The term Alternative Medicine means any form of medicine that is outside the main stream of western medicine or allopathy or orthodox medicine. Alternative medicine exists in all cultures to some degree and terms such as traditional medicine, indigenous medicine or folk medicine etc. are used to describe such practices.
These medicines date back hundred or even thousand of years depending on the country and culture concerned. Because two thirds of the world’s population (mainly in the developing countries) relies entirely on such traditional medical therapies, the World Health Organization has declared its intention actively to encourage traditional medicine world wide.
This term is loosely used to cover all forms of medicine except allopathy. In 1973, the Medical Faculty of the University of Rome convened the first World Congress of Alternative Medicines, and the provisional program contained no less than 135 different therapies. The experts of W.H.O. have also identified and enlisted more than 100 types of practices and they have termed these as traditional medicine.
What is traditional medicine?
Traditional medicine refers to health practices, approaches, knowledge and beliefs incorporating plant, animal and mineral based medicines, spiritual therapies, manual techniques and exercises, applied singularly or in combination to treat, diagnose and prevent illnesses or maintain well-being.
Countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America use traditional medicine (TM) to help meet some of their primary health care needs. In Africa, up to 80% of the population uses traditional medicine for primary health care. In industralized countries, adaptations of traditional medicine are termed “Complementary“ or “Alternative” (CAM).
Increasing use and popularity
TM has maintained its popularity in all regions of the developing world and its use is rapidly spreading in industrialized countries.
- In China, traditional herbal preparations account for 30%-50% of the total medicinal consumption.
- In Ghana, Mali, Nigeria and Zambia, the first line of treatment for 60% of children with high fever resulting from malaria is the use of herbal medicines at home.
- WHO estimates that in several African countries traditional birth attendants assist in the majority of births.
- In Europe, North America and other industrialized regions, over 50% of the population have used complementary or alternative medicine at least once.
- In San Francisco, London and South Africa, 75% of people living with HIV/AIDS use TM/CAM.
- 70% of the population in Canada have used complementary medicine at least once.
- In Germany, 90% of the population have used a natural remedy at some point in their life. Between 1995 and 2000, the number of doctors who had undergone special training in natural remedy medicine had almost doubled to 10 800.
- In the United States, 158 million of the adult population use complementary medicines and according to the USA Commission for Alternative and Complementary medicines, US $17 billion was spent on traditional remedies in 2000.
- In the United Kingdom, annual expenditure on alternative medicine is US$ 230 million.
- The global market for herbal medicines currently stands at over US $ 60 billion annually and is growing steadily.
Safety and efficacy issues
Scientific evidence from randomized clinical trials is only strong for many uses of acupuncture, some herbal medicines and for some of the manual therapies. Further research is needed to ascertain the efficacy and safety of several other practices and medicinal plants.
Unregulated or inappropriate use of traditional medicines and practices can have negative or dangerous effects.
For instance, the herb “Ma Huang” (Ephedra) is traditionally used in China to treat respiratory congestion. In the United States, the herb was marketed as a dietary aid, whose over dosage led to at least a dozen deaths, heart attacks and strokes.
In Belgium, at least 70 people required renal transplant or dialysis for interstitial fibrosis of the kidney after taking a herbal preparation made from the wrong species of plant as slimming treatment.
Biodiversity and sustainability
In addition to patient safety issues, there is the risk that a growing herbal market and its great commercial benefit might pose a threat to biodiversity through the over harvesting of the raw material for herbal medicines and other natural health care products. These practices, if not controlled, may lead to the extinction of endangered species and the destruction of natural habitats and resources.
Another related issue is that at present, the requirements for protection provided under international standards for patent law and by most national conventional patent laws are inadequate to protect traditional knowledge and biodiversity.
Tried and tested methods and products
- 25% of modern medicines are made from plants first used traditionally.
- Acupuncture has been proven effective in relieving postoperative pain, nausea during pregnancy, nausea and vomiting resulting from chemotherapy, and dental pain with extremely low side effects. It can also alleviate anxiety, panic disorders and insomnia.
- Yoga can reduce asthma attacks while Tai Ji techniques can help the elderly reduce their fear of falls.
- TM can also have impact on infectious diseases. For example, the Chinese herbal remedy Artemisia annua, used in China for almost 2000 years has been found to be effective against resistant malaria and could create a breakthrough in preventing almost one million deaths annually, most of them children, from severe malaria.
- In South Africa, the Medical Research Council is conducting studies on the efficacy of the plant Sutherlandia Microphylla in treating AIDS patients. Traditionally used as a tonic, this plant may increase energy, appetite and body mass in people living with HIV.
WHO efforts in promoting safe, effective and affordable traditional medicine
The World Health Organization launched its first ever comprehensive traditional medicine strategy in 2002. The strategy is designed to assist countries to:
- Develop national policies on the evaluation and regulation of TM/CAM practices;
- Create a stronger evidence base on the safety, efficacy and quality of the TAM/CAM products and practices;
- Ensure availability and affordability of TM/CAM including essential herbal medicines;
- Promote therapeutically sound use of TM/CAM by providers and consumers;
- Document traditional medicines and remedies.
