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Meeting of the minds
Eastern and Western philosophies unite for patient care



People with chronic pain, allergies and other health problems who have not found success with traditional Western medicine are turning in greater numbers to Eastern medical techniques like acupuncture for solutions. "People often come to us when they are at the end of their rope. They have tried other treatments and nothing has worked for them," says Art Rapkin, a trained Doctor of Oriental Medicine and licensed acupuncturist at the Kindo Health Center in Elm Grove. "Our average patient is overweight and suffering from a variety of illnesses. They typically are taking numerous medications and are not getting better," he says.

Osteopathic doctor Tiffany Mullen integrates Eastern and Western medical philosophies in her family practice in Milwaukee’s North Shore. A practitioner of traditional Western medicine, she is also trained in acupuncture and studied in California with Dr. Andrew Weil, a pioneer in the field of integrative medicine, which combines conventional medical treatments and alternative treatments. She, too, sees patients who are on many medications and want to improve their health. "People want to feel better, but they don’t necessarily want a prescription," she says.

There is a significant difference in philosophy behind the two kinds of medicine, Rapkin says. One basic analogy says to think of Western medicine as looking at the trees and Eastern medicine as looking at the entire forest, or a system. For example, instead of taking an aspirin for a headache, Eastern medicine suggests that lifestyle changes might solve the underlying problem causing the headache. "Western medicine concentrates on fixing, repairing and replacing, but Eastern medicine has a focus on nourishing, cultivating and supporting the entire body," Rapkin says.

Although there once was a stigma attached to using alternative therapies like acupuncture, biofeedback, massage, meditation and exercise therapy, it is changing. "Some doctors still might consider certain things to be voodoo medicine, but I believe the medical community is becoming more open to it," says Mullen, who receives some patient referrals from other physicians. "The two communities can learn from one another. Currently, about 10 to 15 percent of my practice is acupuncture, but patient usage is escalating every year," she says.

The Kindo Health Center has an MD on staff along with Rapkin, combining the two types of medicine. "The problem is, we are an overmedicated culture. Prescription drugs have dangerous side effects and they sometimes cause more problems than they solve," says Rapkin who prefers to educate people about their diet and lifestyle.

Poor nutrition is another big reason why people are ill, Rapkin says. "We don’t know the difference between a Cheeto and an apple. We’re eating too much processed food and hormone-infested meat. Our bodies are not machines or an assemblage of parts and should not be treated that way," he says. "People ignore their health until they lose it. I am just looking to shine a little light into the darkness," he says.

Mullen agrees that Eastern medicine or other nontraditional therapies sometimes can be an alternative to a prescription. "With a drug, you could be trading one problem for another. Instead, you might be able to use an herb or a lifestyle change that will correct rather than cover over a problem," she says.

While the two medical philosophies are quite different, integrating them can lead to positive outcomes for patients, Rapkin says. "While certain treatments like medication may relieve the symptoms of an illness, Eastern medicine goes one step further, helping people to realize the connection between the mind, body and spirit," he says.