Skip to main content

See also:

Medical terminology, irritable bowel verses cock's crow

Biomedical medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine represent different ways of thinking about medical conditions
Biomedical medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine represent different ways of thinking about medical conditions
D.Bock

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has a little different way of looking at the function of the human body. All systems of medicine use the signs and symptoms of the body to determine what is not functioning well. Modern biomedical medicine takes a very mechanical and chemical approach to the body. The goal is to understand what has to be surgically removed, or what chemical has to be added to bring a numerical quantity up to where it should be. In TCM the goal is to assist the body in function and healing. The TCM practitioner is not trying to “fix” the problem, but rather figure out how to alter the function of the body so that it operates better and heals. TCM is also focused on the patient rather than the medical condition. Biomedical medicine looks to define the medical condition, TCM looks to understand the patient and how that patient is affected by a medical condition. On a practical level, if you bring ten patients with the same biomedical diagnosis to a TCM practitioner, it will result in 10 different TCM diagnosis.

The result of this fundamental difference in approach creates a situation where terminology vital to one system of medicine is inadequate in the other. A diagnostic term in biomedical medicine may be unimportant or misleading when applied to TCM. An example of this is found in the descriptions of bowl movement and Irritable bowel diseases. Biomedical medicine is often just concerned whether fecal material is moving smoothly through the large intestine or not. The result is most physicians are only concerned about constipation or diarrhea. TCM is concerned about the functioning of the whole body. The way fecal material is processed can give insight into how the whole body is functioning.

The result of this focus on the usefulness of the nature of a bowel movement in TCM results in a far more complicated set of descriptions of a bowel movement. A TCM practitioner will often ask, not only about the movement and frequency of the stool, but the shape, consistency, other signs that are the nature of the stool. Constipation that is hard and dry is treated differently than a constipation that is soft and sticky. Diarrhea can be hot feeling or feel cold and draining. A long thin stool is going to indicate different issues than a stool that is in the form of small balls.

One of the more interesting indicators that biomedical medicine does not pay attention to in regards to bowel movements is time of day. In most cases the timing of bowel evacuation is not important. However TCM recognizes one particular situation as being very important. The condition has a specific name that translates to “diarrhea at the time of the cock’s crow”, or commonly called Cock’s crow diarrhea. This type of diarrhea is different because it is marked by an urgent need on the part of the patient to pass a stool immediately upon waking in the morning. This type of diarrhea is indicative of a very low energy in the body and specifically a coldness in the systems related to long term health and longevity.

It is important for patients to understand that diagnostic clues have different value based on how a particular system of medicine can use that information. Biomedical medicine has no way to tie early morning diarrhea to larger issues in the body, and therefore does not pay much attention to it. For those patients who have a diagnosis of irritable bowel, or any condition, it can be helpful to talk to a TCM practitioner to find out if there is another way to look at and define the problem, and by extension a different strategy of treatment.