Far Eastern medicine is increasingly appealing to people in the western world - according to surveys, "gentle medicine" has become a valuable addition to conventional therapy for more than two-thirds of Germans. From acupuncture to Zen meditation, many of its components have already found their way into our everyday lives. Western medicine, too, is approaching in many ways the holistic approach of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), which never looks at body and soul in isolation from each other. Dr. Thomas Ruprecht, a physician at the Techniker Krankenkasse (TK), describes the fundamental differences between Western and Far Eastern medicine and explains their essential diagnostic and treatment approaches.
Question: Are there fundamental differences between western and eastern thinking in medicine?
Dr. Thomas Ruprecht: Yes, there is. Our modern, science-based medicine is a predominantly body-related science, even though mental and social factors are increasingly taken into account.
Illness is linked to measurable changes in the West. It is primarily considered a malfunction of physico-chemical and biological mechanisms that can be corrected. In Traditional Chinese Medicine - abbreviated to TCM - there is no separation between body, soul and spirit. It is based on the assumption that the human body can cope with diseases and recover when it is in equilibrium with the two polarities yin and yang.
Simply put, Yin stands for matter, Yang for energy - and both blends into each other. Chinese doctors understand humans as an energetic structure. The "energetic potential" they call Qi. It flows through the people as rivers and lakes a landscape. The old medicine assumes that the Qi flows on defined paths, the so-called meridians. These guide the energy through the body.
Question: How do diseases develop according to TCM?
Dr. Thomas Ruprecht: Diseases attributes Traditional Chinese Medicine to an interaction of many different factors. It differentiates between external climatic and internal emotional influences. External factors include heat and cold, internal factors such as mental stress or an excess of certain emotions such as fear, anger or sadness.
Question: And what happens when a person is ill?
Dr. Thomas Ruprecht: According to Chinese ideas, the harmonious flow of the life energy Qi is disturbed when a person is ill. There is either an abundance or a weakness of life energy in the organ systems and the meridians. In the process, a weakness of Qi causes the corresponding organs to stop functioning properly, or symptoms such as tiredness, low moods, paleness, or low blood pressure generally occur.
In contrast, an abundance of life energy leads to an overreaction of the corresponding organ systems. A major symptom of filling disorders is the heat. It may, for example, be limited to one joint, or even affect the whole body as a fever. Also, acute, spasmodic and stabbing pain can be the result, and those affected are often restless and nervous inside.
Question: How is the Chinese doctor coming to a diagnosis?
Dr. Thomas Ruprecht: The way to a diagnosis is different in traditional Chinese medicine than in Western medicine. Above all, the Chinese doctor uses his senses - that is, looking and seeing, hearing and smelling, queries and touches - to determine what is called a disharmony pattern based on the symptoms, the patient's physical appearance and the physical examination.
Question: And what is a disharmony pattern?
Dr. Thomas Ruprecht: A disharmony pattern can be thought of as what is called a syndrome in the West, the sum of various symptoms. A syndrome in the Chinese sense, however, also means its cause and interpretation according to the ideas of the traditional medical system.
The disharmony pattern describes an imbalance in the patient's body, encompassing its entire shape. Thus, the Chinese doctor does not come to a specific, isolated disease or to precise organic causes. One has to imagine a Chinese diagnosis as an almost poetic-sounding description of the whole patient. Nevertheless, this results in a defined type of treatment and a clear treatment goal for the doctor.