At present, WHO is supporting clinical studies on antimalarials in three African countries; the studies are revealing good potential for herbal antimalarials.
Other collaboration is taking place with Burkina Faso, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ghana, Mali, Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, and Zimbabwe in the research and evaluation of herbal treatments for HIV/ AIDS, malaria, sickle cell anaemia and Diabetes Mellitus.
In Tanzania, WHO, in collaboration with China, is providing technical support to the government for the production of antimalarials derived from the Chinese herb Artemisia annua. Local production of the medicine will bring the price of one dose down from US $6 or $7 to a more affordable $2.
In 2003, WHO support has so far facilitated the development and introduction of traditional and alternative health care curricula in seven tertiary education institutions in the Philippines.
Training workshops on the use of traditional medicines for selected diseases and disorders have also been organized in China, Mongolia and Vietnam.
Priorities for promoting the use of traditional medicines
Over one-third of the population in developing countries lack access to essential medicines. The provision of safe and effective TM/CAM therapies could become a critical tool to increase access to health care.
While China, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the Republic of Korea and Vietnam have fully integrated traditional medicine into their health care systems, many countries are yet to collect and integrate standardized evidence on this type of health care.
70 countries have a national regulation on herbal medicines but the legislative control of medicinal plants has not evolved around a structured model. This is because medicinal products or herbs are defined differently in different countries and diverse approaches have been adopted with regard to licensing, dispensing, manufacturing and trading.
The limited scientific evidence about TM/CAM’s safety and efficacy as well as other considerations make it important for governments to:
- Formulate national policy and regulation for the proper use of TM/CAM and its integration into national health care systems in line with the provisions of the WHO strategies on Traditional Medicines;
- Establish regulatory mechanisms to control the safety and quality of products and of TM/CAM practice;
- Create awareness about safe and effective TM/CAM therapies among the public and consumers;
- Cultivate and conserve medicinal plants to ensure their sustainable use.
Courtesy: WHO Media centre
A few Alternative Therapies
Acupuncture Acupuncture involves stimulation of anatomical points on the body by a variety of techniques (using fine needles) it regulates the flow of vital energy and restore a healthy energy balance.
Acupressure Acupressure is a Chinese massage technique which uses moderate to firm pressure on various acu-points on the body s to stimulate the body’s energy flow. It has the same principles as Acupuncture, but the pressure is applied directly to the Acupoints of the body mainly by using the hands, fingers.
Aromatherapy Aromatherapy is the therapeutic use of plant-derived, aromatic essential oils to promote physical and psychological well-being.
aromatherapy is helpful in treating emotional disorders like, stress and anxiety.
Atlas Orthogonal Atlas Orthogonal is a kind of chiropractic program.
Ayurvedic Medicine This holistic science is the knowledge of complete balance of the Body, Mind and Spirit, including emotions and psychology, on all levels. Ayurveda includes in its consideration, longevity, rejuvenation and self-realization therapies through herbs, diet, exercise, yoga, aromas, tantras, mantras, and meditation. Ayurveda is Practiced in India for more than 5,000 years.
Biofeedback Biofeedback is a method for learning to increase one’s ability to control biological responses, such as blood pressure, muscle tension, and heart rate. In biofeedback ultra-modern sophisticated instruments are used to measure physiological responses. by this technique a person learns how to regulate certain body functions, such as heart rate, blood pressure, or brain wave patterns, stress, high BP etc.., that are normally considered to be involuntary.
Chelation Therapy Chelation therapy is a process involving the usage of chelating agents to remove heavy metals from the body.
Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM)/ Chinese Medicine Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is an ancient holistic system of healing. Chinese (Oriental) Medicine uses herbal medicine, massage therapy, acupuncture, heat therapy, nutritional etc…
Chiropractic– The method of treatment usually involves manipulation of the spinal column and other body structures.
Colonics– Colonics or Colon Hydrotherapy/ Colonic Irrigation, is generally the internal cleansing of the large intestine with water. Similar to an enema. The practice of using herbs and other natural substances to help cleanse the body extends back thousands of years. While today’s colon cleanse takes on many forms, those that rely on natural herbal blends and plenty of fiber remain among the most popular. Cleansing with herbal fiber is an alternative to external colonics or harsh fasting diets.
Psychotherapy/Counseling- Counseling/Psychotherapy is a comprehensive subject includes from career counselors to psychotherapies who treat depression, stress, addiction and emotional issues.
Craniosacral Therapy– Craniosacral therapy (CST) or Cranial Osteopathy, this healing modality uses very light touching to balance the craniosacral system in the body. Craniosacral therapy (CST) or Cranial Osteopathy is used by massage therapists, naturopaths, chiropractors and osteopaths, who manually apply a subtle movement of the spinal and cranial bones to bring the central nervous system into harmony. Craniosacral therapy includes the bones, nerves, fluids, and connective tissues of the cranium and spinal area.
