Traditional Chinese Medicine

Shaobai Wang, MD, NYS, LAc and Yanmei Li, MD

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is the study of human physiology and pathology, and the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of human diseases. It is a system that consists of the clinical and theoretical investigation of the physiology and pathology of organs and functions. Current TCM practice is based on the cosmologic principles of Chinese philosophy, including holism, differentiation, yin/yang, and the five elements. Herbal medicine, acupuncture, and moxibustion are the treatment methods employed in TCM, in order of frequency. TCM has a more than 2,500-year history consisting of the development of major theories and clinical investigations that have been carried out by generations of practitioners and investigators. The theoretical basis for TCM is beyond the scope of this chapter. A detailed discussion may be found in the work of Bensky, et al. (1-3).

Traditional Chinese medicine deserves serious consideration as a treatment option for patients with epilepsy. The TCM approach to the classification and treatment of epilepsy may appear very different from the concepts and findings of conventional Western medicine. Nevertheless, based on modern clinical and experimental research, TCM treatments for epilepsy are as effective as current standard pharmacotherapies and with far fewer adverse effects. In many cases where conventional medications have had little or no effect, TCM herbal treatment provides significant benefits. Moreover, increasing scientific evidence demonstrates the pathophysiologic mechanisms of TCM treatment for epilepsy. TCM is not a "magic pill," but rather a system of scientifically and clinically proven treatments whose proper administration requires an experienced TCM practitioner.

Before reviewing selected research studies demonstrating the effectiveness of TCM herbal treatments for epilepsy, it is important to clarify two key principles unique to TCM: holism and differentiation.

The TCM concept of holism considers the individual person as being comprised of and subject to the elements and forces of nature as a whole. At the same time, each individual is considered as a unified, interconnected "whole" comprised of mind, body, and spirit. In practice, this approach leads the TCM practitioner to consider the physical, mental, and emotional state of the patient on the one hand and, in addition, the patient's relation to his environment, including climate, diet, and daily activities. Diagnostically, holism leads the practitioner to assess the health of the patient in all areas, in addition to the specific presenting seizure disorder. With herbal treatments, holism in the TCM treatment approach addresses not only the seizure disorder, but tonifies or balances all the physiologic functions, so that the individual patient's whole functioning is supported. Finally, the TCM practitioner also addresses the prevention of illness, with guidance on diet, exercise, and daily activities, to help prevent the further development or reoccurrence of illness.

The principle of differentiation allows a properly trained TCM practitioner to find the differentiating patterns of signs and symptoms of illness—which have been identified in TCM practice over the centuries—that are manifest in each case. Such factors extend beyond the circumscribed pattern of clinical signs of a seizure disorder typically focused on and treated in Western medicine. Such differentiating clinical factors include, for example, particular disorders of digestion, respiration, elimination, and neuromuscular tone, to name a few. According to the principle of differentiation, various pathologic factors and their mechanisms are responsible for or contribute to disease formation; these factors may be different in different patients, albeit their common diagnosis of epilepsy. Thus, using the clinical process of differentiation, the appropriate treatment (herbs and acupuncture) specific to each case is then administered. As a result, TCM herbal treatment regimens for epilepsy are much more individualized than those of Western medicine.

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Acupuncture For Cynics

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