How Does Traditional Chinese Medicine Compare to Western Medicine?

Students from Honors Chinese V and Microbiology classes are working together to learn how the Chinese culture views health and disease versus the Western cultures. Twenty–three students in 12th grade were recently presented with background information about traditional Chinese medicine. They then developed a hypothesis as to whether they think Western antibiotics or Chinese remedies are more effective in the treatment of bacterial infections. Students devised an experimental design to investigate the effectiveness of Western antibiotic treatment with the use of Chinese remedies to treat bacterial infections. Students then conducted an experiment to test their hypothesis. Students inoculated agar plates with three types of bacteria. They applied antibiotic discs to half of the plates and discs impregnated with Chinese herbs/spices to the other half. Following 24 hours of incubation, they examined the plates and measured zones of inhibition. Based on the data collected they determined overall that the antibiotics were more effective than the Chinese herbs/spices were for the bacterial strains they tested. Of the Chinese herbs/spices tested, garlic was the most effective. During their studies about how the Chinese culture views health and disease, students learned that traditional Chinese medicine is used in maintaining the balance between yin and yang to support an optimal state of health. Practitioners diagnose a patient’s state of health and then use various herbal remedies and natural methods to return the body to a balanced state. Among them is a method called “cupping” which involves applying oil to the skin and moving a suction type cup over the area to be treated.


The progress of their experimental investigation is being documented by students using digital photography and video clips. Students are constructing video clips of their investigation to post on a Blog. Teachers came up with the idea of collaborating on a project during a brainstorming session on how to integrate their different courses of study. It is their hope that students will learn that diverse courses of study, though on the surface may seem totally unrelated, really have common threads that weave through and connect them to each other. Berkeley faculty are frequently discovering ways in which to incorporate learning across the various courses of study. This project is just one of several taking place at Berkeley each year that give students the opportunity to explore other areas of study and consider the ways in which they are relevant to each other.

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