The History of Alternative Medicine

A New Fad or Steeped in Ancient History?

You may be new to using alternative medicine or perhaps you have already seen the amazing benefits alternative medicine and alternative therapies can bring to your life. But do you know how long its been practiced and where it originated? Well let me take you on a journey into the fascinating history of alternative medicine.

The history of Alternative Medicine is an interesting one and has links with many different cultures. However it’s difficult to say exactly when Alternative Medicine began, in part because up until recently the practices that fall under this term were the conventional medical practices of their time. But if we go back in history and trace several of the forms of healing that are now labelled as alternative we find that their origins go back as much as 5000 years.

From Eastern Philosophy to Widely used Western Alternatives

One of the oldest forms of alternative medicine can be traced back through Chinese history. The ancient Chinese, in much the same way as alternative medicine is used today, based their healing on the importance of the body and spirit being in balance. Much of the philosophy of Chinese Medicine is based on Taoist and Buddhist principals and the belief that a person and their environment are closely interlinked. The widely known principles of Yin and Yang come from Chinese Medicine and are integral to its practice. Yin and Yang explains how opposing forces are integral to each other and how for harmony within the body to take place, these must be in balance. When these are out of balance, disease occurs.

Chinese Medicine works at restoring balance in various ways including herbal medicine, acupuncture, breathing and movement (Tai Chi and Qigong) and also through diet. The practitioner looked at the patient’s health and life in detail to ascertain where their life force or Qi (pronounced Chi) was out of balance. Various methods would then be used to restore the patient back to health. Such was the effectiveness of Chinese Traditional Medicine that it still forms a large part of modern health care in the East. It’s not unusual for these “alternative” practices to be used in hospitals alongside western medicine.

The other Eastern Culture that has a long history of alternative medicine is India. Ayurvedic medicine dates back as far as 6000 years ago and like Chinese Medicine also has links with Buddhism. Ayurveda comes from 2 Sanskrit words – Ayu meaning life and veda meaning knowledge of. It is a system of medicine that keeps a persons body, mind and spirit in tune with nature in order to maintain good health.

When in Rome …..

In the West, the History of Alternative Medicine goes back around 3000 years. Treatments such as hydrotherapy were popular with the Romans and Greeks. The Ancient Greeks who were greatly influenced by the Babylonians and to a lesser extent by India and China brought herbalism into the West. Hippocrates (c. 460-377 BC), a Greek physician commonly referred to as the Father of Medicine, practiced herbal medicine.

During the Middle Ages, Monks in Europe studied and grew medicinal plants and translated many works on the subject from Arabic. Folk Healers also passed on their knowledge of healing through word of mouth, from Master to Apprentice. The understanding of the power different plants have is ingrained in many native civilisations and has allowed man to understand and thrive in often challenging environments. When the Europeans settled in America they found that the Native Americans had an extensive knowledge of the healing power of their indigenous herbs. Likewise the Aborigines in Australia understood the power of plants found in their environment.

Moving forward in time towards the 19th Century, before the rise of Western Medicine, as we now know it, medical practitioners were more like today’s naturopaths. They would take a detailed medical history paying particular attention to the patient’s lifestyle. They would then suggest ways to improve this by changes in diet, environment and would also prescribe herbal remedies.

How a Bit of Mould Turned the Tables on Alternative Medicine

The widespread use of alternative medicine in its various forms decreased during the 20th Century. Treatment of patients became more focused on the use of hospitals, and developments in modern medicine lead to the widespread use of Pharmaceutical Drugs to treat disease. The discovery of Penicillin and its development into a drug that could treat bacterial infections in the 1940’s revolutionised health care and alternative medicine lost favour with most medical practitioners.

Although many Doctors let go of what they considered to be outdated treatments such as homeopathy, herbalism and traditional Chinese Medicine many patients still sort them out, especially when conventional medicine didn’t appear to be working for them.

No Longer An Alternative, Now Another Choice for Achieving Better Health

The result now is that Alternative Medicine is on the increase. Practices such as acupuncture, herbal medicine, aromatherapy and healing are kept alive by practitioners who specialise in one of more alternative form of treatment. Frequently alternatives are used alongside modern medical treatments, which have led to alternatives being given the term complimentary medicine.

This brief history of alternative medicine shows that many of the practices used today have been with us for thousands of years. Given the rising popularity of using alternative medicine to deal with health issues today, it’s likely that these practices will be around for many more.

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Alternative Medicine – What is Scientific and Proven?

It’s time for conventional medical experts to prove the science behind their medicine by demonstrating successful, nontoxic, and affordable patient outcomes.

It’s time to revisit the scientific method to deal with the complexities of alternative treatments.

The U.S. government has belatedly confirmed a fact that millions of Americans have known personally for decades – acupuncture works. A 12-member panel of “experts” informed the National Institutes of Health (NIH), its sponsor, that acupuncture is “clearly effective” for treating certain conditions, such as fibromyalgia, tennis elbow, pain following dental surgery, nausea during pregnancy, and nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy.

