The Ying-Yang of Deer Antler or The East and West Use of Deer Antler in Medicine
Dr. Elaine Jette
Dr. Elaine Jette is a veterinarian living and working in Ottawa. A former Agri-Food and Agriculture Canada veterinarian, Elaine has turned her interest and considerable talent to the expanding biotechnology industry. Her obvious understanding of Chinese medicine doctrine and her ability to illuminate the similarities and differences of Eastern and Western medical methodology are demonstrated in this article. The result is an easily understood account of the rationale behind the medical use of velvet antler from both perspectives.
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Yin-Yang theory is well illustrated by the traditional Chinese Taoist symbol. The circle representing the whole and called "the great absolute or infinite void" is divided into Yin (black) and Yang (white). The circle is divided into two-pear-shaped bodies by a double curved line. The small circles of opposite shading illustrate that within the Yin there is Yang and vice versa. The dynamic curve dividing them indicates that Yin and Yang are continuously merging. Thus Yin and Yang create each other, control each other and transform into each other.1,2,3
Increasingly, people who are either motivated by health or wealth are turning toward alternative medicine for treatment and medication. The Western interest in and exploration of the use of deer antler in Chinese medicine is an example of this quest.
Definition: Western medicine can be defined as a somatic and curative medicine, based on Western-structured languages and on the Aristotle causal/analytic philosophy.4,5 Western medicine can also be defined as the practice and accumulated body of knowledge known as allopathic medicine. The allopathic treatment principle combats disease through the use of remedies that produce opposite effects to those of the disease. This principle is basically antagonistic and suppressive.3
A somatic medicine: The language used by the medical scientist largely predetermines the way in which he analyzes the nature of health and disease, either notices or neglects types of relationship and phenomena, and channels reasoning. Thus, language creates a finite reservoir of potential solutions to problems. The very structure of language determines not only that certain phenomena and certain relationships will be observed, but that others will be overlooked as well. The Western-structured languages have a tendency to be overly concrete, to introduce non-existent "things" into what is really just a series of processes or functions. The language itself, with its preference for objects over processes, implies that "vitamin deficiency" or "insufficient oligo-element intake" are considered as "things" as much as "viruses", "bacteria", "localized inflammation" are "things".5
Hence Western medicine is a somatic medicine in that it is concerned with the body as a "material thing". Western medicine tends to perceive the human body as the sum of its cells and illness as anomalous activities in some of those cells. Even the human mind is seen as a complex system of cells influenced by chemistry, electricity and magnetism.5,6
A causal/analytic medicine: Western medicine observes bodily organs, analyzes blood samples, and is constantly on the lookout for harmful "things" that cause disease. It is a somatic medicine of cause and effect. The laws of Western medicine are generalized assertions, about which causes can be associated with effects. The search for causes is regarded by Western medicine as the only scientifically valid mode of enquiry. In our search for diagnosis, we begin with gross pathology and move toward computer technology to master the measurements of increasingly minute fragments of matter. Having started with a corpse, we are engaged now in analyzing molecules. We are searching for a method of early diagnosis by refining our ability to scrutinize smaller and smaller particles, hoping to pick up the process of disease at the molecular level. Thus sickness can be identified only when it brings about a detectable physical, chemical or electrical disruption of the parts of the body.4,5
A curative medicine: If we see disease as the process beginning at the health and life end of the spectrum with subtle signs and vague symptoms, and stopping at the other end, with gross pathology and death, we can say that preventative medicine in the West is, at best, an early warning system of an already existing morphological identifiable lesion. The truth is that at the health end of the spectrum, material changes are not yet manifest even at the level of small particle physics. The Western doctor believes that science can identify these material factors of changes (however minute) through increasingly fine instrumentation. Moreover, the focussing on material factors of changes puts in oblivion other external and internal factors of changes such as the patient relationship with his environment, his doctor and the rest of mankind (life-style, personal disposition and thoughts of the patient as a whole). In other words, even if Western medicine could detect disease on a sub-cellular level, that detection would be too fragmented and would miss an appreciation of the relationship between these fragments.3,7
An allopathic medicine: By the same token, in Western medicine, various disorders are attributed to the physical intervention of certain alien "things", eg. substances - bacteria or viruses or parasites that must have invaded the body, an overdose of a toxin, poor nutrition, or the mechanical effects of some foreign object that has caused a wound. Western medicine's basic aim is to destroy alien forces regarded as responsible for disease. The field of battle is the patient's body. A consequence of conceptualizing sickness as the result of a extraneous force is the emphasis placed on synthesizing drugs foreign to our life system to combat the invader. The price of this detachment is incalculable, measured by the long list of adverse and sometimes fatal side effects of allopathic drugs.3,5
