By: Richard G. Boles, M.D.

Western Medicine versus Eastern Medicine, which philosophy comes closest to the truth as we now understand biology and medicine? The center of Western (allopathic) Medicine is to identify the diagnosis, using reductionist techniques to identify the single cause, and based upon that to direct therapy. In contrast, Eastern Medicine believes that there is not a single cause, and that disease relates to imbalances among different factors; the purpose of therapy is to reestablish the lost balance. So which approach works best? The answer relies on the nature of the problem. If your patient has a fractured leg bone, Western medicine can better identify the exact location of the problem by imaging, and better offer therapy such as by securing a plate across the fracture. However, if your patient has depression, there isn’t an exact problem that can be identified, and the best therapy relates to reestablishing the balances among many different factors, including addressing neurotransmitter imbalances with medication, energy metabolism imbalances by supplements, and cognitive/emotional imbalances by psychotherapy. Your physician may not state it as such or even know, but a holistic approach for depression is inherently eastern in philosophy.

Functional Medicine is an approach that is rapidly gaining acceptance in the West, particularly in the United States. The use of a holistic approach, incorporating multiple modalities, looking for factors involved in disease and not simply for the underlying diagnosis, and the importance of nutrition, all suggest that Functional Medicine is more kin to eastern philosophy than western. However, most Functional Medicine practitioners also incorporate many western techniques, such as diagnostic tests and medications in an integrative practice model. Perhaps just as important, functional medicine doctors often take the time to really listen to their patients to understand their concerns and to explain treatment.

I am a pediatrician and geneticist who studied at the high temples of allopathic medicine, including UCLA and Yale. I was an attending physician based at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and a faculty member of USC for 20 years. In this capacity, I learned the power and limitations of the western medical model. Regarding the limitations, I noted that this model is poorly adapted to functional disease. Unfortunately, functional disease, including chronic pain, fatigue, nausea, dizziness, depression, and anxiety, is extremely common. In my evaluation of many patients with chronic functional disease, I noted that most of them have a significant degree of mitochondrial dysfunction.

The mitochondria are organelles that serve as the power plant of the cell. As all cells need energy to perform almost all functions, a deficiency in energy metabolism can have widespread implications throughout the body. Since nerve cells are electrical, a deficiency in energy production (mitochondrial dysfunction) often has predominately neurological manifestations. Although the signs and symptoms vary greatly, functional symptomatology is a common result of mitochondrial dysfunction.

Advances in genetics science and technology have a greatly increased our understanding of the causes of disease. I now order whole genome (DNA) sequencing in essentially all of my patients. Whereas only 10 years ago it was unusual for a patient to have an exact diagnosis, today most of my patients have an exact genetic diagnosis. Clinical outcomes have improved substantially based upon the increased information. So which model best describes medicine given our new level of understanding? In my opinion, the data supports a hybrid model with specific genetic variants in genes (western) acting to disturb the homeostasis in multiple physiological pathways (eastern). Among the pathways involved, in my experience mitochondrial function stands out as being common in people presenting with multiple conditions, including functional disease. In terms of therapeutic modalities that can address the affected pathways, nutrition stands out most in terms of being readily available, safe, and effective. In addition, nutrition is the preferred way of addressing mitochondrial dysfunction. 

Disclosure: Dr. Boles is the Chief Medical & Scientific Officer for NeuroNeeds LLC, the start-up company that makes SpectrumNeeds®, EnergyNeeds®, QNeeds®, and CalmNeeds®. As such, he may receive financial compensation based upon by efforts and/or the success of the company. You are under no obligation to purchase this or any products, whether recommended by Dr. Boles or another health care provider. As always, it is recommended that you contact your physician regarding these products and all other changes to disease management.

The Content within this article and NeuroNews Blog 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 a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this Blog.