The panel was less persuaded that acupuncture is appropriate as the sole treatment for headaches, asthma, addiction, menstrual cramps, and others.

The NIH panel said that, “there are a number of cases” where acupuncture works. Since the treatment has fewer side effects and is less invasive than conventional treatments, “it is time to take it seriously” and “expand its use into conventional medicine.”

These developments are naturally welcome, and the field of alternative medicine should, be pleased with this progressive step.

But underlying the NIH’s endorsement and qualified “legitimization” of acupuncture is a deeper issue that must come to light- the presupposition so ingrained in our society as to be almost invisible to all but the most discerning eyes.

The presupposition is that these “experts” of medicine are entitled and qualified to pass judgment on the scientific and therapeutic merits of alternative medicine modalities.

They are not.

The matter hinges on the definition and scope of the term “scientific.” The news is full of complaints by supposed medical experts that alternative medicine is not “scientific” and not “proven.” Yet we never hear these experts take a moment out from their vituperations to examine the tenets and assumptions of their cherished scientific method to see if they are valid.

Again, they are not.

Medical historian Harris L. Coulter, Ph.D., author of the landmark four-volume history of Western medicine called Divided Legacy, first alerted me to a crucial, though unrecognized, distinction. The question we should ask is whether conventional medicine is scientific. Dr. Coulter argues convincingly that it is not.

Over the last 2,500 years, Western medicine has been divided by a powerful schism between two opposed ways of looking at physiology, health, and healing, says Dr. Coulter. What we now call conventional medicine (or allopathy) was once known as Rationalist medicine; alternative medicine, in Dr. Coulter’s history, was called Empirical medicine. Rationalist medicine is based on reason and prevailing theory, while Empirical medicine is based on observed facts and real life experience – on what works.

Dr. Coulter makes some startling observations based on this distinction. Conventional medicine is alien, both in spirit and structure, to the scientific method of investigation, he says. Its concepts continually change with the latest breakthrough. Yesterday, it was germ theory; today, it’s genetics; tomorrow, who knows?

With each changing fashion in medical thought, conventional medicine has to toss away its now outmoded orthodoxy and impose the new one, until it gets changed again. This is medicine based on abstract theory; the facts of the body must be contorted to conform to these theories or dismissed as irrelevant.

Doctors of this persuasion accept a dogma on faith and impose it on their patients, until it’s proved wrong or dangerous by the next generation. They get carried away by abstract ideas and forget the living patients. As a result, the diagnosis is not directly connected to the remedy; the link is more a matter of guesswork than science. This approach, says Dr. Coulter, is “inherently imprecise, approximate, and unstable-it’s a dogma of authority, not science.” Even if an approach hardly works at all, it’s kept on the books because the theory says it’s good “science.”

On the other hand, practitioners of Empirical, or alternative medicine, do their homework: they study the individual patients; determine all the contributing causes; note all the symptoms; and observe the results of treatment.

Homeopathy and Chinese medicine are prime examples of this approach. Both modalities may be added to because physicians in these fields and other alternative practices constantly seek new information based on their clinical experience.

This is the meaning of empirical: it’s based on experience, then continually tested and refined – but not reinvented or discarded – through the doctor’s daily practice with actual patients. For this reason, homeopathic remedies don’t become outmoded; acupuncture treatment strategies don’t become irrelevant.

Alternative medicine is proven every day in the clinical experience of physicians and patients. It was proven ten years ago and will remain proven ten years from now. According to Dr. Coulter, alternative medicine is more scientific in the truest sense than Western, so-called scientific medicine.

Sadly, what we see far too often in conventional medicine is a drug or procedure “proven” as effective and accepted by the FDA and other authoritative bodies only to be revoked a few years later when it’s been proven to be toxic, malfunctioning, or deadly.

The conceit of conventional medicine and its “science” is that substances and procedures must pass the double-blind study to be proven effective. But is the double-blind method the most appropriate way to be scientific about alternative medicine? It is not.

The guidelines and boundaries of science must be revised to encompass the clinical subtlety and complexity revealed by alternative medicine. As a testing method, the double-blind study examines a single substance or procedure in isolated, controlled conditions and measures results against an inactive or empty procedure or substance (called a placebo) to be sure that no subjective factors get in the way. The approach is based on the assumption that single factors cause and reverse illness, and that these can be studied alone, out of context and in isolation.

The double-blind study, although taken without critical examination to be the gold standard of modern science, is actually misleading, even useless, when it is used to study alternative medicine. We know that no single factor causes anything nor is there a “magic bullet” capable of single-handedly reversing conditions. Multiple factors contribute to the emergence of an illness and multiple modalities must work together to produce healing.

Equally important is the understanding that this multiplicity of causes and cures takes place in individual patients, no two of whom are alike in psychology, family medical history, and biochemistry. Two men, both of whom are 35 and have similar flu symptoms, do not necessarily and automatically have the same health condition, nor should they receive the same treatment. They might, but you can’t count on it.