In brief, the analytic nature of Western
medicine calls for the fragmentation of the patient, and a labour and technology
Definition: Chinese medicine can be defined as "the myriad and complex array of diagnostic, therapeutic, and philosophical information developed in China and originating in the Taoist concepts of universal cosmic energy as the determining factor in life and health".3
A holistic and functional medicine: All of life is a function of a single force, the unifying principle of energy (character Qi in Chinese). The Qi (pronounced "chee") life force is called Tao in Chinese. Chinese believes that Qi is unlimited and that everything in the universe relies on Qi. Qi is life; movement, regardless of its amplitude and rhythm, is caused by Qi. Man lives in the sea of force, greater than his own. When this force moves and changes, man must also move and change.3
When Qi flows in a living entity, it is called health, and when Qi is blocked there is sickness. Energy and matter are therefore, interchangeable. E=mc2, the famous formula of relativity, presents a metaphorical confirmation of the Chinese belief that energy and matter are interchangeable.3
Yin and Yang characters are the conceptualization of Qi in Chinese medicine and are going to be used to illustrate how the structure of the Chinese language favours "phenomena" and "relationships" over "things". The Chinese characters for Yin and Yang were originally associated with topography: the shady and the sunny side of a slope or the northern or southern bank of a river, respectively. The characters' meaning was extended to become the designation for the polar aspects of interrelated "phenomena". Yang corresponds to energy that is in movement/agitation/active, expansive, centrifugal, aggressive, competitive, external, outward/upward, rapid, positive and Yin is energy that is in rest/in quiescence/passive, contractive, centripetal, responsive, conservative, internal, inward/downward, slow, negative. Also, Yang implies increase, stimulation, excitement, vigour and Yin implies decrease, inhibition, repose, weakness. Yin and Yang respectively represent the female and male force and stand for earth and heaven, the moon and the sun, night and day, rain and fire, wet and dry, fall and spring, winter and summer, dark and bright/light, cold and heat, weak and strong, death and life.1,2,3,4,5,7,8
In Chinese medicine, every event in life is conceived of in terms of the flow of energy which has both a Yin and a Yang aspect: "Once Yin, once Yang and within the Yin there is something of Yang and vice versa. That is the Tao".2,5
The formula of relativity E=mc2 can again be metaphorically applied: there is no Yin without Yang and vice versa. Although Yin and Yang can be distinguished, the cannot be separated. They depend on each other for definition, hence, mutually create each other. For example, one cannot speak of temperature apart from cold and heat: these quality are opposites, yet they describe relative aspects of the same phenomena. Yin and Yang qualities exist in relation to each other, there are no absolutes.1
The subtle and constant transformation of Yin into Yang, and vice versa, is the source of all change. In normal life such transformations (ex: inhalation-exhalation, systole-diastole) occur smoothly, maintaining a proper, healthy balance of Yin and Yang in the body.1
Yin and Yang control each other and they are inter-consuming, meaning that if one is consumed, the other gains. If Yin is excessive, the Yang will be too weak, and vice versa. Both Yin and Yang may be deficient or excessive, to one extent or another, in the same person, at the same time. Whenever there is a real excess of either Yin or Yang, even simultaneously, there will be forces set in motion to compensate and restore equilibrium. These forces are energy, but they may take any form, either mental, somatic or spiritual.1,3
This explains why a Chinese doctor directs his attention towards the complete physiological, psychological and spiritual individual. He perceives his patient as whole composed of parts. These parts, in turn, reflect the whole, for the whole and the individual parts are closely linked. No part function or exits on its own. Every pathological deviation in one of these parts, however minute, will influence other parts of the body. Therefore, each pathological transformation in any individual area must be regarded as a problem of the entire organism. Chinese medicine does not make any distinction between body and mind. They are one and part of the same system. An imbalance of energy may show itself as a disturbance in either the body or the mind. The Chinese doctor is only concerned with the disturbance in the balance of energy, not whether the symptom be emotional or physical.3,6 All "patterns of disharmony" are forms and combination of Yin and Yang. Chinese medicine begins and ends with Yin and Yang and never goes outside Yin and Yang. Discerning the organs involved in the pattern only helps to pinpoint the preponderant location of the Yin-Yang disharmony. Chinese medicine regards the human body as a system of function circles, or functional regions, which are conceived of quite independently of the particular regions of the body in which they are located. The organs when discussed, are so, always with reference to their functions and to their relationships with other organs, and other parts of the body.
