Article: Uniting Eastern and Western Medicines

Dr. Villanova has been a featured speaker on Sirius Satellite Network’s “Doctors’ Radio”, on Gary Null’s “Naturally Speaking”, and on other medical call-in shows.

This article originally appeared in “Health and Healing: East meets West”

Eastern and Western Medicine: Partners in Good Health

“There’s nothing you can do for this condition. You need to learn to live with it”.

This is what I was told four years ago, as a physician, by a physician. Allopathy, conventional Western Medicine, manages and treats the diversity of diseases affecting man; the application of basic science principles to clinical medicine has brought everything from penicillin to targeted gene therapy. But, as many involved in longitudinal patient care can attest, allopathy has some limitations, particularly in addressing some chronic and recurrent conditions.

As a Board-certified Family Physician and certified medical-acupuncturist who increasingly incorporates the Indian tradition of Ayurveda into my practice, I have come to experience and realize that these very different approaches each has an important role in the pursuit and maintenance of good health.

Both acupuncture (Traditional Chinese Medicine, TCM) and Ayurveda are complete medical systems: they address the gamut of human disease (and its prevention), not simply one facet of it. Since the language of traditional agrarian cultures describes the cognitive basis of these medicines, the terms used betray an underlying complexity. The subjective principles of both eastern medicines cannot be quantified or qualified by automated means; they include energy (chi or prana), balance (excess/deficiency), environmental qualities (hot/cold, wet/dry), and psycho-emotional influences on physical health. Applying these concepts to human health provided means for diagnostic (pulse and visual inspection) and therapeutic regimen development. These treatment regimens were then refined over centuries of trial and error, or what we would call empiric trials. The remaining successful treating principles were taught formalistically in medical schools of their day.

Allopathic treatments for functional problems (such as irritable bowel), or inflammatory and autoimmune diseases (like asthma and rheumatoid arthritis) can be immensely successful, or may leave some wanting. In my practice, patients with these kinds of conditions have sought additional therapies. For example, I’ve worked with a Chron’s disease (inflammatory condition affecting the intestine) patient who had been maintained on maximal allopathic medicines, but began to suffer extra-intestinal symptoms in the eye and low back (seronegative arthropathy). Both TCM and Ayurveda find that certain foods, emotional states, and especially alcohol worsen these inflammatory or “hot” conditions. While the patient continued his medications, he agreed to acupuncture for pain control, herbs (from the Ayurvedic tradition), as well as behavior modification including daily rest, counseling, alcohol abstinence, and dietary addition of “cooling” foods (such as cilantro). After 3-4 weeks of these interventions, his intestinal and extra-intestinal symptoms ameliorated. Unlike allopathy, for Eastern treatments to be maximally effective, engagement in multiple facets of the therapy achieves management.

In 2004, I faced a rare neurological condition that has no allopathic interventions. I was therefore left to seek guidance from other traditions. Eastern medicines, as complete medical systems, have precedents for most conditions. After adopting many personal and life style changes, I have now been free of my most debilitating symptoms for 2 years. I now confidently recommend these interventions to others as I engage in them as well. Since the Eastern Medicines revolve around best and preventative practices, my approach is not merely theoretical; I am both an advocate and user of these principles.

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