When Traditional Wisdom is Lost in Translation

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What do the phrases “balance aggravated vata” and “tonify kidney essence” have in common? They both come from two of the most sophisticated and respected systems of medicine in the history of civilisation, Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurvedic medicine. They can also sound implausible or even amusing to an unfamiliar Western ear and for some people that’s enough reason to denounce them as “a dangerous mixture of "fiction and hope" as Dr Bastian Seidel, president of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners did last week.

A brouhaha has emerged as the Therapeutic Goods Administration is proposing some 1000 or so traditional medicine terms be included in a list of ‘permitted indications’, meaning they could be printed on the bottles of supplements that you or I might find at our local chemist, supermarket or health food store.

The principal concern seems to be that consumers may consider TGA endorsement as tantamount to a government stamp of approval, leading them to falsely assume they have been scientifically proven to be effective. Actually, what I find implausible is that someone would read the line ‘balance aggravated vata’ and assume the findings were the results of a double blind study.

To me what is unfortunate about the debate is that those who are ignorant of the subject matter generally conduct the public discourse. If you don’t understand what ‘balance aggravated vata’ means then denigrating the term based on your own unfamiliarity is bombastic laziness. To further criticise these traditional terms for not being based on logic or common sense is to further expose ones own ignorance.

If we accept and embrace the WHO position on traditional medicines, as Australia has, then we must acknowledge that these medicines have a role to play within modern medicinal frameworks. Ignorance and unfamiliarity is not enough reason to dismiss something as dangerous or misleading.

By the way, “balance aggravated vata” can be translated as “reduce an overactive sympathetic nervous system” or in layman’s terms, mitigate the effects of prolonged periods of stress. Helping people cope with the effects of prolonged stress is one area where traditional medicine actually does excel and it would be a shame if thousands of years of wisdom were discarded because something sounded a bit funny.


Wes Smith is Live Well's Director and has 20 years experience as a practitioner and wellness educator. He has a special interest in working with chronic immune issues, stressanxiety and depression
Wes is passionate about inspiring and educating people to create and sustain their vitality and wellbeing so they can live life to the full.
Wes also enjoys teaching meditation and is the creator of meditatewithwes.com an online resource for learning how to meditate. es has a B.App.Sc.(Acup), Diploma of Herbal Medicine, a Yoga Teaching Diploma and is an APHRA registered acupuncturist. 

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