This is why, Chinese medicine has developed organic energetics rather the conventional Western anatomy, histology or biochemistry and there are organs in Chinese medicine, such as the "three burners", which do not somatically exist in the West.1,4,5,9
Our discussion on Chinese characters such as Yin, Yang, Tao and Qi exemplifies how the Chinese language differs from a Western-structured language. The analogy would make a Western language a picture (worth a thousand words) and the Chinese language a movie (worth a thousand pictures constantly changing in time and space). The West focuses on "matter", the East on "ether" such as "flow of energy".
An inductive and synthetic medicine: In our description of Chinese medicine as a holistic and functional medicine, we explained that Chinese medicine is primarily concerned with functions and with change of state, with the dynamic and the psychic as opposed to the substratum. This cognitive mode is called inductive and synthetic. It is inductive in that it determines and defines the relationships between different functions. Its logic is synthetic, because it assumes that a part can be understood only in its relation to the whole. Chinese medicine has developed a self-contained scientific system on the basis of its observations of such functional relationships and correspondence. This system is completely different from the "Western scientific system" in its approach. The scientist who uses the inductive and synthetic mode of cognizance will observe first, and then speculate on his observations; the scientists who applies the causal and analytic mode will first speculate and act, and after that he will observe.1,4,5,9
Chinese diagnostic does not come up with a specific disease entity or a precise cause, but gives a description of a specific "pattern of disharmony" in the whole person. The question of cause and effect is always secondary to this pattern.1
A prophylactic medicine: For the Chinese doctor, health is the harmonious movement, balance, rhythm, and amount of Yin and Yang energy. Using this understanding of health, he is able to detect and describe the smallest deviations from that observable standard. The Chinese concept of illness can be defined as departure from health. The symptoms are a reflection of "disharmonized pattern of energy". Chinese diagnoses describe abnormal states of Yin and Yang and has the ability to pick up the process of disease prior to its manifestations as morphological pathology.1,3,5,7,8
From a Western perspective, the Chinese doctor focuses on those insubstantial, natural and pathological phenomena occurring at the beginning of the disease process or at the health end of the spectrum. Dedicating themselves to what we would consider the indescribable, they seemed to be primarily concerned with illuminating those aspects of reality which defies, to this day, assessment, description, or measurement by any mechanical instrument.3
A homeopathic medicine: Chinese medicine is homeopathic in the non-traditional sense in that it views illness as an expression of the personal violation of a person's own nature and call upon the patient to become aware of how he or she is interfering with the flow of nature, both within and without. Because the whole of the patient is the source of disease, it is also the source of health. Disease and health are patterns of inner Yin-Yang energy. The focus is on an inner, rather than, an outer alien force.3
Although all patterns of Yin and
are manifested in signs and symptoms, it must be emphasized that Chinese
treatment is never symptomatic. Treatment is based on the complex pattern
and on the principle of reharmonizing energy balance. The goal is to strengthen
the capacity of the patient to reestablish and retain a pattern of harmony.
If that is insufficient, it may be appropriate to compensate the dysfunction.
