Is Chinese Medicine the same as homeopathy?

By Me & Qi
May 10, 2018

The short answer is no. The two concepts couldn't be more different. Let's see why.

The concept of homeopathy, in a nutshell, is that the same substances that make healthy people sick would cure sick people when given in extremely small doses. It is a concept that was invented in the 18th century by Samuel Hahnemann, a German physician. The theory was taken seriously for a few decades before being largely disproved by the scientific community.

Homeopathic preparations are made of dangerous substances (e.g. salmonella, tuberculosis bacteria, etc.) but extremely diluted, to the point where there is no molecule of it left in the final product. Homeopaths claim that the original substance remains in some form but modern science cannot detect any trace of it. From a modern science point of view, homeopathic medicine is nothing else than pure sugar. It has no therapeutic action on the body.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) on the other hand is a complete theory of medicine developed over millennia by thousands of theoreticians. A student of TCM today needs about as many years to understand the field as a student of modern medicine. It is a very complex discipline that simply cannot be explained over a short article. We'll just highlight here the three main differences with homeopathy.

1. TCM treatments are no placebo, they have a strong effect

TCM has a wide variety of treatments available in its repertoire, the most famous of which being herbal medicines and acupuncture.

In the case of herbal medicine the herbs used in Chinese Medicine are for the most part very potent, meaning that they have a strong effect on the body. It cannot be denied that plants have therapeutic effects: before the advent of modern medicine we pretty much only used plants to heal ourselves. Many of our most famous modern drugs (e.g. Aspirin from Willow bark extract or Morphine from Poppies) are derived from plants. Anyone who's ever experienced taking a drug like marijuana or psychedelic mushrooms has experienced first-hand the potency of plants!

Same thing for acupuncture: it works beyond the placebo effect for a variety of conditions. In 1997 the National Institute of Health (NIH), the primary agency of the United States government responsible for public health research, found that there was conclusive evidence of acupuncture's efficacy for the control of nausea, vomiting and post-operative dental pain, as well as probable efficacy in other settings when used alone or in combination with other treatments.

In the case of homeopathy, no study has ever proven they work beyond the placebo effect. In fact, when analysed chemically, homeopathic pills are 100% sugar so it's not surprising that they don't have any effect on you beyond the effect of sugar!

2. Contrary to homeopathy, many aspects of TCM are embraced by modern science

The opinion of modern science on homeopathy is pretty clear: it doesn't work. Some scientists even go as far as calling it a sham.

TCM is much more respected by modern science. Like we wrote above, the National Institute of Health (NIH) even goes as far as publicly recommending the use of acupuncture for some conditions.

Modern science also funds a lot of research to understand why some TCM herbal treatments work. For instance as recently as 2015 Tu Youyou received the Nobel Prize in Medicine for extracting artemisinin, the active principle behind Qing Hao (Sweet Wormwood), a herb traditionally used in Chinese medicine. Artemisinin is widely recognized today as the best treatment available against malaria.

3. TCM theory provides a complete explanation for the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of diseases

TCM theory is very complete, there is abundant literature written over millennia on everything from the diagnosis, treatment to the prevention of diseases. In fact in some respects it is even more complete in its range than modern medicine. For instance one could argue that TCM puts a much stronger emphasis than modern medicine on the prevention of diseases. Chinese medicine even comprises Qi Gong, a form physical exercise and meditation that aims to balance one's body and thus prevent diseases. Modern medicine doesn't have its own sport yet!

Homeopathy, on the other hand, is just a disproved theory on the treatment of diseases. It was only considered seriously during a very short time span when it was invented at the end of the 18th century and was then rapidly disproved. The last school in the US exclusively teaching homeopathy closed in 1920. It has nothing close to the durability or the breadth of TCM. 

 

Article tags: Basic concepts

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