Modern medicine is in a period of profound change. Everyday, more and more ideas from other cultures are being transferred and integrated into our society. Many treatments that people are now familiar with have come from other traditions. Aspirin and quinine are two familiar examples of treatments that have been westernized by science. Alternative medical traditions will not replace western medicine, but instead are adding a new dimension of treatment that will only strengthen modern medicine. Western medicine is the clear leader in infectious disease, some cancers, heart disease, surgery, emergency medicine and trauma care. However, for the ordinary complaints of everyday life, the aches and pains of joints, bones and muscles, alternative medicine is the best choice of remedy.
Scientific medicine does save many lives through surgery or pharmacology drugs, but all of the advances of western medicine have inadvertently led to new problems. For example, living longer allows more time for development of chronic and degenerative diseases. Iatrogenic problems (illness caused by the medicine itself) as well as chronic illnesses have forced people to turn toward other dimensions of care. Conventional medicine is learning much about the complexity of human biology, but it is also learning less about how to handle difficult situations and adapt to crises arising from alternative treatments. Natural, non-invasive therapies, manipulative therapies and mind/body approaches are coming of age and taking on a partnership role with western medicine, affecting it for the better. Alternative treatments can no longer be considered suspect because the evidence of their contributions to the health care system are so overwhelmingly clear.
There are many different traditions that make up alternative medicine. Some of these traditions are very closely related in their beliefs and techniques and herbal remedies are certainly a common bond that is shared between them. However, the following four alternative treatments will be explored:
Other countries cultures and traditions can teach modern medicine that there are many more ways to treat and cure diseases, and hopefully the realization will lead to a more holistic approach to medicine. The joining of conventional and alternative medical traditions will allow people to have a more balanced quality of life, and will ultimately enhance the total health care system.
When a person chooses what form of medical treatment is right for them, they must consider these factors that will influence their decision:
1) Family History -the easiest way to decide what treatment is the best is to use the tradition in which a person grew up with.
2) Introspective Approach-base the decision on philosophical or religious considerations.
3) Personal Relationship with the Practitioner-people may base their choice not on the tradition itself but rather on the relationship to the practitioner.
4) Economic Consideration-because the allopathic tradition is so institutionalized in society, people who must rely on insurance coverage or government programs may find a narrow range of freedom of choice.
5) Proximity-large population centres have the greatest availability of the full range of medical traditions. Therefore, people outside of these areas are usually limited to allopathy.
6) Scientific Support- the government and its regulatory agencies have asserted that scientific evidence should be the basis of evaluation for all forms of medicine.
Chinese Medicine is a nature-based model of medicine. Nature and the laws that govern the natural or outer world are used to help people to understand the inner world the world of the body. The person is seen as a microcosm of a holistic universe. Chinese medicine offers a cosmological perspective, one in which the person is viewed as an ecosystem embedded in, and related to the larger ecosystem around us and governed by the same basic laws.
As a form of primary care, Chinese medicine does well in certain acute conditions such as colds, flu, allergy and headache. It also had success in the treatment of many chronic illnesses with which modern medicine often does not deal with successfully. Conditions whose disease process is not clearly understood in allopathic terms are readily addressed by the Chinese tradition.
An estimated nine to twelve million patient visits per yea are made to practitioners of Chinese medicine in the United States. Most of these patients are seeking acupuncture for treatment of pain symptoms after unsatisfactory results with western medicine. There are between nine and ten thousand practitioners of acupuncture including about three thousand physicians who have varying amounts of training in continuing education programs through American medical schools.
The principal of Yin and Yang state that human health is a function of ever-changing patterns of energy constantly seeking harmony and balance. The common principle of Chi is that health is a function of a balanced, harmonious flow of chi or energy and illness results when there is a blockage or imbalance in the flow of chi. The human being has pathways called meridians through which the chi flows. The body has been mapped with these meridians, which pass through all of its organs. Specific meridians correspond with specific organs or organ systems. Health is an ongoing process of maintaining balance among all of the organs and systems of the body.
The Chinese practitioner seeks to connect unrelated symptoms and come up with a unified explanation as to what is going on with the persons chi on a global basis. This is the opposite to the allopathic approach with its use of specialists for different symptoms and different parts of the body. Acupuncturist Harriet Beinfield said, What Chinese medicine can do is not necessarily attack the disease but it will improve the function of the organs and the general health of the body which includes the immune system. To correct a persons chi, the main treatments work directly with the flow of chi. The goals of treatment are like the Western ideas of strengthening host resistance, the bodys defences and overall ability to resist disease.
