Alternative and natural techniques or symptomatic medicine? Is it possible to find a healthy balance between these two extremes?
by Thejo Akkoor
Music therapy to cure your depression. A diet to take care of your ADHD. Meditation to fix your anxiety. Alternative therapy to cure cancer. Are these all just myths, or do they really work? Is this alternative type of medicine too good to be true? This is what millions ask themselves daily.
For a long time, people have been using unconventional methods to cure their health issues. This dates back to the 6th Century BCE with the establishment of Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Alternative medicine focuses on an entire being, not just the illness they possess. This philosophy coincides with the ideologies of many during that era. As the philosopher Socrates put it, “the part can never be well unless the whole is well”.
Hippocrates, the father of medicine, believed strongly in the healing power of nature. This contrasted with the beliefs of other early physicians who were specifically looking for ways to correct illness. After discovering germs, the dispute over medicine ceased, becoming solely focused on intervention.
The Scientific Revolution came with the discovery of many drugs that seemed to magically cure people. However, the magic wore off when people began to see the side effects presented with this form of medicine. The first Holistic Health conference was held in California in 1975, hoping to find a more reasonable solution to prescriptions. The American Holistic Health Association was soon formed to look for solutions outside of medicine.
Science, health, and environmental factors have a great effect on us today. People have begun to revert back to traditional forms of medicine. But should they be doing so?
That’s where this trilemma lies. Those who believe in alternative therapy feel that natural techniques may be the future of medicine. Many others believe symptomatic medicine is the way to go because of the scientific evidence behind it. Is it possible to find a healthy balance between these two extremes?
According to the World Health Organization, “health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. Therefore, according to this definition, taking medicine to cure your physical health doesn't seem very effective for your overall well being.
Additionally, a benefit of Alternative medicine is the fact that there are so many different types of treatment. If you don’t take to one, there is definitely another method to treat the illness.
When used in times of great mental and emotional stress, Alternative medicine has great effects. Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) helps the promotion of wellness, disease prevention, and managing symptoms in patients. In a study done on the benefits of using CAM on cancer patients, it was concluded that the patients using CAM after being diagnosed reported higher levels of mental and emotional health than those that did not. Additionally, attending a 12-session yoga program during and following radiotherapy strengthened benefit-finding three months after treatment. As stated in the paper, “Those who used CAM were more likely to report enhancements in hopefulness, positive changes, and purpose in life”.
Alternative therapy is also effective when considering mental illnesses that can be detrimental to our daily lives. Depression, affecting more than 264 million individuals worldwide, is able to be controlled with Alternative medicine techniques. Dr. Matt Strauss explored the idea that alternative therapy may prove to be more effective in helping depression than antidepressants. Other than the placebo effect that came along with taking an antidepressant, Strauss found no other lasting benefits to these drugs. He stated several rigorous scientific studies to help prove his point. Finally, he concluded that exercise, bright-light therapy, a Mediterranean (unprocessed food) diet, and cognitive-behavioral therapy were just as, if not more, helpful to most patients with depression than antidepressant drugs.
Alternative medicine can be helpful when struggling with Type 2 diabetes or other select medical conditions. Instead of taking insulin shots to control their Type 2 diabetes, many have been switching to the ketogenic (keto) diet. This is a high fat, low carb diet that is effective in controlling some illnesses normally treated with drugs. Patients with conditions such as epilepsy, PCOS, Type 2 diabetes, ADHD, and autism, have benefited more from this diet than staying on medication. Research has shown that seizures have improved in around 50% of epilepsy patients after following this diet.
Modern-day medicine kick-started with the discovery of germs. After this, scientists were able to create drugs specifically for the treatment of illnesses. It was something of a miracle discovered in the west. Many consider this even more of a miracle today. The discovery of Western medicine has expanded life expectancy rates, which continue to rise today. They’ve also given us vaccines and cures to the flu and many other infectious diseases. In fact, it’s thanks to modern medicine that we are on the way to finding a COVID-19 vaccine.
Once we find the vaccine for COVID-19, it can be made effective almost instantly, another blessing about western medicine. Thanks to labs, patients are able to find the source of their medical problem right away. Taking this form of medicine also gives people a way to resume their daily lives right away with minimal discomfort.
But how can popping a pill work wonders instantly? Would you take an Ibuprofen if it wasn’t scientifically proved that it can cure headaches? Just like this, we cannot ignore the lack of scientific evidence behind Alternative medicine. Additionally, these individuals argue that Alternative therapy is inappropriate when used for medical reasons.
An example of the false paradigm in alternative medicine that people believe is with diseases like cancer. According to an article published by Database Gale, a doctor talks about an incident with a cancer patient in which they swapped their chemotherapy with essential oils. The author of this article, Dr. Ranjana Srivastava points out that patients seem to be 100% convinced by Facebook ads from a costly, non-credible source. She says that chemotherapy is completely proven in having the ability to cure cancer and would rather have patients using that than a non-scientifically proven treatment. Surprisingly enough, when surveying more than 4,000 adults, nearly 40% said that they agreed that cancer can be cured through oxygen, dieting, and herbs alone. She even goes as far as saying that the expertise of oncologists, trained professionals who treat cancer, is being ridiculed by the false claims of Alternative medicine.
In some cases, alternative therapy methods have helped cancer patients when used alongside treatment with the advice of their healthcare provider. An article written on the two sides of Healthcare in America points out a way these methods are able to be used in tandem. They state that “applying acupuncture to the correct points could aid the flow of lymphatic fluid through the interstitium, delivering disease fight cells to the places they’re most needed”. This is an example of how, when used together, these two types of medicine work stronger than by themselves.
However, we must not ignore that they were each created for specific uses. We shouldn’t get rid of either of them, but know when—and when not to—use each method. Western, or Conventional Medicine is a combatter, it fights off sickness and is instrumental in making you feel better. This type of medicine should be used to combat infectious diseases, cancers, and other chronic diseases. On the other hand, Alternative medicine is the natural way of making you feel better. One can easily substitute their 5 pills a day for complementary techniques like yoga and dieting. Holistic therapy methods can be instrumental in aiding people with health conditions like Type 2 Diabetes, non-chemical depression, and even just the common cold.
The truth is that one of these isn’t necessarily ‘better’ in every way. They are both valuable for different situations. And clearly, when used side-by-side, they are capable of greatness.