For example, if the Yang predominates owing to deficiency of the
the Chinese doctor will not inhibit the former (Yang) but will rather
fortify and supplement the latter (Yin). This is why tonics are
the medicine most frequently used. Only as a last resort will the doctor
attempt to restore the harmony by combatting the disruptive forces directly
by suppression and/or elimination. For the Chinese doctor, health is a
welcome return to, not an endless struggle against, nature. His thrust
is to create harmony by the return of the energy flow to normal. His science
values gentleness and moderation, if it does not heal, it will do no harm.1,3,5,8
In the East, there exists a vast literature on deer antler. Its evaluation, in the Western sense, is difficult since the standard of reporting falls short of that employed in the Western scientific literature and very often, the languages used (mainly Japanese, Korean and Mandarin Chinese) are unknown to the Western scientist.
In the West, the majority of the research and clinical studies done were in Russia between the early 1930's and 1980's. Those studies were centrally directed and were aimed at the sale of deer extracts produced at a commercial scale. More recently, New Zealand has conducted numerous in vivo and in vitro experiments. However, published results from that country remain scarce and are often protected by commercial interests.
In this chapter, we will discuss the Western and the Eastern claims on the health effects of deer antlers. Unless otherwise specified, the following data comes from Archer's (reference number 9) literature review and refers to experiments done on various species of laboratory animals.
Cytotoxic to leukaemic cells. Source: Jim Suttie - personal communication.
- Improves the mental and physical working capacity in humans (both quantitatively and qualitatively.Also 10
- Protects against physical, chemical and biological factors of stress on humans and on laboratory animals.Also 10 Other sources disclaimed this effect on laboratory animals when electric shock and some toxic substances were used.
Such actions have been explained through:
- a positive effect on the work capacity of striated muscles (glycoside presence in deer antler) and on the reaction of the thymus, spleen and adrenal to stress (anti-inflammatory);
- a protective effect on gastro-intestinal and mesenteric mast cells.
Effects on the cardiovascular system:
- Various doses have various direct effects on the heart: Strong doses have a depressive effect. Medium doses induce a significant strengthening of the activity of the heart: the amplitude of the systole is increased and the rhythm is accelerated, the systolic and minute volume is enlarged. Also arrhythmia diminished. Weak doses, no effects.Also 11
- Stimulate the intensity of cellular respiration in the heart, liver, kidney and blood vessels.
- Have beneficiary effects in chronic cardiovascular cases but not in acute cardiovascular failure (study on children).
One study states results contradictory to the above: deer antler did not have any significant effect, other than the elevation of the stroke volume. But since the effects appear to be related to the dose, it is not difficult to compare findings of studies using various doses.
Deer antler also has hypotensive vasopressor effects: it lowers blood pressure in humans and animals.Also 10
- Increases erythropoietin in plasma, as well as the erythrocyte counts and haemoglobin in blood. Other sources did not find such effects.Also 10
- Protects against phenylhydrazine-induced anemia.Also 12
On both sexes: earlier sexual development in the infantile stage and increased fertilization rate in the sexually mature.
Such actions have been explained through:
- increase of semen volume, number of sperms and its viability;
- increased weight of seminal vesicles, prostate glands; testes in the males and, of ovary and uterus in the females;Also 10,12
- inhibition of the involution of the seminal vesicle and prostate gland after castration in male;Also 10
- decrease in the anestrous period in female.
Effects on growth and regeneration:
- Increased growth: through an increase in total body weight and in organ weight and through increased feed efficiency. A recent New Zealand study contradicts those findings.
- Growth stimulator of fibroblasts and of chondroblasts in man. Source: Jim Suttie - personal communication
- Promotes the repair of liver damage.
Inhibits the leucocyte migration.
Effects on metabolism:
- Improves the growth rate and food conversion efficiency.Also 10
- Lipids: reduction of cholesterol in liver, heart muscle, spleen and serum but an increase in kidney. According to the authors, the increase in kidney may be due to increased cholesterol in the urine. Deer antler also inhibits the negative effects of cholesterol in the heart, liver, spleen and adrenal. Therefore deer antler is a potential remedy for atherosclerosis.
