Wellness

What the East vs. West Says About Healing & Medicine

In modern medicine, we tend to eschew ancient lessons in favor of regulated med school curriculums, and to put a high value on knowledge, expertise, confidence; in the West, there are highly specialized doctors who focus on very specific parts of the body, who are expected to know everything there possibly is to know about its function. The very esteemed functional medicine practice of Dr. Alejandro Junger exists in subtle contrast to this paradigm: Keep an open mind. Junger, who graduated from medical school in Uruguay where he was born, completed his postgraduate training in internal medicine at NYU Downtown Hospital followed by a fellowship in cardiovascular diseases at Lenox Hill Hospital. He later studied in India, which had a profound impact on his practice. To help his patients heal from chronic health issues (often gut-related), Junger draws on the best of all healing modalities (Western, Eastern, modern, functional, and so on), and typically assembles a team of doctors to support his patients. He even travels with patients to visit other doctors, continuing to learn from varied perspectives, approaches, and experiences.

Junger’s ability to stay open-minded—and curious—is what continues to make him such a brilliant doctor, and an early adopter of beneficial health practices that were once considered fringe (Junger discovered the miracle-like effects of detoxification for himself decades ago when detoxing was ridiculed by most). He’s also been the first to thoroughly examine and understand oft-misunderstood health issues, like adrenal fatigue, which are still largely ignored by what we consider to be modern medicine.

Here, Junger shares his enlightening path from West to East to well-being, and the lessons we can take from it.

A Q&A with Dr. Alejandro Junger

Q

You studied medicine in Uruguay, the States, and later India. Why did you decide to go East?

A

My decision to go East wasn’t motivated by training initially—that happened organically. After six years of training in New York, I found myself a mess: I had gained a ton of weight, my digestion was a nightmare, I had severe allergies, and the worse of my symptoms was depression. I visited three specialists who diagnosed me with many “diseases,” and was given seven prescription medications, which I did not want to take. I started looking for a different solution. Since my most worrying problem was depression, I began there.

Eventually I stumbled upon the concept of meditation and ended up in an ashram in Upstate New York where I was introduced to the practice. The effects were drastic (in a positive way). I wanted more intense learning. The NY ashram’s mother ashram was located in Maharashtra, India. I offered my medical services in exchange for the opportunity to spend time there. In Maharashtra, I directed a clinic with health care practitioners from all over the world, with all different approaches to health. This experience introduced me to many of the healing modalities of the East, and forced me to learn how to integrate them with what I had learned in medical school and through my hospital training.

Q

What do you think is the big lesson from Eastern medicine when it comes to health and well-being?

A

Modern medicine is very much into specializing. More and more doctors become super specialists in one small part of the body. Eastern medicine tends to look at the whole of the body, and even beyond, considering the environment, family circumstances, work conditions, and so on—and how each aspect of a person’s life impacts their well-being. In the East, there is more respect and appreciation for ancient knowledge. Modern medicine is now clueing in to the fact that all these ancient practices are incredibly valuable, and we are slowly adopting them in to our toolboxes. But we have a long way to go.

Q

How did you combine what you learned from Western medicine with what you learned from the East?

A

During my time in India, the different practitioners used to sit in a circle with each patient. We all asked questions and examined the patients together. Then, each one of us explained to the rest what we thought the problem was, and what we would do about it. Then we designed a treatment plan that included various approaches. I had never heard the term “integrative medicine,” but that was exactly what we were doing. I began to see what works best for what ailments, and gained experience combining different approaches and therapies.

“More than anything, my time in India had opened my mind—I saw the importance of looking for health solutions outside of what medical school had taught me.”

On my return to the US, I made it a point to meet practitioners from all kinds of modalities and to consult them on many of my patients’ issues. More than anything, my time in India had opened my mind—I saw the importance of looking for health solutions outside of what medical school had taught me.

Later, I stumbled upon, and then trained in functional medicine while I was practicing in Los Angeles, which is when I started to understand more deeply how many of these healing modalities work at a cellular level. Now, functional medicine is an emerging movement that uses the knowledge of modern medicine biology with a framework of thinking that is aligned with Eastern concepts of health.

Q

What is the most exciting discovery you’ve made as a doctor?

A

One of the most exciting was finding concepts and practices of detoxification. In 2001, a friend of mine did a 10-day detox program at We Care Spa in Desert Hot Springs. I was so blown away by the results that I decided to try it myself. The effect was dramatic: My allergies disappeared, my depression completely lifted, and my irritable bowel syndrome resolved entirely. I could not believe that in 10 days of juicing, supplementing with digestive enzymes, probiotics, and a few other nutrients, I had lost 20 pounds and no longer needed any of the medications that were prescribed to me.

“I could not believe that in 10 days of juicing, supplementing with digestive enzymes, probiotics, and a few other nutrients, I had lost 20 pounds and no longer needed any of the medications that were prescribed to me.”

I was amazed that I had not learned about detoxing in medical school, so I started looking into it in detail. Eventually, through studying functional medicine, I came to understand what had happened and was able to incorporate detox into my medical practice, with astounding results. This led me to design a detox program called Clean that anyone could do, even while living a busy city life. It allows anyone to regain their health, and get a jumpstart on a better, more vibrant life.

Q

What’s your general approach to treating patients in your care? How do you develop protocols, and what are your guiding philosophies?

A

My most important guiding principle is to remain open-minded. I have a network of practitioners all over the world who I include when creating the team that will give a patient the best plan to restore their health. Often, I even visit many of these practitioners together with my patients so I can see and hear firsthand what they do, and develop a deeper understand of how and why their approaches work.

“My most important guiding principle is to remain open-minded.”

But initially, I keep it simple. Even before I make a diagnosis, while I am waiting for lab test results to come back, I put most of my patients on some version of an elimination diet. I never stop being surprised at how many of my patients are completely fine, or at least much better, at their second visit, just having done a detox for twenty-one days.

If the problems have lingered, though, once the label results are back, I use what I know works from modern medicine and functional medicine to create a protocol for the patient, also bringing other modalities into the plan that I’ve seen to be helpful, under the guidance of the best practitioners I’ve found in those areas.

Founder of the Clean program and bestselling author of Clean (among other essential health manuals), LA-based cardiologist Alejandro Junger, M.D. graduated from medical school in Uruguay, where he was born. He completed his postgraduate training in internal medicine at NYU Downtown Hospital and a fellowship in cardiovascular diseases at Lenox Hill Hospital before studying Eastern medicine in India.

The views expressed in this article intend to highlight alternative studies and induce conversation. They are the views of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of goop, and are for informational purposes only, even if and to the extent that this article features the advice of physicians and medical practitioners. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment, and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.


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