West Meets East
Published Oct 1, 2007 8:00 AM
Stressed out? Suffering from mystery pain your doctors can't cure — or even find? Maybe you're looking too far West. The proper path to a healthy life should include both Eastern and Western healing techniques and ideas.
By many measures, Western medicine is the most advanced in the world. But, as anyone who has experienced lingering symptoms that defy diagnosis or effective treatment can tell you, it doesn't have all the answers.
We've all seen or experienced chronic pain, fatigue, anxiety or an assortment of other symptoms that the medical system can't get a handle on. We're shuttled from one specialist to another, often undergoing extensive and expensive tests. In some cases we're offered treatments — including surgeries and potent medications — that prove futile or even harmful. Sometimes we're told nothing is seriously wrong. Many of us seek relief through over-the-counter medications or complementary and alternative medicine practitioners, with mixed results.
Dr. Ka-Kit Hui '71, M.D. '75, founder of UCLA's Center for East-West Medicine, insists there's a simple reason traditional U.S. doctors have trouble pinpointing the source of these problems: "These are people who are out of balance," he says. "Their functional reserve has been depleted. You need to treat the whole person to restore that balance."
Often, Hui says, symptoms are merely a manifestation of a system that has experienced too much wear and tear, leaving the individual powerless to adapt to internal and external stresses. The breakdown may begin with an unhealthy diet, poor exercise habits, a stressful work or family life, or a traumatic injury. Soon there is fatigue, anxiety, sleeplessness, pain, digestive problems, diabetes, arthritis, asthma — often in combination — as the off-kilter system loses its will to fight back.
Get Your Balance Act Together
Ease your mind. De-stress. Find out how to take a total-person approach for what ails you. Log on to the UCLA Center for East-West Medicine Web site at www.cewm.med.ucla.edu for the latest techniques on combining the best medical advice from both worlds. Sign up for a wellness program. Check out the center's program in performing arts medicine for musicians, dancers and actors. Learn how to receive treatment at the center's clinic. And check out the very latest press reports on the use of Eastern and Western medical techniques in the treatment of the total person. For a broader overview of the state of the medical arts in America today, visit the National Institutes of Health at www.nih.gov.
Hui, a UCLA-trained internist, pharmacologist and geriatrician with experience in Chinese medicine, established the Center for East-West Medicine in 1993, aiming to marry the best aspects of modern Western and traditional Chinese medicine. The center's practitioners are versed in both Western procedures and traditional Eastern techniques. Strategies include medication adjustments and lifestyle recommendations; trigger-point injections through acupuncture and acupressure; dietary/herbal consultations; qigong and tai chi exercises; and, importantly, patient education.
Western medicine takes a micro approach, looking at individual parts of the body and using medication and technology to treat disease and trauma. Chinese medicine takes a macro approach, seeking to maintain health and enhance the body's natural resistance to disease through an emphasis on wellness, self-healing and the interaction of mind and body. Western medicine's success in treating acute conditions such as infectious diseases and serious injuries is not always matched by its ability to control chronic conditions such as asthma, arthritis, anxiety, gastrointestinal disorders, menopausal symptoms and various forms of muscle, joint and nerve pain. That's where ancient Eastern practices come in.
"We're looking at the patient through both lenses," Hui says. "With Western medicine, we can look at the trees, branches and roots. With Chinese medicine, we look at the forest. The idea is to treat the whole system, which is breaking down with dysfunction, dysregulation and depletion, by rebalancing, re-regulating and refilling the reserves."
Intrigued? Or maybe just tired of living with a problem regular doctors can't seem to fix? Here are five ideas that can help you — and your body — get back in balance.
The insertion of small, thin needles at specific points on the body's surface sends a signal to the body to activate its self-healing abilities and helps to turn off pain signals. The 2,000-year-old Chinese practice is based on the idea that energy flows through the body across a dozen major pathways that can become blocked. Acupuncture has been successfully used to treat a wide variety of aches and pains (including the symptoms of arthritis), respiratory diseases, gastrointestinal ailments and even depression.
We all know massage feels good, but the Chinese version, known as acupressure — which applies physical pressure from the finger or elbow to stimulate specific acupuncture sites — reactivates the flow that is interrupted by emotional stress or pain. At the East-West clinic, patients can also learn how to use self-massage therapeutically.
3. Tai Chi and Qigong
Tai chi is a type of martial art that uses slow, repetitive motions, and qigong combines physical motions and postures with different breathing patterns — both helpful in handling stress. A recent study found that a 15-week tai chi program significantly helped people suffering from tension headaches. There is also some evidence to suggest that tai chi and qigong can decrease blood pressure.
4. Stress Reduction
Eastern practices can address the imbalances caused by tension, but to be fully effective, we also need to explore and address the causes of stress in our lives — from childhood, work, relationships and any emotional traumas. Meditation, therapy, all the usual tools, can be useful here.
5. Diet and Exercise Alterations
For some of us, simple adjustments in diet, such as reducing sodium intake or alcohol consumption, can lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels enough that we don't need to spend years on medications that can affect balance. A shift to less vigorous exercises, such as walking and yoga, may also be in order.