoimmune disease, chronic inflammatory processes leading to a wide variety of diseases and reductionist medicine doesn’t have the answers.
More and more researchers are collaborating on whole systems approaches. For instance, with the microbiome (our friendly bacteria colony) we are seeing that the more diverse it is the more resilient the individual is. We are starting to put the pieces that we have learnt so much about back into an integrated whole. We are bringing in population studies that show what we need to change in our diet and lifestyle practices for longer term health and wellbeing and to prevent disease.
And this is where Chinese medicine comes in. Chinese medicine is already a complex medicine that treats individuals as whole beings simultaneously addressing physical and psychological issues regardless of where they might lie in the body. We use complex and individualized treatment strategies that evolve as the symptoms change. Most importantly we already have a theoretical framework that we can use to understand what is happening, why, and what we can do about it. Then we can use a mix of different therapeutic agents that have synergistic effects.
This is why Chinese medicine could be the future of medicine, well at least I believe our approach will become more and more interesting as research begins to look more holistically and as we get more research into Chinese medicine.
Ultimately, I believe both approaches have their place and that integration of reductionist medicine with complex medicine will be the best thing for the health and wellbeing of us all.