- Nitrogen cycle: stimulates amino acid deamination in tissues and increases the urea level in the blood; promotes protein synthesis in male senescent animals.Also 13,14
- Hepatic and pancreatic secretions: decrease in pancreatic but no change in bile secretion.
- Enzymes: through the augmentation in the activity of various enzymes involved in the intra-cellular metabolism, it decreases the severity of lesions and improve the regeneration rate. For example, these effects were noted in spinal nerve cells of whiplashed animals and humans.Also 10
- Positive effect on water exchange and diuresis.Also 15
- Anti-aging action in male senile animals.10,13
Effects on the nervous system:
According to a publicity pamphlet on the Russian product "Pantocrin", the medicinal properties of deer antler would be explained by its action on the nervous system (mainly the vegetative parasympathetic branch) and, through this, would affect various tissues, organs and physiological systems.Also 15
- Calming effects. A high dose causes the induction of a resting state and the decrease of spontaneous movements.
- Studies on the taming effect show contradictory results but the majority concluded that there is no or little effects on normal animals.
- Marked positive effects on epilepsy: weakens the intensity of convulsions in epilepsy provoked experimentally on animals. In human clinical cases, its combination with other drugs leads to a reduction in the number of epileptic seizures. In certain cases, it also leads to the complete elimination of the convulsive syndrome. This would be due but the presence in deer antler of phosphatides, phospholipids and other substances which would eliminate endotoxicoses, which underlies the pathogenesis of many mental diseases.
- In hypoxic patients, deer antler accelerates the restoration of reflexes.
- Effects on the various levels of nervous systems include: effects on the sympathetic and parasympathetic (ex: changes in the tonus and contractions of smooth muscles in the blood vessels, stomach, intestine and uterus); effect on the motor cortex, visual cortex and amygdala; affects the photostimulation response, the hippocampus and the ascending reticular system (more easily stimulated); effects sensitivity of sensory nerve fibres (ex: receptors in the skin); effects on neuromuscular system (small dose lowered the chronaxia, whereas large doses prolonged the chronaxia). Effects on the B-adrenergic potentiation factors.
The above effects generally found to be dose-dependant.
Applications in arthritis:
Prevents to occurrence and improves the condition of arthritis and rheumatoid arthritic animals.16
Applications to eye medicine:
Improves the acuteness and range of vision in myopic patients.15
Applications to infectious diseases:
In patients with enteric fever and dysentery: reduces general intoxication and improves a number of functions of the cardiovascular and digestive systems.
Applications in sexual disorders:
- Effect on males with impotence: positive results in 80% of psychogenetic impotence and 0% of neurogenic impotence. A study based on several clinical cases claimed that deer antler is more effective against psychological impotence than any other analeptic tonic.
- On climacteric patients, deer antler eliminates or improves neuropsychic disorders such as nervousness, irritability and headaches. It increases libido, improves erection and in a number of cases cures impotence. On those patients, it can have beneficial effects on vascular disorders and gout.
- On some patients with sexual neurosis: improvement of on sexual function.
- Advantageous effects on pre and post surgical patients suffering from prostate hypertrophy.
- Despite its gonadotrophic and tonic effects, deer antler is not an aphrodisiac.12
- In humans, it eases pain related to endometriosis. Reference: Jim Suttie - personal communication.
- Effects on narcotic addiction.
Applications to skin diseases:
Distinct positive effect on psoriasis, possibly through the increase of folic acid in the blood.
Applications to surgery:
- General tonic effect, normalizes both the arterial pressure and the blood picture.
- Promotes the regeneration of damaged tissues and the healing of wounds and sores. Decreases post-operative complications: would prevent suppuration through some antibiotic effects.
- Joint and bone injuries (including arthritis: promotes the healing and eases the pain). Reference: Jim Suttie - personal communication.
Applications as a tonic:
- Improves the general health and working capacity of humans.Also 10
- Tonifies patients with functional disorders of the cardiovascular system.
- Increases the work capability of fatigued and depressed patients.
- Tonifies patients with neuro-psychic disorders as well as patients with nervous disorders associated with extreme overwork, infection, and the climacteric period.
