Traditional Natural Medicine

Traditional Chinese Medicine, Natural Medicine and Alternative Medicine Image

In modern Western culture, we have become accustomed to thinking of “traditional” medicine as what is practiced in mainstream doctors’ offices and hospitals. To use this word for contemporary allopathic treatments is a bit of a misnomer, however, because the practice of natural treatments, such as homeopathy or acupuncture, actually dates back much further than its allopathic counterpart. In fact, you can’t get much more traditional than ancient medicinal techniques.

Traditional medicine is also known as natural or alternative medicine. In general, natural medicine takes a holistic approach to treatment, looking at the overall person and the whole body, rather than simply the symptoms being experienced. In many cases, natural medicine works on preventing the body from becoming ill or depleted.

Allopathic or Conventional Medicine

In contrast, conventional medicine, in which treatments are based on the results of scientific trials, tends to treat the symptoms that patients experience, as well as some diseases. However, generally speaking, conventional medicine looks at these symptoms in isolation and usually after the illness has already occurred.

Conventional medicine is also known as allopathic medicine or Western medicine. The name Western medicine came about because many of the alternative therapies and natural healing practices currently in use originate from the East.

What is Alternative Medicine

Although it is called alternative, traditional medicine is widely used around the world, as reflected in research from the World Health Organization. In fact, in many countries, herbal medicines are given before conventional medical treatment. Alternative medicine has always been popular in developing countries, and its popularity in industrialized nations is increasing rapidly.

Uses of Traditional Medicine

Most people are familiar with the tools of conventional medicine, such as blood tests and x-rays, but what exactly does natural medicine entail? Traditional medicine may use plant-, animal- and mineral-based products for treatment. It may also include spiritual and manual therapies.

Some types of alternative therapies include:

  • acupressure: massage in specific areas for pain relief
  • acupuncture: the insertion of thin, heated needles into the body to treat symptoms and balance the energy
  • Chinese herbal medicine: the use of plant-based remedies to treat or prevent illness
  • energy therapies: the practice of channeling energy through the hands for healing (Reiki is a type of energy therapy.)
  • homeopathy: the use of small amounts of natural remedies to treat illness
  • kinesiology: the use of muscle tests to identify and correct imbalances in the body
  • massage therapy: the practice of manipulating skin, muscles and joints to relieve stress and pain.

Eastern Medicine versus Western Medicine

Debate about the merits of Eastern medicine versus Western medicine (also referred to as natural vs. allopathic medicine) has been going on for years. Arguments against the use of natural medicine focus on the lack of verifiable scientific data that proves it works. Although studies have been done on traditional Eastern medicine, many of these have been criticized for not being rigorous enough. Others have focused on the fact that the results of studies receive negative press, even when they appear to work for the target group most at risk.

Other criticism focuses on the fact that people may take longer to seek conventional treatments. Instead, many people turn to natural medicines first, making it harder to achieve success with Western medicine. Issues relating to unwanted side effects of natural medicines, plus the fact that this area is virtually unregulated, are other reasons for concern. Finally, many alternative therapies are not covered by health insurance.

Benefits of Natural Medicine

Supporters of traditional and natural medicine point to the fact that this type of medicine treats the whole person. It’s often effective in treating illness before it gets to an advanced stage. In many cases, it is non-invasive and uses natural products, both of which many patients find appealing.

Some scientific studies do support the efficacy of alternative therapies such as acupuncture, some types of massage and some herbal medicines. The World Health Organizations also cites studies showing that some traditional medicines have successfully treated malaria and asthma. With a world market for herbal medicine estimated at U.S. $60 billion and rising, it’s evident that millions of people around the world are interested in finding an alternative to conventional treatments.

Resources

Chowka, Peter Barry (2006). Recent Negative Studies of Alternative Medicine: Bad Medicine or Bad Reporting?Retrieved April 8, 2008, from the NaturalHealthLine.com Web site: http://members.aol.com/realmedia/20060415badmed-badreporting.html.

Mayo Clinic (2006). Alternative Medicine: Evaluate Claims of Treatment Success.Retrieved April 8, 2008, from the Mayo Clinic Web site: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/alternative-medicine/SA00078.

Merck (2003). Types of Alternative Medicine. Retrieved April 8, 2008, from the Merck Web site: http://www.merck.com/mmhe/sec25/ch302/ch302c.html.

WHO (n.d.) What is Traditional Medicine? Retrieved April 8, 2008, from the World Health Organization Web site: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs134/en/.