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Alternative Medicine

Introduction to Alternative Medicine

We have made great strides in developing western medicine in the last century. Countless diseases were eliminated or controlled through advances in immunology, parasitology, and the discovery of antibiotic drugs and vitamins; the advances in surgery made possible by antiseptics and anesthesia; and the discovery of insulin and human growth hormones. From pacemakers to birth control plus, from kidney transplants to artificial hearts, America has an international reputation for making medical breakthroughs. This, however has come at a cost. Modern medicine has raised expectations of people on the capabilities of the medicine. We have stopped taking an active part in our own healing. We trust the doctor to take care of us. Doctors, on the other hand, are very busy. They spent more time filling up insurance forms, documenting case histories to ward of any potential malpractice suits or for meeting the "quality assurance requirements", peer reviews and other formalities that takes away the time available to practice medicine. Health care administration is reviewing the "productivity" of physicians and the only yardstick they can use to measure the performance of a doctor is how many patients he or she has seen or what is the "billable hours". Among all these high technology shuffle, a fundamental factor that distinguished the healing profession from the time of Hypocrites has changed. Hypocrites viewed the treatment of disease as a dual process. One part was represented by systematic medicine; the other part was the full activation of the patient's own healing system. In the centuries since the great physician taught his students under the sycamore tree on the Greek island of Kos, there has been a shift away from the concept of the patient as the center of the healing process. The physician has come increasingly to the fore as the dominant force.

The family doctor of a century ago was really a holistic doctor. He knew three generations of the family, and he knew that the mother's diabetes got worse when the teenager acted up. He saw the big picture. That's something conventional medicine has definitely lost. Family physicians, with their waiting rooms full of patients, claim that they simply do not have the time to give their full attention to patients as people, and that even if they had, many of them would be surprised, even irritated, if questioned about, say, their diet or their love life. Patients come to their doctors for tonics or tranquilizers, not for analysis.

Conventional medicine offers little for those suffering from back pain, arthritis, the effects of stress, and other chronic ailments such as cancer and AIDS. High-tech medicine is very expensive. It can also be dangerous. Its methods are potent and invasive, and it is frequently harmful. This tendency is nowhere more evident than in the amount of drug toxicity caused by modern prescribing practices. Adverse drug reactions are now so common that most patients will experience one sooner or later. The problem is that most pharmaceutical drugs are too strong.

The landscape is changing, though. Many have turning to ancient healing arts for an answer. Stone Age cave dwellers dug for medicinal plants, and the healing repertoire of the Egyptians included herbal remedies for crocodile bites. The Ayurvedic texts of ancient India are replete with magical treatments, botanical drugs, and charms designed to vanquish demons. Ayurvedic text written 5000 years ago, contain references to hardening of the arteries and recommended healing herbs to combat the problem. The Chinese, who discovered smallpox immunization a thousand years before Europeans did, saw man as a mirror of the universe, infused with qi, vital energy that courses through channels in the body. Surgery began in prehistoric times: ancient Peruvians cut holes in the skulls of the living to provide disease with an avenue of escape.

In much of the world, Western medicine is too expensive, is unavailable, or is presented in a way that is inconsistent with traditional beliefs. There is an increasing sense that certain ancient and esoteric healing practices, long ignored by Western science, may in fact represent profound insights into the very nature of well-being.

Worldwide, only an estimated 10 percent to 30 percent of human health care is delivered by conventional, biomedically oriented practitioners. The remaining 70 percent to 90 percent ranges from self-care according to folk principles to care given in an organized health care system based on an alternative tradition or practice. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 4 billion people, 80 percent of the world population, presently use herbal medicine for some aspect of primary health care.

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