Interviewer: Looking at your bio, I was so interested by how many
different cultures you have studied and different paradigms of medicine in
those cultures. How does that shape what you do and how you look at
Dr. Upton: I'm incredibly impacted by it every day, and it's reflected in
what I just said, that having studied especially in Chinese and Ayurvedic
medicine, it gets you out of the western paradigm of just killing a
symptom, just taking care of a symptom, where you actually look at the
human being. That's the first thing. Because for the first six years that I
was in my herbal medicine career, I was practicing western herbal medicine.
So somebody would come and say, "I have insomnia," and I would hit them
with Valerian, skullcap, passion flower, chamomile, all the herbal
sedatives that I was taught about. Most of the time they would work because
they're great magic bullets. Then sometimes they wouldn't work and I would
say to myself, "What am I missing? A couple of times these things that have
worked 100 times over are not working. Why?"
I'd go back to the books and say, "Well, those are the right herbs that
you're supposed to be taking for insomnia." But then, Chinese medicine
teaches you that five different people with insomnia have to be treated in
five different ways depending on the nature of their insomnia. So, you have
a different paradigm in looking at a human being. That's the first thing.
The second way that has impacted me or influenced the way I work is in
western medicine you really have to wait until something is wrong before
you do something. You go to a doctor and you just walk in the office, and
you have no symptoms. You say, "Hey, can you tell me what I can do?" "Well,
what's wrong with you?" "Well, nothing is wrong with me. I just would like
to be healthier." "Well, are you eating well?" "I think so." "Are you
exercising?" "Well, not as much as I could." "Well, make sure you're eating
good and exercise good and that's it." That's the end of the story.
In both Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine, Ayurveda being literally the oldest
form of medicine on the face of the earth, Chinese medicine probably the
second oldest form of medicine on the face of the earth. There the highest
ideal of both systems are to use herbs, and diet and lifestyle to promote a
long, healthy, happy life filled with vitality, not filled with (inaudible
00:02:28) at the end of your life.
So they use herbs almost on a daily basis as a part of diet, as a part of
supplements. In China if it's raining outside and cold and rainy and damp,
you're going to drink a cup of hot ginger tea. If you have a baby, and the
woman right after she has a baby, she's going to be cooked a lamb stew with
(inaudible 00:02:53) and different herbs to help rebuild and replenish the
blood that she lost during the birthing process and to start that
Not because anything is wrong, because that's what you have to do because
you just had nine months of cannibalization of the baby on you. So now you
have to take herbs to build yourself back up. I have American friends who
have Asian wives, and they always go back to either China or Taiwan to have
their baby because they know they're going to get that type of postpartum
care that isn't even on the map, except by a few midwives here in the
So those are two major departures that traditional herbal medicine,
especially Chinese and Ayurvedic kind of depart from the western paradigm
of, "You have a fever, let's shut it off. You have a pain, let's kill the
signal. Not figure out why you have the pain and what we have to do in
order to fix that so you don't have it in the future, but just kill the
signal so you don't feel the pain."
It's a very, very bad paradigm because what that does, every signal is a
signal that something is up with the body that you have to pay attention
to. If it's an ache, if it's a pain, if it's a spasm, anything, it's a sign
that something is going on.
So, now if you take something that dulls that, or in western medicine if
they go in and cut the nerve sometimes like trigeminal neuralgia, they'll
cut a nerve so you don't feel it anymore, that's just the sign and symptom
of something going on. That's not correcting the problem. It's just the
opposite, and you're just letting people ignore the signals that their body
is sending them.
There is one other aspect that's worthy of mention, and that goes to an
orientation of Native American herbalism, which was my first entrance into
herbal medicine, which is the Native American cultures. What that culture
teaches us is that we're not separate from the earth, that we're very much
an extension of the earth.
Which in the physical reality, we are made up of everything that came out
of the dirt. Every piece of food, beer, water, everything that made us as a
human being and how we've evolved has come from the earth, has come from
the plants. So, this means to me that those are our most optimal medicines.
As a management tool, there's advantage of using modern drugs. They save
lives, especially in crisis intervention.
But in most cases, when you're talking about healthcare, they really have
very little place in healthcare because most often they're taking the place
of what the body should be doing naturally, rather than trying to promote
what the body should be doing what the body should be doing naturally. It's
a totally different paradigm, the fact that this connection with the
environment that if we destroy the environment, we destroy ourselves.
Then I tie that in with the herbal products industry. A righteous herbal
products industry would be sustainably wild-crafting their botanicals. They
would be organically growing their cultivated materials and we would be
actually contributing to the health of the environment while we're
contributing to human health and public health. Conversely, the drug
industry is only second to the oil industry in terms of the negative
environmental impact of the chemicals going into the water, in the air and
in the land.
So it's not a sustainable form of medicine. Herbal medicine, in that case,
represents the only sustainable form of pharmacologically-based medicine on
the face of the earth. Not a lot of people even talk about that connection,
but that comes through my Native American background of learning from
traditional people that have that connection very deeply.