Movement Therapies/ Dance – experts of this technique work with individuals with disabilities, additions, sexual abuse, histories, eating disorders etc… Dance/Movement Therapy involves expressive movement as a therapeutic tool for both personal expression and psychological or emotional healing.
Holistic Dentistry– Holistic dentistry (biologic dentistry), is an alternative holistic approach that uses non-toxic restorative materials for dental work.
Ear Candling– Ear Candling/ Ear Coning/ Thermal-Auricular Therapy is a kind of folk medicine practice intended to assist the natural clearing of earwax (cerumen) and “toxins” from a person’s ear by means of a hollow candle placed in the ear.
Feng Shui– This ancient practice Feng shui is based on the Chinese concept of yin and yang. Feng Shui is the Chinese art or practice of positioning (arranging) objects, especially graves, buildings, and furniture, based on a belief in patterns of yin and yang and the flow of chi that have positive and negative effects. It creates harmony and balance within an environment.
Flower Essences (Bach Flower Remedy)– Medicines derived from specialized medicinal plants are advocated for holistic treatment.
Herbalism– Herbalism is the study or use of medicinal herbs to prevent and treat diseases and ailments or to promote health and healing.
Hypnotherapy– Hypnotherapy is defined as, the treatment of a variety of health conditions by hypnotism or by inducing prolonged sleep. Hypnosis may help in behavioral, emotional or attitudinal change like, weight loss, smoking cessation, treating phobias, stress etc…
Homeopathy– Homeopathy is addressed commonly in infant and childhood diseases, infections, fatigue, allergies and chronic illnesses like, arthritis. Homeopathy seeks to stimulate the body’s defense mechanisms and processes so as to prevent or treat illness.
Iridology– Iridology is the study of the iris to diagnose disease.
Kinesiology– Kinesiology involves study of muscles and movements (anatomy, physiology, and mechanics of body movement).
Lymph Drainage Therapy– Lymph Drainage Therapy is a Therapy to drain and improve the lymphatic vessels.
Midwifery/ Childbirth Support– Midwifery/Childbirth assists Practitioners of childbirth support.
Therapeutic Massage– Therapeutic Massage involves the manipulation of muscles and other soft tissue to improve the health.
Naturopathic Medicine / Naturopathy Naturopathy is a system of therapy and treatment which relies exclusively on natural remedies, such as sunlight, air, water, supplemented with diet and therapies such as massage. Naturopathic or Naturopathy doctors (physicians) helps to strengthen the healing ability.
Ohashiatsu– This physical techniques Ohashiatsu, includes meditation, exercise. Ohashiatsu is helpful to release tension, Stress, Fatigue and bring relaxation and peace.
Osteopathic Medicine– Osteopathy emphasis on the relationship between the organs and the musculoskeletal system as well as on treating the whole individual rather than just the disease. Osteopathic Medicine includes, preventive medicine, diagnosis, surgery, prescription medications and hospital referrals.
Reconstructive Therapy/ Prolotherapy– Reconstructive Therapy/ Prolotherapy strengthens weak or damaged joints, cartilage, ligaments and tendons. This therapy is used to treat degenerative arthritis, lower back pain, torn ligaments and cartilage, carpal tunnel syndrome etc… Prolotherapy uses a dextrose (sugar water) solution, which is injected into the ligament or tendon where it attaches to the bone. Prolotherapy increases blood flow, flow of nutrients and stimulates the tissue, swelling, and pain. The body then launches a course of repair and healing.
Reflexology – Reflexology is based on the philosophy that each of the body’s organs and glands are “linked” to corresponding areas of ears, hands and feet.
Rolfing- Rolfing/ Structural Integration, is a technique of soft tissue manipulation that attempts to organize soft tissue relationships. It manipulates the fascia (connective tissue) to regain the body’s natural alignment and enhances vitality and well-being.
Shiatsu– Shiatsu is a kind of therapeutic massage where pressure is applied with the thumbs and palms on the areas of the body as in acupuncture. shiatsu is mainly practiced in Japan.
Tibetan Medicine – Tibetan Medicine remedies are effective in rheumatism, asthma, gastritis, diabetes and many neurological disorders. Tibetan medicine seeks to achieve a harmony of the self. Medicine is one of five branches of Tibetan science, and is known to the Tibetans as gSoba the science of healing. Trees, rocks, resins, soil, precious metals, sap etc… are used by Tibetan pharmacopoeia in this therapy.
Unani– Unani is helpful in sinusitis, leucoderma, rheumatism, jaundice and elephantiasis etc.. Unani stands for a symbol of life. Unani includes the mainly herbs.
Vitamin Therapy– The use of vitamins to prevent or cure disease. Many physicians are now recognizing the beneficial uses of anti-oxidant and other vitamins for a wide variety of conditions. Vitamin Therapy is recommended in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and HIV/AIDS. Some Alternative Therapies Next