In Chinese medicine, the Chinese equivalent to the term herb is used to describe any natural material of plant, animal or mineral origin or any traditional or modern preparation of the of the natural materials short of preparing an isolated chemical. Herbs are selected to introduce certain influences or qualities into the body and to balance or harmonize the dynamics that are currently present and may be involved in disease. Some herbs act like highly concentrated medicinal foods that nourish the organ networks. There is an intimate interaction between the energy qualities of the herbs and of the person. The herbs serve to influence healing and harmonizing the organ networks.
Chinese herbs improve survival rates for patients with nasoparyngeal, lung, throat and breast cancers who used herbs in combination with radiation or chemotherapy, as opposed to conventional treatment alone. There was no significant drop in white blood counts and platelet counts after three cycles of chemotherapy in a group of eleven breast cancer patients using an herbal treatment. In 181 patients with pre-cancerous throat lesions, only nine percent of those treated with herbs developed cancer within five years, as opposed to twenty-six percent in the untreated group. A study of 136 patients with abnormal blood lipid levels found the herb Rosa multiflora to be as effective as two common conventional drugs for reducing blood lipids.
Chinese medicine does not view itself as exclusive of any other form of medicine. For many ailments, it works well on its own but it also can support or complement other forms of treatment. It has shown important benefits in combination with radiation and chemotherapy, including reducing side effects. In pain control, Chinese acupuncture has been found to enhance and be enhanced by certain allopathic drugs.
Ayurveda is a science that deals with physical healing, diet, herbs, and massage or bodywork. It was originally intended as a means to support the body so that spiritual development could be pursued unharmed by health concerns. Ayurveda is the traditional health care approach of India that involves the eight principle branches of medicine: pediatrics, gynecology, obstetrics, opthamology, geriatrics, otolaryngology (ear, nose and throat), general medicine and surgery. Ayurveda is built upon a concept of vital energy called prana. Prana is the primal energy that enlivens the body and mind and is an unseen power that is the basis of all life and healing. Prana is thought to have the qualities of a nutrient that can be taken in the body through the breathing. Therefore, breathing exercises play an important role in the promotion of health. Breath is considered to be a direct way to draw in the promotion of health. Breath is considered to be a direct way to draw in and build life energy within oneself. Ayurveda uses different breathing exercises called pranayama for imbibing prana and using it to enliven the body and promote health.
The main idea of Ayurveda is that all of existence comprises four basic principals of elements: earth, air, fire, and water. These terms represent principals of action and interaction that guide and shape all the life processes. The actions of and interactions of these elements serve as the basis for understanding health, illness, individual constitution and how to restore and maintain harmony in the body.
In the body, these four elements revolve around the concept of dosha. Three metabolic principles that govern individual physiology are: vata (air) which is responsible for all body movement; pitta (fire and water) which produces energy and heat and helps digestion; and kapha (earth and water) which provides the bodys substance and solidity. Altogether, the three doshas are organized into a persons tridosha. The relative proportions of these three forces determine a persons body type. The unique pattern that these elements take in a person at conception is called prakriti. The prakriti for each person is diagnosed and described according to which doshas naturally predominate and which are least influential in a persons functioning. Health is a state of balance and harmony among all of the forces within the person and between the person and their surroundings. The optimal state is one in which the person is living according to their prakriti at conception.
Illness occurs when a person falls out of equilibrium with their inborn pattern. Imbalances in specific doshas can be causes by chronic stress, eating certain foods, inadequate rest, environmental toxins and by repressing emotions. The resulting state of lowered resistance and the build up of toxins in the body. These toxins are called ama. They circulate throughout the body and build up in certain locations causing symptoms and ultimately disease. Diseases are classified according to whether their origins are psychological, spiritual or physical; where they manifest in the body and what dosha they represent.
The diet therapy of Ayurveda is oriented toward rebalancing the doshas. There are specific diets for reducing or pacifying each dosha, depending on which one is out of balance. The tastes of food are key in Ayurveda because they provide important clues as to which foods are helpful and which are harmful in balancing ones dosha. Examples of these tastes are:
– sweet (sugar, butter, milk, rice, breads, pasta)
– pungent (spicy foods, hot peppers, ginger)
– bitter (turmeric, green leafy vegetables)
-astringent (lentils, pomegranates, beans)
Ayurveda most commonly treats allergies, asthma, chronic fatigue syndrome, colds, colitis, constipation, depression, diabetes, flu, heart disease, hypertension, immune system disorders, inflammatory diseases, insomnia, irritable bowel syndrome, liver problems, menstrual cramps, neurological disorders, obesity, pre-menstrual syndrome, skin problems and ulcers. Ayurveda is considered to be quite successful in treating these ailments.
