by Sarah Gregory
Navigating the relationship and integration of Eastern & Western Medicine can be so incredibly confusing if you’re trying to do it alone.
I asked myself: What advice should I listen to? What therapies actually work? Where should I focus my time/energy?
When I was 7 years old I was initially diagnosed with Inflammatory Bowel Disease, and over the next 16 years, I went through many treatments, ultimately leading me to getting an ileostomy when I was 22 years old. At this point, I realized that Western medicine alone was not enough for me and I began diving into other therapies & integrating them.
This is where I finally found remission, and for the first time in my life I am off all of my medications, have zero signs of disease in my body and remembering how well our bodies are actually designed to feel when everything is in harmony.
For a long time, I completely put my nose up to any complementary forms of treatment outside of what my GI Specialist and family doctor recommended. I was totally stuck in my own bubble of ignorance, and because I had made judgments and conclusions about complementary therapies, I had completely shut myself off from receiving any of their benefits.
My body had to get to a point of crisis before I decided to release my judgments and explore other options. I finally realized that strictly using western medicine wasn’t working for my body.
Another barrier that stopped me from accessing complementary medicine was my lack of knowledge. The typical treatment route is through Western Medicine, and through an MD who may not have the knowledge or means to make recommendations to see other practitioners who specialize in Eastern Medicine.
What is the difference between Eastern & Western Medicine?
Western medicine is primarily focused on finding and treating disease. A one-size-fits-all, evidence-based algorithm is applied to patients without addressing many of the important factors that play a role in health, and is mainly interested in identifying the cause of a disease and countering it with drugs, while Eastern medicine focuses on enhancing our natural defenses so diseases can be prevented. Each type of care is very different, and both have a place in modern medical care.
Eastern and Western medicine practitioners often share the common goal to improve the health of the public, which includes sustainable and accessible care. When we allow these two to collide, we have much to gain from thoughtful, informed & open-minded conversation and exploration.
It is so important to be an advocate for yourself, listen to YOUR body and make decisions that are going to best support you.
Here are my top three tips for integrating Eastern & Western Medicine:
1. Go into it with an open mind.
It was easy for me to have preconceived judgments to what will work, or what won’t work. I learned that I had to throw those out the window. As soon as you judge something, you completely close yourself off from receiving anything from it (and this goes for everything from people, healing modalities and beyond!)
2. Find the right practitioner, or team of practitioners for you.
There are infinite possibilities for what this could look like. Here are a few qualities I look for in my own health team:
Good communication – they give me space & time to properly express myself, helping me feel empowered in my choices, helping me understand my treatment plan in a clear and concise way.
Wildly curious – rather than simply following that “one size fits all” mindset that I talked about earlier, finding a team that invites their inherent curiosity to lead us to a diagnosis & treatment plan is key.
Teamwork mentality – as much as we’d all like to be, it’s incredibly difficult to be an expert at everything. I want to find practitioners that understand it’s not a “one-man-show” and are able to work collaboratively with others.
3. Consider wellness as a snapshot of your whole self –including your physical, mental, emotional & spiritual well being.
If one is out of whack, the others will sure follow. I know my body responds to the way I think, feel and act, and this is essentially the mind/body connection. I seek support within all 4 areas of wellness.
A tangible example of what Eastern, Western, and Integrative care may look like, I’ve broke down a common symptom that many of us with IBD experience: Inflammation.
Below are different perspectives and common treatments from these three lenses.
Western Medicine:Anti-inflammatory drugs such as corticosteroids are often used as a first line of defense to lower the inflammation in my body. They may be used for short-term periods for symptom management and to induce remission, but have some pretty nasty side effects and can be dangerous for long term use. Immune system suppressors can also be recommended for the long term. These target my immune system, stopping it from producing substances that cause inflammation. They require my doctor to closely monitor my side effects, such as lowered resistance to infection.
Eastern Medicine:Major Eastern whole medicine systems include Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Kampo medicine (Japanese origins) and Ayurvedic medicine (Indian origins).
TMC uses yin–yang theory to explain the organizational structure, physiological functions, and pathological changes in my body to guide diagnosis and treatment of disease. The origin of my inflammation is examined and pinpointed as either an external or internal factor. A full assessment will diagnose the pattern and come up with a treatment plan, which may include herbs, acupuncture, or nutrition changes.
Kampo medicine is stemmed from TCM and uses many similar therapies with a primary focus on the use of natural and herbal medicines.
Ayurvedic medicine places equal emphasis on my body, mind, and spirit, and strives to restore my internal harmony through diet, exercise, meditation, herbs, massage, exposure to sunlight, and controlled breathing.
Integrative Medicine: Short-term or long-term Western therapies may be necessary, but other steps I’ve taken to prevent and treat inflammation are considered such as:
Management of the Microbiome
Elimination of Toxins from my home, diet & personal products
Lifestyle and Stress Management
Finding a connection within your health team, learning to embrace both sides with curiosity and an open mind, advocating for yourself, listening to your body, and giving each other a helping hand within the IBD community will help us all move forward towards a healthier, more abundant life.
About Sarah Gregory
My name is Sarah Gregory and I live in the beautiful Canadian Rockies. I love to adventure, play, and experience new things. I am a Licensed Practical Nurse, Healer & artist. When I was 7 years old I was initially diagnosed with Inflammatory Bowel Disease, and over the next 16 years, I went through many treatments, ultimately leading me to getting an ileostomy when I was 22 years old. Follow me on Instagram @find_your_wild.
This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding your condition.