East by west: A new direction in medicine

Do you deal with a health concern that you can’t seem to crack, even with the help of a doctor? Maybe your lower back throbs in pain or you can’t sleep at night. We hope not, but if you do suffer from an issue like insomnia, you’re likely aware of conventional medicine’s limitations. Allopathy, or conventional medicine, typically treats symptoms, not root causes, and it won’t offer a panacea for challenges that often warrant lifestyle changes. That includes a host of chronic conditions, from obesity and anxiety to arthritis and diabetes. 

On the other hand, Eastern modalities aim to prevent diseases before they occur and help people address their symptoms’ underlying triggers. With chronic conditions on the rise, many people see Eastern medicine as an attractive complement to allopathy. And while alternative therapies also have potential drawbacks, the integration of Eastern and Western practices could benefit patients, rebalancing the healthcare system as a whole.

Bridging the divides 

Colloquially speaking, Western medicine is synonymous with modern or allopathic medicine, while Eastern medicine refers to traditional techniques from ancient Indian and Chinese paradigms. Modern health, wellness and medical movements have adopted elements from both traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and India’s ancient healing system, Ayurveda. The resurgence of TCM and Ayurveda fuel trends like yoga, meditation, acupuncture and the use of adaptogenic herbs.

Increased interest

Western interest in traditional Eastern medicine started gaining momentum around the 1970s, but recent cultural shifts – like social media – have triggered a resurgence. Think about it: How often do you turn to sources other than a doctor for wellness advice? If it’s frequently, you’re not alone. A general sense of dissatisfaction with conventional medicine, plus the rise of self-made wellness experts, have paralleled an uptick in the adoption of Eastern modalities: 

  • From 2012 to 2017, the number of U.S. residents practicing yoga increased from 9.5% to 14.3% and meditation went from 4.1% to 14.2%, according to a recent study
  • By 2022, the global market for Ayurveda is set to reach $9,791 million, up from $3,428 million in 2015. 
  • The acupuncture market will likely grow at 14% through 2023.

Not just a cultural trend

Eastern treatments aren’t just a niche fad, either. Allopathic doctors now prescribe yoga, meditation and acupuncture to help treat issues that often coincide with long-term pharmaceutical dependence: chronic pain, anxiety, depression, insomnia and more. We can attribute this adoption to the growing body of research that’s helping to validate traditional medicine.

For example, this study suggests that Ayurvedic medicine is a viable alternative to pharmaceuticals for treating rheumatoid arthritis; the results of this state-commissioned study position acupuncture as an effective pain treatment; this meta-analysis indicates that yoga offers a promising antidote to anxiety; and MRI scans suggest that meditation can change the structure of your brain, increasing its ability to process information. That said, none of these findings draw conclusive evidence that Eastern modalities should replace conventional treatments, and other studies discredit their validity. This one, for instance, suggests that the beneficial outcomes of acupuncture are merely placebo effects.  

When worlds collide

Both Western and Eastern medicine have disadvantages, but when members of either cohort break out of their existing paradigms, potential benefits emerge. By giving pharma giants a dose of competition, the rise of integrative medicine could help address a common concern: how the pharmaceutical and biotech industries inflate healthcare costs. Conversely, it should help drive regulation around traditional practices, helping to reduce the risk of receiving illegitimate treatments. On that note, please use caution before you incorporate any sort of alternative therapy. The FDA does not yet regulate most of the practices and products associated with Eastern medicine. 

If you wish to explore alternative modalities, talk to your doctor. When your health is on the line, it’s perfectly acceptable to question the superiority of conventional methods. Trustworthy practitioners will respect your concerns and do their best to seek out the most effective, least invasive treatment options for you.