The Science of Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine

by Amy Myszko

Working in the holistic health care field, it’s a pretty frequent occurrence to hear someone bash “alternative medicine” as fake or ineffective. The truth, however, is that we should consider “alternative medicine” to be the original, traditional medicine. This is not to say that some of the amazing breakthroughs in conventional allopathic medicine aren’t exciting. But reclaiming our world heritage of traditional medicine and utilizing the two side by side is, in my opinion, a much better option than using one or the other exclusively.

How Science is Catching Up with Traditional Medicine

Ayurveda, known as the science of life, has been an effective method of treating numerous health conditions for millennia. Unfortunately, according to researchers it is still difficult to find studies on Ayurveda using Western resources such as PubMed, a public database of scientific studies freely available on the web. But the research that exists is promising! Studies suggest that Ayurveda is an effective modality to treat osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, among other chronic diseases. The Ayurvedic focus on food and health has also been recently investigated for use in health promotion campaigns in the United States.

The Science Behind Traditional Chinese Medicine

More research is available to back up the ancient claims of Traditional Chinese Medicine and to support its use in conjunction with modern medicine. Recent research has been conducted on TCM’s efficacy in treating digestive disorders and menopause, to name a few. Numerous Chinese herbal remedies have been studied extensively and are considered beneficial, including ginseng, reishi mushrooms and He shou wu. The canon of both TCM and Ayurvedic herbal formulations is large, although not always well-researched. Both modalities also encompass non-botanical therapies such as acupuncture and yoga, which have been widely studied and shown to be of great benefit in numerous health complaints, including chronic pain, insomnia, depression and anxiety.

The Power of Traditional Diagnostic Techniques

Have you ever had the privilege of experiencing a skilled TCM practitioner taking your pulses and looking at your tongue? If not, you may wonder what all the fuss is about. Diagnostics in ancient medical traditions are quite different than our modern counterparts. After careful study over many years, Traditional Chinese Practitioners are able to read the various organ systems of the body through a person’s pulses (yes there are multiple pulses, both deep and shallow, that can be felt by an attuned practitioner). The tongue is also a window into the body, revealing much about an individual’s constitution (tendency towards heat, cold, dry or moist states) as well as their digestion and overall health. Modern science is definitely starting to catch up to the idea that the gut is the root of health, a primary tenet in both TCM and Ayurveda.

Constitution Types and Traditional Medicine

If, like me, you’ve explored Eastern nutrition, you may have worked with an Ayurvedic practitioner to balance your Doshas through dietary changes and lifestyle practices. While the focus of Western medicine remains on creating remedies to treat various symptoms or specific diseases, Ayurveda and TCM tend to treat the whole person, bringing their overall system back into balance, thereby facilitating the body’s own healing. Science is quickly catching up with some of these holistic perspectives; a straightforward example is the study of the placebo effect, which demonstrates how powerful our thoughts and intentions are, as well as how receptive we are to the words of those in positions of power or influence (think doctors, healers and close family members).

Ancient Remedies for Modern Ailments

Why choose Ayurveda or Traditional Chinese Medicine? Quite honestly, because of its history of efficacy and safety. With well-known herbs that have been taken and therapies that have been practiced for hundreds or thousands of years, we have a well-documented history of their use, safety and benefits. These healing modalities also boast well-trained practitioners who have studied extensively for many years, much like allopathic doctors. Trusted formulas, ancient practices and well-trained practitioners make for a safe and effective alternative or adjunct to Western medical treatments.

“There’s a popular saying among doctors: There’s no such thing as alternative medicine; if it works, it’s just called medicine.”
~ Ed Yong, Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life

Amy Myszko is a Certified Clinical Herbalist, Certified Lactation Counselor and Licensed Lactation Care Provider and has been practicing herbalism and nutrition since 2007. She recently graduated with a master’s in Lactation and is pursuing a career as a Holistic Lactation Therapist.