The double-blind method is incapable of accommodating this degree of medical complexity and variation, yet these are physiological facts of life. Any approach claiming to be scientific which has to exclude this much empirical, real-life data from its study is clearly not true science.

In a profound sense, the double-blind method cannot prove alternative medicine is effective because it is not scientific enough. It is not broad and subtle and complex enough to encompass the clinical realities of alternative medicine.

If you depend on the double-blind study to validate alternative medicine, you will end up doubly blind about the reality of medicine.

Listen carefully the next time you hear medical “experts” whining that a substance or method has not been “scientifically” evaluated in a double-blind study and is therefore not yet “proven” effective. They’re just trying to mislead and intimidate you. Ask them how much “scientific” proof underlies using chemotherapy and radiation for cancer or angioplasty for heart disease. The fact is, it’s very little.

Try turning the situation around. Demand of the experts that they scientifically prove the efficacy of some of their cash cows, such as chemotherapy and radiation for cancer, angioplasty and bypass for heart disease, or hysterectomies for uterine problems. The efficacy hasn’t been proven because it can’t be proven.

There is no need whatsoever for practitioners and consumers of alternative medicine to wait like supplicants with hat in hand for the scientific “experts” of conventional medicine to dole out a few condescending scraps of official approval for alternative approaches.

Rather, discerning citizens should be demanding of these experts that they prove the science behind their medicine by demonstrating successful, nontoxic, and affordable patient outcomes. If they can’t, these approaches should be rejected for being unscientific. After all, the proof is in the cure.

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The Energy Healing Power of Natural Medicine

Natural medicine is a system that uses a variety of therapeutic or preventive health care practices such as homeopathy, naturopathy, chiropractic, and herbal medicine. Alternative medicine is also known as traditional, naturopathic, natural or holistic medicine. Proponents of alternative medicine are not refuting the validity of discoveries in and the practical uses of conventional medicine, but are merely trying to put some things into perspective. Due to the widespread interest in natural medicine along with the disappointment and disenchantment with Western medicine, many people, especially in the United States and Europe, where conventional medicine has taken a dominant foothold, are seeking the advice and treatment from naturopathic physicians. These practitioners include herbalists, acupuncturists, naturopaths, chiropractors, and others, who advocate preventative health measures as well as recommend wholesome foods and nutritional supplements for their patients and clients. Considering the growing popularity and effectiveness of alternative health treatments and products, certified and licensed professional practitioners of such medical practices should be given their rightful and respectful place in medical society. Natural medicine has been proven not only to be safe, but more effective than Western medicine in treating many chronic illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension, asthma and many other diseases as well

The history of Natural Medicine and its roots can be traced back thousands of years to ancient cultures such as India and China. Ayurvedic (E. Indian) and Chinese medicine, along with their diagnostic and herbal systems, are still used in these countries extensively, as well as in the United States, especially in Europe, where alternative medicine is well respected. Chinese herbal medicine has a documented history of over 2500 years in China, and is now widely used by practitioners all over the world. It has been legally practiced in the United States. since the mid seventies by licensed acupuncturists. Homeopathy is also a well-known form of alternative medicine discovered in the 18th century by German physician Samuel Hahnemann, but was practically stamped out in the U.S. in the late nineteenth century by the American Medical Association. In 1938, though, the U.S. Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act finally recognized homeopathic pharmacopoeia as the legal equivalent of allopathic medicine.

Another more contemporary and popular form of herbal medicine, called Western herbalism, can be traced back about two hundred years in America. Samuel Thomson, born in 1769, is considered the father of Western herbalism. He discovered over sixty different medically effective native plants by clinical testing, and on the basis of these findings, devised a theory of disease and botanical drug action. Randy Kidu, D.V.M., Ph.D., writes in his articled entitled A Brief History of Alternative Medicine: “The history of herbal medicine is interesting because herbs have been a part of our diet and pharmacy since man began roaming the earth. Coprophytic evidence (seeds and other plant part(found in preserved fecal pellets) points to herbal use by cavemen. Early herbalists practiced their trade since before recorded history in all parts of the world including China, Egypt, Greece, Rome, Africa, England, the Americas, and Europe. Many herbs are also mentioned in the Bible. Today, based on sheer numbers of folks who use one form of herbal medicine or another, it remains the most-used medicine worldwide.”

Twenty-five hundred years after the advent of allopathic medicine, modern medicine is still grappling with the idea that herbal medicine could be an effective treatment, and not just quackery, although thousands of years of recorded history has proved its efficacy. A new model of understanding in medicine needs to be incorporated into the existing allopathic model. Because of the growing popularity and effectiveness of natural medicine, practitioners may eventually be given their deserved place in medical society. The incorporation of natural medical practices into the existing model of conventional Western medicine, including the training of new medical doctors, is now called Complimentary Medicine. In order to solve our health problems, this modern paradigm for treatment in medicine must be promoted

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