Health and Fitness

Traditional medicine and Western medicine: What are the differences?

Often conventional Western medicine, that of medical schools and specialists in each organ or part of the body, is opposed to so-called “traditional” medicines. As if the two couldn’t coexist. In aromatherapy, the two approaches are complementary and make it possible to obtain the most suitable care for one’s well-being. We explain to you why traditional medicine and modern medicine are precious allies for your health.

What exactly is traditional medicine & conventional medicine?

The medicine we call “modern” or “conventional” is official Western medicine. It is based on treatments that have obtained scientific validation, either through clinical trials, or because they benefit from a strong professional consensus obtained with the agreement and experience of the majority of professionals in the discipline.

There is both the scientific proof of results on the effects and symptoms, the non-safety of side effects, or at least their precise measurement. The professional consensus, more empirical which can be used to validate a practice in this regard. Even if conventional medicine is based on established scientific protocols, a place is left for the experience of health professionals.

These soft, alternative or parallel medicines are sometimes thousands of years old. Their practice remains predominant in many countries of the world, particularly in Asia and Africa. However, in Europe and North America, more than half the population uses these complementary medicines at least once a year.

In some countries, the difference between the two types of medical practice is unclear, and access to primary care remains the priority. It is often the use of medicinal plants, the knowledge of which is transmitted from generation to generation, which allows this first access to care.

The difference in diagnostic approach.

Conventional medicine tends to focus on the symptoms, whereas, traditional medicine tends to look out for signs.

Western Medicine:

Conventional medicine focuses primarily on the symptom. Listening to the patient, the doctor collects the functional symptoms: pain, sensations, discomfort with the examination. He seeks to detect them, to enable him to identify the drug treatment that seems to correspond with those signs and symptoms. By crossing the two, he makes his diagnosis. If necessary, paraclinical examinations are carried out to collect more data on particular organs or parts of the body.

Dr. Margaret Chan, former director general of the World Health Organization explains that;

“Too often the patient is no longer receiving treatment as a person, but rather as a set of separate organs, each reporting to a usually very competent specialist. Thus, this trend towards hyper specialization often undermines the doctor-patient relationship in the practice of modern Western medicine”.

After the diagnosis, conventional medicine then endeavours to treat the cause of these symptoms, mainly by the prescription of drugs. These medical practices are based on the same physiology, which explains the functioning of all organs and which is common to the training of all members of the medical profession. In the event that no diagnosis can be made, the use of analgesics or other medication will be prescribed to treat the symptoms.
Thus, the presence or absence of specific symptoms aims to eliminate possible pathologies according to differential diagnosis methodology. According to the latter, if the symptoms do not fit into a pathological picture, it is because there is nothing to treat.

Traditional Medicine:

Traditional medicines start from a more global approach that is often associated with the patient’s body, mind, and environment. The resulting treatment is entirely individualized. Considering the patient’s environment is common in aromatherapy, mainly through the ethics that constitute its basis.

Dr. Margaret Chan also states that;

“Traditional Chinese medicine which has pioneered in areas such as diet, exercise, awareness of environmental influences and on the use of herbal medicines as part of an overall holistic approach to health. Other known ancient medical systems in other countries, such as Ayurveda in India, offer the same type of approach”.

Indeed, instead of starting only from the dysfunctions of one or another organ, traditional medicines put into practice a more global approach to care. For example, energy medicines such as acupuncture, Qi Gong or Shiatsu, focus on observing the patient’s vital flow. It is the disturbances of its circulation that are the sign and the effects of a disease. According to these approaches, restoring the good circulation of this energy is a priority.

Most of these techniques concern what in Europe and North America we qualify as well-being and which does not fall within the scope of conventional medicine. Some practices that we sometimes refer to as “alternative medicine”, such as aromatherapy, are actually based on the principles of modern medicine.

Traditional medicine & modern medicine, are they complementary?

