August 3, 2012
By Jun-Gi Min
My father, raised in South Korea before it became recognized as a truly developed nation, is a strong proponent of Eastern Medicine. He is the type of person to give me herb tea instead of Nyquil when I was sick, and he frequently took me to an acupuncturist before any chiropractor when I got injured while playing sports. He is even pursuing an education in Eastern Medicine in his near-retirement, studying many of the things that I am also learning about in Biology and Chemistry classes.
My father’s reasoning for his staunch belief in the traditional methods that have been passed down from the ancient Chinese lies with the argument that this school of thought takes into account the entire body in treating its patients. He frequently compares this holistic perspective in medicine to the often narrow-minded approach of modern doctors, whom he portrays to be brutal and short-sighted. He criticizes Western medicine for utilizing invasive treatments to “solve” problems without taking into account the body’s equilibrium, whose disturbance causes continuous problems afterward.
What I learned from many of the lectures from this Oxford trip is that my father’s criticism of modern medicine, though a bit harsh, may be right in many ways. Dr. Ryan and Dr. Quinn talked about how medicine in the developed world has become largely about finding quick and complete cures to what are actually complex dilemmas that require careful intervention.
I think an adequate example of this would be the anti-malarial medicines that have been derived from plants used in traditional treatments. After discovering anti-malarial properties in Chincona plants that have been effective for 300 years, modern medicine attempted to make a faster and more potent cure by isolating the active compound quinine from the plant. Of course, this refined product was more effective in dealing with the parasite Plasmodium, but what the scientists did not take into account was that isolating quinine also stripped off many of the collaborative compounds in the plant that had prevented the parasite from developing resistance to the treatment. Ultimately, quinine became useless in combating malaria that quickly became immune to it. This was obviously a blunder of Western medicine, which sacrificed too rashly the complexity of the whole for the possibility of an instant cure.
What this and many other examples brought up in class showed me was the importance of collaboration and integration of different schools of thought. Not only will collaboration make modern medicine more appealing to the extremely diverse cultures of the world, incorporating the knowledge that has been passed down through generations will prove beneficial in bringing progress to healthcare. The incorporation of herbs and yoga in treating Elephantiasis in India, using poppy plant to reduce the effects of Malaria in Africa, and the development of Artemisanin from a Chinese herb are great examples how this is to be done.
I don’t think that one type of medicine is better than the other; frankly, I don’t think it even matters. In my pursuit of being a doctor I will strive to keep myself open to all forms of medicine, not sacrificing scientific integrity but also conceding to the fact that I will always have a lot to learn.
Jun Gi Min is a sophomore Biology major from Dublin, California.