These days, more and more people are seeking alternative treatments to cure their illnesses. There are a wide variety of treatments that fall under this category, but few are a complete system of medicine that can treat the entire body from head to toe. Cold and flu season is fast approaching – a perfect time to use our universal friend, the common cold, as the yardstick to examine and compare TCM, naturopathic medicine and Western medicine.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)
This ancient art of healing has been around for over 2,000 years. It is a unique system of medicine with its own terminology and definitions. Traditional Chinese Medicine is based on thousands of years of clinical observation and meticulous documentation. At the heart of TCM is the concept of Yin and Yang, two opposite forces. When Yin and Yang are in equilibrium, the patient is healthy. An imbalance in the body is manifested as disease. The main forms of treatment are acupuncture and herbal medicine. Diet is also an important factor in achieving and maintaining health.
Professor Dr. Yang Guohua is a TCM doctor at Wangjing Hospital. She explains, “A common cold can be considered to be ‘wind cold’ or ‘wind heat.’” If the diagnosis is “wind heat,” then a cooling treatment is prescribed to bring the excess heat into balance. For a child, this treatment could be peppermint tea. On the other hand, if the patient is presenting symptoms of “wind cold,” then a warming prescription is given. In this case, ginger tea would be appropriate. Sally Yeh, an expat from the US, treats her 3-and-a-half-year-old daughter Clairity with Chinese medicine. “When Clairity catches a cold, I give her Tong Ren Tang’s elixir (感冒口服液, gǎnmào kǒufú yè), which is a box of little vials of Chinese herbs. Clairity likes it, so she’ll take one in the morning and one at night.” However, Sally doesn’t exclusively use Chinese medicine to treat her daughter. ”If her cold persists after five days, I take her to the doctor, who usually prescribes some Western medicine,” she says.
Dr. Yang Guohua says, “The greatest benefit of treating children with TCM is that there are no side effects. The only problem is that at times the treatment can be bitter to the taste, so it is difficult to get the child to take the medicine.”
Through the use of various modalities such as botanical medicine, nutrition, homeopathy and acupuncture, naturopathic medicine not only treats illness but also prevents disease. These treatments are used to support the body’s innate ability to heal itself. The first principle of Naturopathic Medicine is to do no harm. This means to use treatments that are not only gentle but safe and effective as well. Naturopathic doctors (NDs) are considered primary care providers. Their goal is to educate the patient, and provide them with the necessary tools to take responsibility and action for their own health.
Over time the body will rid itself of a cold, but from a naturopathic perspective the key question is: How can the immune system be strengthened naturally to do its job more quickly and effectively? Vitamin and mineral support can help. Studies have shown that Vitamin C and zinc supplementation can improve the symptoms of a cold and shorten its duration. Avoiding refined sugar is also important. Sugar can hamper the ability of the immune cells to do their job. One of the most popular herbal treatments for a cold is echinacea. It stimulates the immune system and is best used at the first signs of infection. These treatments can be applied to most people with a common cold, but like a TCM doctor, an ND will give a unique prescription to each individual. For example, a “sinus cold” is best treated with the herb goldenseal. For a cold with a fever, the herb yarrow might be indicated. A very congested child with a cough can be treated with an herb called eyebright. Although the aim of a naturopathic doctor is to find and treat the root cause of disease, sometimes the symptoms must also be dealt with. Using steam inhalations to clear nasal passages will help the child sleep better, which in turn will help him or her recuperate faster.
The gentle nature of naturopathic medicine is especially well-suited for the treatment of children. The downside is that it can be difficult to make the effort to follow the prescribed treatment. Usually it is time-consuming, involves more than one step, and is not as simple as taking a pill.
This form of medicine is primarily concerned with clearly defined agents of disease,
e.g. microorganisms like viruses or bacteria. Each microbe causes a specific reaction or symptoms which must be dealt with, usually by the use of synthetic drugs. Another very important lifesaving therapy is surgery. Once the symptoms disappear, the disease is also considered to be cured.
Dr. Darren Yang is the national medical director of Beijing International SOS Clinic. He explains, “The first step in treating the common cold is to take a good history and physical exam. The symptoms could be the same as a very complicated problem.” If the child indeed has a cold and if he or she was previously healthy, usually the course of action would be watchful waiting. If the child has a high fever, medication can be given to bring it down. Dr. Yang advises, “Parents should keep an eye on the recovery process. If a fever lasts more than five days, usually something is wrong. Maybe they’ve developed a complication or the diagnosis is wrong.”
He believes that Western medicine provides many advantages for prenatal and neonatal care. “It saves the lives of a lot of babies who, without treatment, could die.” Another benefit is in the development of new medications. “Because of availability and convenience, these medications reduce sick leave days from school and improve the quality of life of the patient,” says Dr. Darren Yang. Western medicine works quickly to relieve a patient’s symptoms, but we have to be aware of their potential side effects. Until recently, over-the-counter cough and cold medications were given to young children indiscriminately. Last year, both Canada and the US recalled these medicines for kids under the age of 6. Not only was their effectiveness in question but parents were often overmedicating their children, leading to severe adverse reactions, and sometimes death.
Naturopathic medicine and TCM are often referred to as “alternative medicine” because instead of going to a conventional physician, you can choose to go to a TCM doctor or an ND. Perhaps a better term for these systems of medicine is “complementary.” There is a reason why more traditional forms of healing are slowly gaining momentum. If a gentle approach is sufficient, why choose a more aggressive treatment? Modern medicine has been very good to us but we must not abuse it. For example, overusing antibiotics has caused many health problems the world over. A balanced approach is often best. Each medical system has its strength and weaknesses. Each has a time and place.
When the knowledge and wisdom of ancient systems of healing are combined with the
science of modern medicine, it can only lead to healthier people. And what’s the harm in that?