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Helene Pavlov, M.D. Headshot

The 'Voodoo' Eastern Medicine Vs. The Tested (And FDA Approved) Western Medicine

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The medical field changes daily. Medical researchers are continually introducing new technologies, pharmaceuticals and breakthrough treatment options that are changing the way we diagnose and treat patients. Over the last century we have come a long way and patients are living longer and recovering more quickly, and have a better quality of life, longer, than they did in the past.

When I went to medical school over 40 years ago, our curriculum was strictly focused on Western medical practices. Eastern medicine such as Chinese herbs, acupuncture and even some types of massage were considered by many to be voodoo and quackery. Why? In the Western world we are required to scientifically test and prove the efficacy of the treatments prescribed to patients. Extensive testing and laborious research is done in phases and then presented to the FDA for approvals before patients can be prescribed new and innovative treatment, testing and imaging options. Eastern medicine is not as regulated and therefore not scientifically proven and because it is less understood, it is typically relegated to a voodoo status.

Over the last years however, physicians trained in Western medical practices are beginning to embrace some Eastern methods as complementary to the traditional course of treatment For example, in the Department of Radiology and Imaging at Hospital for Special Surgery we now offer complimentary chair massages prior to imaging examinations to help calm and relax patients. Some oncologists recommend that patients with cancer undergo reiki after they've had a course of chemotherapy and alternative treatments such as acupuncture and meridian stretching are also being used for everything from smoking cessation to helping relieve lower back pain.

While not fully subscribing to Eastern medical philosophies for which I am not trained or familiar, I do believe that they have a place in Western medicine and in many ways can complement scientifically tested and proven treatments. My biggest piece of advice for anyone looking closely at Eastern medical practices is to do research, keep an open mind and consult with your physician. Always make sure your physician knows exactly what you are doing in addition to his or her recommended treatments to ensure that there will not be any harmful interactions or other negative effects.

If you want to embrace Eastern or alternative medical practices and your physicians will not help, find another physician. If alternative medicine interests you at all, make sure that the physician you choose is open to exploring alternative treatments. There are lots of physicians out there and you have the power to choose the one that best suits your way of life and core beliefs. Remember you only have one body and one life and you must maximize the conditions of both.

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