An interesting delineation recently came to light as I was talking with a colleague about our medical practices. One of the ways that Eastern and Western medicine differ is in the way in which medicinals are used. The characterization is that of restoration vs. replacement.
Conceptually, replacement is a mechanical activity. You replace defective parts in a machine so that it works properly. Of course, the more complex the machine, the more difficult it is to replace parts without causing additional or residual issues.
Restoration has a more organic and artful connotation in that you would restore wetlands to their natural state, so that the complex ecosystem can reestablish and balance itself over time. This work is less about creating an environment and more of removing constraints and obstacles. Given the incredible complexity and subtleties of natural systems, restoration can take a considerable amount of time.
Western pharmaceuticals will often serve as a replacement for the body’s natural substances and/or functions. Supplementing with melatonin to help with insomnia is one example. Melatonin is a hormone that is naturally produced by the pineal gland. The amount of melatonin produced by the body increases in the evening and decreases in the morning based on the amount of light our bodies perceive, and other natural rhythms.
One consideration when supplementing with hormones and other substances that our bodies naturally make is the feedback cycle. When the body detects that enough has been released, it signals the body to stop making or releasing the substance. When substances are introduced through external supplementation over time, and the body doesn’t need to make the substance through its natural processes, there is evidence suggesting that the body’s ability to make the substance declines. It seems to be a case of “use it or lose it”.
Another consideration with this “replacement” approach is that once you stop taking the pharmaceutical, the original issue returns. The underlying reason why the body wasn’t adequately doing its job was not ever addressed. This ongoing dependence on pharmaceuticals makes for a very profitable pharmaceutical business, but isn’t so good for the long-term health and wellbeing of people. There are risks, possible side effects, and ongoing costs. And, because the symptoms have been covered over, the underlying root cause is not often addressed and resolved.
In contrast, the mechanism of Asian pharmaceuticals (which are mostly naturally occurring herbs & minerals) are mostly to support, encourage, and restore the body’s natural functions. In the context of this conversation, its to restore the natural ability to produce, release, and regulate hormones and other substances.
The human body is incredibly complex, with many subtle interactions and dependencies that Western science hasn’t yet identified or fully understood. The human tendency to think that we understand more than we actually do, and that we can do better than nature’s with its extremely long evolutionary cycle, is hugely egoic and narcissistic!
By working through the body’s natural processes and functions, we avoid the possible risk of functional atrophy, and we restore the body’s ability to do it’s wonderfully complex and nuanced job. Pharmaceuticals are no longer needed because their purpose to restore function has been achieved; they were not used “in place of” the body’s natural function.
Of course, there are appropriate situations for both approaches that are responsible and in the best interest of the patient. When a heart valve is malformed, replacement is appropriate. When bones are shattered, rebuilding the structure with plates, rods, and screws is necessary. And when a life-threatening infection takes a stronghold in a limb, safely removing the limb is likely the best option.
For people who’s bodies cannot make, release, or regulate certain hormones and substances, pharmaceutical replacement can be very helpful. One obvious cause might be the surgical removal of tissue and organs that are responsible for hormonal functions.
Another appropriate use of a ‘replacement’ approach is temporary management of a condition while the root cause is addressed. For some people, anti-depressants allow them to function where they otherwise could not. All to often, however, the pharmaceutical strategy is considered the final, long-term solution, and the underlying reason for the depression is not identified and resolved. For example, the resolution of a toxic, repressive relationship, or changing one’s career to something that is inspiring and meaningful.
Where the root cause continues unresolved, there may likely be other nefarious impacts to one’s life even though medication has alleviated the obvious, bothersome symptoms. Ultimately, this is not in the best interest of the patient’s life ‘best lived’, although it may be the easist, most convenient option.
It seems to me that although a ‘replacement’ approach is appropriate for some situations, many health issues would be better served with a ‘restoration’ approach. Taking the necessary time to identify and resolve the root cause will result in better functioning without ongoing reliance on pharmaceuticals and a better quality of life – the ability to do what we want, how we want.
Are you interested in exploring a ‘restorative’ approach to your health issues? Send me a message or just schedule an appointment – I’d love to work with you!