Have you found the lightning speed of discoveries in the field of genetics absolutely fascinating and promising for the future of medicine?
As we have learned more about the human genome, genetic testing has become affordable and accurate at predicting and preventing disease. Our level of understanding disease has expanded from a 2D view to a 3D view, and we can now piece together many of the achingly beautiful mysteries of the human experience.
In discussions around genetic testing, we are beginning to hear a term that is gaining popularity with Western medicine – “personalized medicine.” According to The National Cancer Institute (NCI) Dictionary of Cancer Terms (n.d.), “personalized medicine” is:
“A form of medicine that uses information about a person’s genes, proteins, and environment to prevent, diagnose, and treat disease.”
As the Stuff You Should Know podcast describes it, personalized medicine involves the concept that, “people have different types of reactions to different types of treatments and can have different types of experiences with different types of diseases.” They note that this realization occurred in the Western Medicine tradition in the mid-20th century (“How Personalized Medicine Works,” 2015).
With genome testing, we can potentially predict the exact effect that a specific medication will have on an individual and the likelihood that administering it will have the effect that we desire. We can bring these predictions down to a mathematical equation and act with more certainty in administering medication, in predicting the spread of disease, and in predicting the onset of disease, etc. Potentially, we may be able to prevent forms of cancer from occurring in individuals with an increased risk of developing them, simply by knowing their genetic risk for such diseases.
In traditional therapies, we have used the concept of personalized medicine for centuries. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), includes five basic modalities:
- Herbal Medicine
- Qi Exercises such as qi gong
- Diet and Lifestyle Suggestions
- Medical Massage, such as Tuina or Shiatsu
The system uses these five techniques to craft individualized treatments. Each session employs one, all, or some combination of these techniques based on the person’s healthcare needs. Together, the five methods demonstrate a long history of time-tested results through “precise medicine,” i.e. medical treatment based on a person’s constitution and individuality. Here is personalized medicine at it’s inception.
So then, how old is the concept of personalized medicine?
The origins of acupuncture points and acupuncture meridians are so ancient that we are not completely sure which came first. The discovery of a man known as Otzi who died under a glacier in the Alps may lead to discoveries about the origins of acupuncture. Otzi had tattoos on very specific acupuncture points on his body, sometime around the year 3250 B.C.E.! We are talking about the possibility of a 5000 year old medical tradition – based on personalized medicine!
Even in the west, we see it in the underpinnings of the Hippocratic Oath; an oath recited by every doctor upon their entrance into the field of medicine:
“It is far more important to know what person the disease has than what disease the person has.” – Hippocrates (c. 460 BC – c. 370 BC)
There is a similar saying in the TCM tradition; “yi bing tong zhi, tong bing yi zhi,” which translates to:
“One disease, different treatments; Different diseases, one treatment. – Such an old quote that no one seems to know who said it.
What does this mean? It means is that six people who walk into a TCM practitioner’s office with asthma will likely receive six different treatments. However, it is possible that one person with asthma and one person with rheumatoid arthritis will have the exact same constitutional patterns, leading to a treatment that is identical. The treatment is built around the individual and not around the disease.
When a patient walks into my practice, they receive an individualized treatment formulated for their specific body-type, symptoms, and underlying patterns of disharmony. They receive a custom herbal formula that is specific to their symptoms, exactly where they are today. In this way, my goal is to treat the root of a disease, and not its symptoms alone. By doing this, I can stave off the symptoms of chronic or acute pain, wheezing, headaches, sweating, or whatever is bothering you, while also taking out the underlying pattern of disharmony in the body that is causing those symptoms to reoccur.
Your symptoms of physical or emotional discomfort are unique to you. They are a reflection of who your genetics and your “epigenetics;” in other words, the physical, emotional and spiritual experiences that define your personality and constitution.
It is no coincidence that personalized medicine is currently landing in the Western medical field. Western audiences are ready to understand the power of viewing the individual as a unique universe with personalized needs. A rise in popularity of TCM coincides with our increasing understanding of the human genome under the context of personalized medicine. People are beginning to realize that a healthcare system where everyone is treated the same is not as powerful as a system where individual needs are met. The combination of Eastern and Western medicine styles complement one another nicely and provide a hopeful future for personalized healthcare.
For a custom treatment built for your specific constitutional needs, book an appointment here.
We’ll begin by talking about you.
Stuff You Should Know, (2015, June 26). How Personalized Medicine Works [Audio Podcast]. Retrieved from: http://www.stuffyoushouldknow.com/podcasts/how-personalized-medicine-works/
NCI Dictionary of Cancer Terms. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.cancer.gov/publications/dictionaries/cancer-terms?cdrid=561717