by Aram Kim
Absolute truth is something that does change neither with time nor space. In this definition, the “western medicine” from Hippocrate’s four humour theory of body and health has revised itself over past two millennia to become what it is today. Hence, at any given moment in time past, western medicine has yet to practice the truest form of medicine since it continues to find itself at odds with new data and understanding of our body and mind. We as medical school students are well aware of this fact since the information we are now learning in genetics and biochemical classes had not been available to our predecessors – our bosses and teachers. And we are also being told that some of the things we learn will be obsolete by the time we start practicing medicine ourselves.
This is the same with Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM). Coming from many backgrounds, different healing modalities such as acupuncture, herbal medicine, and massage finds themselves at odds with each other when explaining how the body works and the causes of diseases. More often than not, these understandings are often dismissed in the light of western medicine and become considered as fraudulent practices of healing because their methods are not understood well. For example, http://www.acuwatch.org/ is a webpage dedicated to dismissing acupuncture as an effective method of healing. Although the meridian system and qi (or chi) is not understood well in biomedical sense, its efficacy through thousands of years of use should not be ignored.
Understanding of CAM modalities in scientific basis are yielding valuable insight into how they can be incorporated into mainstream medicine in a consistent, evidence-based medicine. Referring back to the example of acupuncture, it is noted that proper use of acupuncture results in opiod peptide and serotonin release in the body [1,2]. This then provides a basis for use of acupuncture as a local analgesic in pain management.
Moving a healing modality from “empiricism to science” takes a lot of time. It has taken “western medicine” two millennia to move from empiricism to science, and it would be, in my humble opinion, foolish to ignore other effective healing methods just because we cannot explain the mechanisms in our incomplete view of human body and mind. Instead, we as medical students of twenty first century should embrace the possibility that truth - whether medical or otherwise - is not a concrete idea or concept found in personal opinions or textbooks but constantly evolving with this thing we call Life.
Our perspective and observation is a major factor in how we influence the outcome of the medicine of twenty-first century. Let’s make it a positive one.
1. Han, JS, Terenius, L. Neurochemical basis of acupuncture analgesia. Annu Rev Pharmacol Toxicol 1982; 22:193.
2. Andersson, S, Lundeberg, T. Acupuncture--from empiricism to science: functional background to acupuncture effects in pain and disease. Med Hypotheses 1995; 45:271.