The treatments recommended include meditation, yoga exercises, purification procedures, and dietary and behavioural changes. Herbs have also been traditionally recommended for good health and longevity. They include preparation of fruits, herbs and some minerals. These formulas do not have equivalent counterparts in conventional western medicine. They may be in many forms including tinctures, teas, pastas, or jellies, pills or powders that are mixed with food.
Ayurvedas first priority is prevention from disease, then health promotion and enhancement. Ayurvedas overall goal is to purify and harmonize the entire mind/body system. Therefore, disease entitles are not the main object of treatment, but rather the persons overall integration and the consequent host resistance are concern. Western medicine is essential for people who are ill and need immediate treatments, but once the emergency is over and prevention becomes the primary issue, Ayurveda can be used.
The natural system for curing disease is based on a return to nature in regulating the diet, breathing, exercising, bathing and the employment of various forces to eliminate the poisonous products in the system, and so raise the vitality of the patient to a proper standard of health. Naturopaths combine natural interventions from a variety of medical traditions. They do not try to act like Mother Nature but instead help to speed up the healing process.
There are three major components of naturopathic medicine:
1)elimination of evil habits (overeating, alcoholic drinks, drugs, use of tea, coffee, meat eating, improper hours of living and sexual and social aberrations.)
2)Corrective habits (correct breathing, exercise, correct mental attitude and other things in moderation.)
3)New principles of living (proper fasting, selection of food, light and air baths, mud baths, osteopathy and other forms of manipulation, mineral salts and steam baths.)
The philosophy of naturopathy is explained in the following six principles:
1)Vis Medicatrix Naturae (the healing power of nature)
The body has the ability not only to heal itself and restore health but also to ward off disease. Illness is not simply caused by an invasion of external germs but is a manifestation of the organisms attempt to defend and heal itself.
Within the body, the different systems are intimately connected and balanced. Disease or any imbalance in one part directly affects all other parts of the whole body. There is never a single cause for disease.
3)Primum no nocere (first do no harm)
Because the organism has the ability to heal itself, the physician must be careful of the side effects of treatments.
4)Tolle causam (identify and treat cause)
Causes originate on many levels but are more often found in the patients lifestyle, diet, habits or emotional state. When only the symptoms are treated, the underlying causes remain and the patient may develop a more serious, chronic condition.
One cannot be healthy in an unhealthy environment and it is the responsibility of both the physician and patient to create a world in which humanity may thrive.
The physician must educate the patient and encouragement self-responsibility. The physician must recognize that each patient is an individual who shapes their own environment.
In the naturopathic method, healing is not a matter of attacking the disease with extraordinary outside sources, but rather a matter of supporting the bodys own healing mechanisms. For example, when people have headaches, they usually will take an aspirin to ease the pain. A naturopath would instead drink a cup of rosemary, peppermint or sage tea or simply take a nap or go for a walk. Once the naturopath has gotten rid of the headache, he would try to discover the cause of the problem and eliminate it so that the headache would not come back again.
All of the naturopathic practitioners share the common philosophy and principles of this type of medicine. However, they may use different forms of treatment. The major types of treatment used in naturopathy are:
This is the foundation of naturopathic medicine. It includes dietary recommendations and nutritional supplementation with herbs, vitamins, minerals and other substances. In order to assess the nutritional status of the body and to monitor changes, laboratory testing is also done.
This includes the therapeutic manipulation of muscles, bones and the spine. Other therapies include massage, deep tissue bodywork, ultrasound, exercise and electrical stimulation.
Homeopathy remedies are natural substances used to strengthen the bodys vital life force or energy. These remedies help the body to use its own resources to eliminate symptoms and illness.
This includes natural childbirth at home. However, pre and post-natal care is handled by modern diagnostic techniques.
Counselling, psychotherapy, hypnotherapy and behavioural medicine are often used to help patients deal with this aspect of medicine.
To help people overcome toxic chemical exposure and build up, which are a cause of many modern illnesses, naturopaths specialize in cleansing the body from these toxins and restoring the immune system.
Naturopaths are trained to do minor office surgery such as stitches, cyst removal and other superficial injuries.
John Kaiser M.D., developed a program of diet, exercise, vitamins, herbs and stress reduction that has shown promise in stopping the progression of Aids. Using a combination of natural therapies with a very small use of western drugs, 89 percent of 139 HIV positive patients in his practice have remained stable or improved their diagnosis during a five year period. It has been found that women whose diets were around the average intake of Vitamins A and C.
Naturopaths best function is in primary care and general practice medicine with non-toxic, non-invasive methods. Their greatest strengths are well to other medical traditions. Another strength is in natural childbirth where the needed for a caesarean section is much lower than in conventional care. Their practitioners are not trained in major surgery or acute trauma care and it is illegal for them to treat cancer.