- Improves the general state, weight gain and cardiovascular strength of children.
- Treats the arthropathy and the hypertension in climacteric patients.
- Improves patients with amenorrhea.
- Helps the body of diseased patients (ex. chronic tuberculosis) to fight the agent of disease (increases resistance to disease).
- Accelerates the process of wound regeneration.
The doses used in the practice of Western
medicine are much higher than the doses normally prescribed by the Chinese
doctor. Also, the Chinese medical doctor almost exclusively administers
antler per os whereas Western medicine has a wider range of administrative
mode. Moreover, the quality control in terms of purity, safety, potency
of the various forms of deer antler preparations used in Eastern countries
is generally of lower standard as compared with the data necessary to have
a medication approved for use within a Western country. Another complication
is the fact that the composition of deer antler preparation varies with
the source and the harvesting and processing methodologies.10,15
Despite this, the number and the severity of the adverse effects are extremely
low. Aside from a few cases of anaphylactic shocks on patients injected
with the drug, no toxic or teratogenic effects have been reported.
The use of deer antler is deep-rooted in the 5 millennia-old Chinese medicine. After ginseng, it is the second most important ingredient in Chinese medicine. In the traditional book of Chinese herbs (Pen T'sao or Chinese Materia Medica) the claimed cures of deer antler range from treatment of general debility or malaise to more specific claims.9,18,19,20
Velvet antler is consumed as a tonic which increases the natural fire in the human and a remedy for various ailments. It is a Yang herb with warm and positive energies. It will treat Yin illnesses characterized by weakness, slowness, coldness and under-activity.1 It is good to treat energy depletion which is usually the result of old age and of long periods of overwork, chronic illness and/or emotional problems. It is mainly taken in winter, when the cold Yin forces dominate the environment or when the medical doctor diagnoses a Yang weakness. For example, it will be used for the treatment of cold extremities or on an individual who fears cold.2,3,17
The Chinese doctor uses deer antlers to strengthen of the body mainly on senile and gynecopathic patients.9,19
Erythropoietic and cardio-vascular systems:
- Is anti-anemic.10,12
- Improves heart action and eliminates the weakness and fatigue of the heart muscle.
- Treats haemoptyses, epistaxis and apoplexy.
- Is used for low blood pressure.
Treats poor digestion and constipation.
- Treats frequent urination*, kidney deficiencies, haematuria and enuresis.2,12,19,20
- In aging and climacteric patients, it revitalizes sexual functions.2
- Treats infertility in both sexes, including habitual miscarriage.20
- Treats insufficient secretion of sexual hormones.12,19,20
- Remedies wet dreams*.12,19,20
- Treats spermatorrhoea*.2,9,12,19,20
- Treats impotence*, watery semen, premature ejaculation, hypertrophy of prostate glands.12,19
- Corrects the persistent and/or abnormal uterine* and vaginal discharges (including lochia and leucorrhea discharges and amenorrhea).2,9,12,19,20
- Normalizes the abnormal menstrual cycle.12,19,20
- Treats menopause-related symptoms.
- Kills childbirth pain.12,19
- Expels evil air and pathogens as well as retained blood in the uterus.12,19
- Is of use in childbirth (aids in the delivery and treats retained placenta).12,19,20
- Treats post-natal anemia.12,19
- Treats nymphomania.2
Effects on metabolism and regeneration:
- Prolonged consumption keeps the body light and extends longevity.12,19
- Increases the capacity for work and improves the appetite.
