Rethinking disease with systems medicine

Image: Hartwig HKD/h.koppdelaney via Flickr


There’s an insightful and ironic quote about medicine from an unknown author which goes like this:

A Short History of Medicine.

2000 B.C.  “Here, eat this root.”

1000 B.C.  “That root is heathen, say this prayer.”

1850 A.D.  “That prayer is superstition, drink this potion.”

1940 A.D.  “That potion is snake oil, swallow this pill.”

1985 A.D.  “That pill is ineffective, take this antibiotic.”

2000 A.D.  “That antibiotic is artificial. Here, eat this root.”


It got a few chuckles out of me but it does show you how healthcare and medicine have come full-circle and we are slowly but surely understanding the importance of (w)holistic medicine.


As an acupuncturist, it comes with the territory that I don’t see a symptom as an isolated case separate from the rest of the body and the person. Why does this person have insomnia? Is it because of a back pain or frequent urination keeping them awake at night? Or is it because of stress at work so the overthinking makes it hard for them to fall asleep? Rarely does a health problem arise without other accompanying symptoms. They may seem unrelated but in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) these are all clues just waiting to be noticed by the detective.


So it was with great delight that I saw a short video by Dr. Mark Hyman where he talks about “systems medicine”. Hardly revolutionary in the TCM and acupuncture world, his idea is that “historically we just try to find a drug for the bug or a pill for the ill, instead of really finding out how to treat the body as a system.”


Dr Hyman goes on to say:

“We’re moving from the idea that diseases are things, like bacteria that need to be treated with a drug, like an antibiotic, which was a wonderful paradigm for 20th century illness, but it’s not a good paradigm for chronic lifestyle-driven diseases. We’re looking to choose drugs over lifestyle to treat diseases that are really lifestyle-driven illnesses… The future of medicine is systems medicine. It’s predictive, preventative, it’s participatory and it’s personalised.”


It certainly sounds very familiar to TCM theory, doesn’t it?


Click here to watch the full video.


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3 thoughts on “Rethinking disease with systems medicine

  1. Hehe, I love the potted history, it is so true!
    I get frustrated with the medical approach of treating the symptom rather than searching for the cause. And I *love* that you take such a holistic approach, in my view that is by faaaar the best approach possible for the best outcome/prognosis.
    Great post Ka Hang, x

    • I’m so glad the holistic approach is becoming more and more mainstream. I actually danced a little with joy whenever I hear another healthcare professional mention the importance of preventative medicine and treating the cause not just the symptoms.
      Thanks for reading, Elle 😎

  2. Pingback: Acupuncture and Health | Reaching wellness doesn’t happen overnight | The Happy Acupuncturist

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