Traditional Chinese Medicine: A Low Cost Health Option

by Clark Zimmerman, L.Ac.

With the current economic crisis, many people are reevaluating their health care options. The videa of preventative care begins to look even more attractive when money becomes tight. Chinese medicine is among the least expensive health care options in our country today. I recently read an article in Acupuncture Today journal that I found to be very relevant for the times. It talked about the often exorbitant costs associated with western medical diagnostics and treatments. The article mentions, for instance, that especialists typically charge between $100-$500 for an office visit. Then they usually rely on MRI’s, x-rays, and CT scans that can cost thousands of dollars more. These costs only help with a diagnosis; treatment options, which often include surgery or pharmaceutical prescriptions, can cost significantly more money. With all of these expenses, there is still no guarantee that the problem will be fixed.

This reminded me of a patient that I recently treated in our clinic who came in complaining of moderate to severe abdominal pain. After spending nearly $5000 on 3 separate MRI’s, the doctors were still baffled by the womans condition. They said that the next option would be to perform exploratory surgery, which was still no guarantee to discover the underlying cause. I was suprised to discover that none of the specialists had considered that the problem was a simple strained muscle. When the patient came into my office, I performed some simple Chinese diagnostic techniques and discovered in abot 5 minutes that the woman had a strained psoas muscle. I gave her an acupuncture treatment and the next day she reported that the pain had almost completely subsided. A few days later her pain was totally gone. The cost of her treatment was $75. IF she had tried acupuncture first she would have not only saved over $5,000, but she also would have avoided a good deal of the stress that was involved in the 2 week process of unsuccessful diagnosis. This is not to suggest that Chinese medicine is always an adequate substitution for western medical diagnosis and treatment, though Chinese medicine often offers a cheaper and more effective solution.

As I mentioned earlier, Western medicine often relies on pharmaceutical drugs to treat a variety of health problems. In the Acupuncture Today article, the author mentions that a one month supply of a newer pharmaceutical can cost more than $100 per drug. Given the fact that many people are taking more than one drug, this can add up to a significant monthly expense. Chinese herbal medicine offers a cheaper alternative to pharmaceuticals. Herbal formulas typically cost between $30-$50 per month. They attempt to address an overall pattern and therefor can treat many symptoms with one simple formula. They also are typically free of the uncomfortable or dangerous side-effects that can accompany man Western pharmaceuticals.

I treated a patient who suffered from chronic pancreatitis, an extremely painful condition that is often treated with powerful opiate drugs. The treatment only focuses on dulling the pain, getting the patient through an acute attack, but does little to prevent the condition from returning. The patient had attacks at regular 2 month intervals that sent him to the hospital emergency room for 3-4 days. Since he had lost his insurance, his bi-monthly hospital stays could cost him as much as $20,000 each visit. I treated him with acupuncture for the acute pain, but it was the herbal prescription that truly changed the overall pattern. He took herbs for 4 months at about $60 per month, for a total of $240. After 4 months of taking an herbal prescription his costly chronic disease changed course. Now, over 6 months later, he has been pain free, free from medication, and is no longer having to make expensive trips to the ER. He is also free of the fatigue and dullness of thought that accompany chronic opiate use. One reason that Chinese medicine can be so cost effective is that rather than prescribing treatment protocols that only treat the symptoms, Chinese medicine attempts to treat the root of a problem. If the root is successfully addressed, the symptoms typically go away and are less likely to return.

Chinese medicine also puts more emphasis on prevention of disease, rather than treating a disease once it has settled in. Chinese medicine also puts a great deal of emphasis on dietary influences. I have treated several patients that simply needed to try out certain dietary alternatives. Dairy and wheat are common culprits that can cause havoc on an unsuspecting patients health. I have treated more than one person with chronic digestive disress that only needed to remove dairy products from their menu to elicit huge and lasting improvements in their health. Since Chinese medicine is a holistic form of medicine, we look at the entire picture of a person’s health, whereas western medicine is often so specialized that it sometimes misses the most simple and easiest solutions. While western medicine is unmatched in its treatment of trauma and serious, life threatening illness, it often times is unable to effectively treat chronic, lifestyle based issues.

I treat a woman who was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes, that had received virtually no dietary counseling. After discussing some simple adjustments that she could make in her diet, she reported that her blood glucose levels had dropped significantly and that she not only was requiring less insulin, she was feeling much more energetic.

As the old sying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. This seems especially relevent in time of financial downturns. If you have a health concern, consider Chinese medicine as a safe, effective, and money saving option.

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