Many medical problems related to functional disorders, such as psychosomatic disorders, are accurate even if they are not materially observable and quantifiable. Conventional medicine is rather helpless in the face of this kind of disorder, unlike traditional medicine. It is the diagnostic approach that makes all the difference. Knowing the contraindications of essential oils thanks to their biochemical properties is necessary. But aromatherapy as a method of preparation and use of plants will be relevant to use holistically.

What the World Health Organization think:

Following numerous studies carried out by the WHO during her tenure, Dr. Margaret Chan reminds us; “We must not oppose traditional medicine and Western medicine. Within the context of primary or essential health care, the two can complement each other harmoniously. One should use the best characteristics and compensate for the weaknesses of each”. Finding the most appropriate care for the situation and the human being at a given time and in a given context is the key to maintaining and cultivating one’s health.

Western medicine drawbacks.

The truth is that modern medicine is sorely lacking in new treatments. It takes several years for new drugs to pass all stages of research and manufacture, resulting in considerable cost.
The rise in drug resistance is partly the result of their misuse, which has rendered many antibiotics and other life-saving drugs unnecessary.
These two trends explain the urgent need for researchers and pharmaceutical companies to find new sources of treatment, which are increasingly turning to traditional medicine.
Some great successes have revived interest in traditional medicine, which is proving to be a source of effective and lucrative treatments. Artemisinin used in the treatment of malaria is the best-known example.

Protection and intellectual property

Possibly the most striking difference between traditional medicine and modern medicine is the legal protection of intellectual property. Historically, healers have freely shared knowledge and experiences, defining the notion of ‘open access’ well before its time. On the other hand, modern medicine has strict laws that govern intellectual property over drugs and medical techniques.
As Western researchers realize the wealth of knowledge in traditional medicine systems and the need for new drugs becomes more urgent, several scientists have started to study local sources for new drugs: an activity called “bioprospecting”.

Regulation of traditional medicines

In addition to the differences between local and Western knowledge systems, efforts to integrate traditional medicines must also adapt to the considerable differences in regulation.
Each country has some sort of national drug authority responsible for administering and managing modern drugs and the formulation of drug policies.
The problem with traditional medicine is that its design often varies from person to person. The same medicinal plant can be classified as a food, dietary supplement, or medicinal plant, depending on where it’s located.

The lack of regulations means that there are as many fake drugs and fake practitioners as there are genuine treatments. And this can have irreparable consequences.
For most of the past decade, WHO has worked on developing international guidelines and technical standards to help countries formulate policies and regulations for the control of traditional medicines.

Testing methods

In addition to the regulatory differences between traditional medicine and Western medicine, their assessment and testing methods vary.
Modern drugs go through rigorous laboratory tests and clinical trials before they are brought to market. Modern medicine has developed safe methods to test drugs’ efficacy and safety and standardize good manufacturing practices.

In some cases, this means adapting the accepted methods to resolve ethical issues that do not arise with conventional drug development. Researchers suggest that clinical trials of traditional drugs should be subject to different rules in terms of research ethics.

Fundamental differences between traditional medicine and modern medicine:

Traditional Medicine Modern Medicine
Intellectual Property Free access Closed, Protected by patents
Formulation One-off, during the consultation with the patient Predetermined, and once tested in clinical trials, it cannot be changed unless tested again
Regulations Almost none although some countries try to introduce rules and standards Very strict, so much so that the introduction of drugs on the market today costs millions of dollars
Trials No formal testing since knowledge about efficiency is passed on from generation to generation. Rigorous testing at various stages, first for safety and second for effectiveness
Dosage Not known: The dose of the drug may be approximately the same. The active ingredient (which is actually the dosage) can vary widely. Fixed doses which tend to vary only slightly due to age or weight, or severity of the disease
Consultation Long, the patient is also questioned on a large number of subjects other than the symptoms of the disease. Primary and secondary care consultations tend to be brief and highly focused, especially given the strain on national health systems.
Training With traditional medicine, knowledge is passed within families from person to person, and practitioners often come from families of healers. Often qualifying: Healthcare professionals go through higher education and formal training in both schools & universities.

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