- Generates teeth.12,19
Promotes the repair of ecchymosis* and other
- It promotes rapid healing, recuperation and regeneration of damaged tissues.2
- Normalizes the metabolism of bone and cartilage (including calcium metabolism),12,19 cures gonalgia*, 20 as well as rheumatism.9
- Iodine metabolism: treats goitre.20
- Glucosis metabolism: treats diabetes.20
- Treats slow growth on children.19
Treats epilepsy, neurasthenia, neurosis, nervousness and convulsions with feverish colds.2,12, 19,20
Uses as a tonic and immunogenic:
- Reinforces vital energy; strengthens stamina and will; delays the onset of senescence and rejuvenates ageing organism.9,12,19
- Treats consumptive diseases and illness caused by overexertion and excessive weight loss. It treats symptoms associated with such diseases like lumbago*, vertigo*, coughing, palpitation, insomnia, and tinnitus.2,9,12,19
- Reinforces vital energy,9,12,19 treats apathy, hypotonia, overfatigue.2
Cures dermatitis sores, boils, and carbuncles*.9,12,19
Vision and hearing systems:
Cures impaired vision and hearing.2,9
Symptoms not related to a particular system:
Treats febrile and/or infectious diseases such as mastitis*, tuberculosis in bone and joints*. Also treats other forms of arthritis and osteomyelitis and ailments related to calcium deficiency.2,9,10,12,19,20
* In 1977, the People Republic of China Pharmacopoeia, adopted a more cautious stance by recognizing deer antler as a treatment only for the claims followed by an asterisk in the above descriptive list.20
There are several claims common to the Eastern and Western approach. The revitalizing, stimulating, tonic, and gonadotrophic effects as well as the capacity to raise the general non-specific resistance of the organism are undoubtedly the most frequent recurring claims.9,10
However, the Chinese medicine claims cover a wider range of effects as compared to the Western's claims. Several of the Eastern claims have not been verified by Western scientific methodology. This is not to say that all of those claims are erroneous and misleading. Chinese medicine principles are often either unknown, or not recognized by the Western mind. There are thousands of years of empirical "proves" which cannot be ignored.21 There is a plethora of evidence that deer antler possess numerous medicinal properties. China, Japan, Korea and Tibet have historically and successfully used antlers as medicine. The more recently Russian, South Korean, Japanese and New Zealand literature has provided some experimental evidence of some of the effects claimed by the East. However, the claims which remain unfounded according to Western science might still be proven valid by means which are not familiar to a Western mind. The saying that "experience precedes logic" could be quoted by both the Eastern and the Western "wisdom".1 Chinese medicine is a coherent system of thought that does not require validation by the West as an intellectual construct. Intellectually, the way to approach Chinese concepts is to see whether they are internally logical and consistent, not to disguise them as Western concept or dismiss them because they do not conform to Western notions.6
Indeed, the arguments and criteria used as evidence vary, depending on the cultural background of the protagonist: East versus West.5 When Chinese medicine is evaluated according to Western scientific criteria, then the verdict is prejudicial. Many Westerners believe that Chinese medicine can be acknowledged to be scientifically valid only when it can be explained using the criteria of Western medical science.2 The fact apparently so difficult to grasp is that because of their epistemological complementarity, Chinese and Western medicines, cannot and do not produce results mutually identical.4
We have seen that Chinese and Western sciences embody two diametrically opposite perspectives on reality. Such polar opposites can be compared but cannot be invoked to explain each other. For example, because Chinese diagnosis frequently appear to have nothing in common with Western diagnosis, a comparison of the efficacy of Chinese and Western therapeutics is problematical.7 And in fact the current worldwide effort to provide such an explanation for deer antler claims in terms of Western scientific concepts is illogical. Such effort will not result in any increase of our knowledge but rather in the "erosion" of the "target" entity which is Chinese medicine science itself. It seems that the Pen T'sao, which includes deer antlers, have enjoyed success (when used in concert with Chinese diagnosis and treatment) for several millennia. When removed from this context and reexamined in a different context (that of Western academic standards and techniques) the herbs seem to have entirely different, sometimes unprecedented, but hardly very impressive effects in their new scientific environment.3,5
When Western criteria are used, there are
a few cases when the efficacy of deer antler has been linked to its pharmacological
composition.9,10,19,22,23 However, there are more cases when
the efficacy, although experimentally proven, cannot be scientifically
explained through biochemical analysis.19,20 This discrepancy
in results can be understood not only through the polarity of Western and
Chinese medicine which we previously discussed but also through other facts.
