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  • Writer's pictureJeffrey Turre

The Science of Chinese Medicine

We all do science every day. Testing and retesting. Trying something new and seeing if it works. Nothing could be more fundamental to learning, than science. There is plenty of confusion now as to what constitutes science. The more recent developments of double blind studies have certainly brought amazing new discoveries and replicability. Nonetheless, to fully understand the potency and effect of chinese medicine, we must return to basics.

For several thousand years, Chinese medicine has been the preemptive medicine of the region. And as such, a lively discourse and prestigious training has surrounded it. Practitioners have been practicing this medicine and sharing their findings, for thousands of years. A continuous string of oral and written case histories is available to those who study the medicine. As such, a type of science unveils itself. A method by which hypotheses are continually tested not over 5 or 10 years, but over thousands, with more patients than one can count. Then in some ways, the lack of a double blind analysis for all this time, is trivial. Further, a double blind study may have made the results useless! I'll explain.

Chinese Medicine does not separate mind and body. In fact, it embraces all the variables which formal double blind studies attempt to negate. It is a system of small variables that, when correctly identified and understood within a framework, lead the practitioner to unique interventions. In this way it acknowledges that no two people are completely alike, nor are their life circumstances. Therefore, two people might come in to the clinic with the same disease and leave with completely different treatments! Why does this make sense? Maybe they both have a cold. One lives in a cold, wet basement apartment and the other has recently begun smoking cigarettes. Their bodies are under stress from two very different processes, which need two different treatments. In addition, the advice you would give the two would be very different. As you can see, if you tried to test a remedy for colds on these two, your results would not be consistent. A further variable is that each practitioner has a different personality and different strengths. One might be excellent at prescribing an acupuncture treatment. The other is very skilled at inspiring changes at home. If these two were enlisted to give a standard treatment, for which neither may be excellent at administering, the results would reflect that.

I want to return to my first point. We do science every day. To me that means you don't need fancy equipment to understand your health. Chinese medicine is a science that can accompany you day to day life and bring deeper meaning. It is a science based on observation with our senses. It provides a system of concepts and a long history of observation. You can use it to explain your health in a meaningful way. It's long history of refinement means you are protected from the ups and downs of diet fads and the constant rotation of miracle foods. This is not the cutting edge of science and medicine, it is part of the deep pool of understanding. It is a different side of science, a science that complements an art. But that is another story. (Check out The Alphabet and the Goddess by Leonard Schlain for more on the intersection of science and art)

To your good health.

Jeffrey Turre LAc.

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