Fundamentally, homeopathy states that everything that happens to people, everything they think and feel, everything that is physically wrong with them, is connected. To a homeopathy, a symptom means any characteristic from any aspect of the person. Therefore, symptoms are all the complaints from the body, emotions, thoughts, and reactions to different conditions, sleep patterns, foods, family and work. Where a chronic illness is diagnosed, it can take up to two hours to collect enough information before proper prescriptions can be made. This individualized attention is the key feature of homeopathy.
The homeopathy principle is fundamentally opposite from that of western medicines where symptoms represent a malfunction and must be suppresses. In homeopathy, symptoms are created by the body during its process of protecting itself. The remedies naturally activate the bodys own ability for self-healing. They help eliminate the reason the body developed the symptoms in the first place. Prescribing is based on a biological principle called the Law of Similars that states that when a physician gives a healthy person a particular substance, certain distinct symptoms will appear. If the physician sees these symptoms in a sick person, then that same substance will cure them. A homeopathic remedy gives the body a little more of what it needs to fight the disease.
Homeopathic remedies are made from minerals, botanical and zoological substances. The remedies are prepared and shaken by multiple dilutions of 1 to 10 to 1 or to 100. According to the laws of chemistry, there is a limit to the dilution that can be made without losing the original substance altogether. The homeopathic dilutions do lose all the molecules of the original substance but the vigorous shaking with each dilution leaves a spirit-like essence which cures by reviving the bodys vital force. The vital force refers to a force that can be aroused to a higher level thereby helping the body to use its own inner resources to alleviate the symptoms.
Out of 487 patients with an influenza-like syndrome, the patients treated with a single remedy that was not individualized, were 70 percent more likely to have recovered within 48 hours compared to those receiving the placebo. Twenty-eight patients with allergic asthma were randomly assigned to either the experimental group or placebo group. Those receiving the homeopathic remedy had significantly reduced symptoms and better respiratory functioning over the next eight weeks compared to those received the placebo.
Homeopathy is able to treat anything capable of being helped by the patients own host resistance (natural defences) or vital force. Its strengths lie in treatment of acute and chronic illnesses, particularly in the early stages or where there is no severe tissue damage. Migraines, headaches, immune related illnesses (allergies) as well as viral and bacterial infections are especially helped by homeopathy.
The major strength of homeopathy is its lack of side effects. Since the remedies are given in such minute doses, there is not enough of the substances to cause toxic reactions or side effects in the body as often happens with conventional drugs.
Homeopathy does not treat broken bones although it may be used to speed the healing process once the bone is set. Homeopathy is also not generally considered a form of treatment for advanced cancer, syphilis, gonorrhea or advanced or advanced stages of other diseases such as long standing arthritis. It cannot repair a defective valve in the heart or stroke damage to the brain. However, a homeopath who is licensed to practice western medicine can combine both types to help strengthen the patients overall resistance.
The era when Rudyard Kipling wrote East is east and west is west, and never the twain shall meet is over. Since the late nineteenth century, the western tradition of medicine has shown us that once hopeless diseases can now be cured. The advanced technologies in drug production and surgical techniques have certainly prolonged life. These successes of conventional medicine have affected lives. However, with the many advancements of western medicine, new problems have arisen. For instance, society is living longer and with that new problems are created. Modern or conventional medicine is in a period of change. Alternative medical treatments from other of the world, which were once viewed with skepticism by professionals and society, are now being by viewed by many as a complement to modern medical techniques.
The herbal revolution has made people more aware that they must be responsible
for their own health care. Although the benefits of man-made drugs are indisputable, they have also produced side affects. This is where herbal and other types of alternative medicine step in and reduce or eliminate the side effects of modern medicine. Given all of the information, it is possible for society to separate the need for conventional or alternative medical care depending on the condition. Research has proven that conventional medicine is the clear leader in infectious diseases, cancer and heart disease. However, for the common everyday aches and pains of life, alternative medicine is the definite leader. In turn, alternative medicine cannot stand alone. Research has proven successful when alternative medicine is used in conjunction with conventional techniques.
Traditional medicine is certainly important but it sometimes ignores certain issues of healing. This may be caused in part by the shrinking health care dollar, the lack of time or even the lack of awareness by the physician. Before the advent of synthetic drugs, our ancestors used many home remedies that are being used again today by both traditional and alternative physicians.
Now that physicians are learning and accepting more about alternative treatments and integrating them into their practices, the outlook is hopeful that in the future these two types of treatments will thrive and complement one another. The result of this co-operation can only benefit society and enhance the total health care system.
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