These include: the methodology in some of those experiments which may lack
scientific vigour or objectivity; the Chinese doctor's preference for the
combination of mild herbs which may vary daily, according to the clinical
response of the patient as opposed to the Western preference for pure,
concentrated, potent compounds and single elements;24,25 hight
variability of the quality and quantity of deer antler used in the experiments,7
the inherent Chinese belief that the patient has a significant role in
the development of the disease (concept of disease as the result of a inner
rather than alien force).3 In conclusion, the use of Western
criteria to prove the claims regarding the health effect of deer antler
will unlikely lead to have antler be recognized as the panacea of medical
treatment. The expansion of the recognition of deer antler as a useful
for health will stem from the combination of both medicines.
The marriage of Chinese and Western medicine may bring both sides closer to their mutual goal of understanding health and eradicating those forces which lead to the deterioration of life.7,26
In China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong, it is not unusual for patients with several complaints to have one or more treated with traditional medicine and others treated with Western medicine. This is often irrespective of financial capacity, educational background and social status.4,21 In those countries, there is a growing number of doctors who receive training in both the traditional Chinese medicine and the Western medicine.21 Several 1990's articles (mostly in Chinese) quote the use of the combined medicines for a variety of illness including syndromes which cannot be associated with a specific etiology, chronic infections, failure diseases (heart) and cancers (myelodysplasic syndrome).7
Integration means the combination of the finest elements of both schools of diagnostic and treatments. It is the synthesis of East and West, ancient and modern theories and techniques which, though different, are interdependent as the Yin and the Yang.4,7 Marriage also means integral comprehension of each of the medicine theories within their original logical settings. To understand Chinese medicine implies more than translation, it implies the use of a different mode of thinking from causal-analytic to inductive synthetic. There is a central dilemma in reconciling the fundamentally different philosophical principles and methodology of "modern" Western science with Chinese ancient medical concepts, a dilemma which has remained the most formidable obstacle to the proposed synthesis of Chinese and Western medicine.4,5,24,25,26
Certainly a greater measure of human suffering could be relieved by both medicines working together than be each working alone.5 More and more diseases are beyond the capability of Western medicine. For example, psychosomatic diseases cannot be treated with the conventional approach, so people will need to turn to alternative medicines.5 Therefore, Western medicine, even in the face of its enormous technological accomplishment, requires an infusion of Chinese medicine. Moreover, Western medicine has no unifying matrix. It is an accumulation of anatomical, physiological, pathological and biochemical information about the human life system. The Chinese system emphasizes the relationships and unity not only between different aspects of bodily function, but also between body and mind, between body and spirit, and between the human body and the universe at large. Chinese medicine can provide a matrix on which Western medicine can place its endless accumulation of facts, in order to create a unified system.3
Each medicine will therefore benefit from the integration of one another.3 In the West we say "two minds are better than one: in the East they say: "The methods used by one man may be faulty; the methods used by two men will be better".7
Each medicine was described in this paper
using stereotypes. The blend of the medicines could be compared to the
symbol. Each depends on one another to exist. Black cannot be defined without
white, and vice versa.
Western studies on the claims of deer antler are biased because they are based on the premises that "science" is necessarily synonymous with "causal-analytic science" (as if no other variety existed), along with its corollary, that inductive-synthetic medical science is strictly "empirical" and at best a "prescientific" form of thought.5
Chinese treats the whole man, not his body,
a organ or a group of cells. I suggest that to complete a comparative study
of Asian medical systems, we need to relativize ourselves and Western medicine
in the process of seeking a comparative study of Chinese medicine. We must
make explicit the assumptions underlying Western medicine and its practice,
and free ourselves from the illusion that Western medical science is true,
and that other views, to the extent that they deviate form ours, are false.
To carry out this therapy will not be easy; it will be painful. But until
we can put our own medical customs and science into this kind of perspective,
our study of Chinese medicine systems. However comparative it may become,
will remain seriously incomplete. If we want to have a comprehensive assessment
of the deer antler claims, we need to melt the causal-analytic approach
with the inductive-synthetic approach. Otherwise, the range and scope of
the proven effects that deer antler has on health will remain seriously
mitigated and limited. We need to change our philosophy and thinking mode.
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