Nature yields diverse resources and remedies for health-related frailties. Evidence have indicated the use of medicinal plants since as long as 60,000 years ago by the Egyptians, the Indians, the Chinese, and the Greeks.
As reported by the WHO, traditional medicine is currently used by 80% of the population in certain Asian and African countries as the primary source of healthcare. In other regions of the world, modern medicine recognizes herbal medicine as a form of complementary and alternative medicine.
Owing to the high costs of modern medicine, many governments have acknowledged the need to pursue traditional medicine and allow healthcare practitioners to access these medicines in a safe and cost-effective manner.
25% of the modern day drugs are believed to have been derived from plants, as reported by the WHO. Relative low costs and lesser side effects have worked in the favor of natural medicine, making it a consistently growing area in the healthcare industry.
Over the past two decades, the Traditional and Complementary Medicine (T&CM) has been recognized as an integral part of healthcare and healing by the WHO, resulting in the launch of WHO’s first global strategy on alternative and herbal medicine. A validation of sorts, it has unlocked several employment opportunities for aspiring healthcare professionals.
What Is Traditional and Complementary Medicine (T&CM)?
As defined by the WHO, “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.”
Complementary medicine incorporates a set of healthcare practices that are not a part of the country’s own traditions and have been derived from traditions of other countries.
Standardization of these practices and related medicines is highly effective in providing access to essential medicines, especially in developing countries, where more than one-third of the population fails to meet their medical needs owing to financial constraints.
Integration of T&CM into Mainstream Healthcare
Between 2002 and 2011, 91 medical colleges in the US have integrated alternative and complementary medicine into their curriculum to foster the application of natural medicine. Significant funds have been directed towards research projects on traditional and complementary medicine. With insurance covers now being offered for T&CM, natural medicine is a growing industry that breeds young professionals aspiring to pursue careers in healthcare.
Forms of Traditional and Complementary Medicine with Worldwide Recognition
Ayurvedic medicine has its roots in the Indian subcontinent. Plant-based Ayurvedic medicines are obtained from roots, fruits, leaves, bark, or seeds, while animal-based products are derived from milk, bones, and gallstones. Additionally, Ayurveda also prescribes the consumption of minerals like sulfur, arsenic, gold, and copper for medicinal use.
The WHO, through its strategy for traditional medicine (2011-2020) in the western pacific region, has included the objectives of the resurgence of Ayurveda through the promotion of safe, effective, and sustainable use of medicines.
The organization also focuses on strengthening measures to increase access to traditional medicines and promoting sharing of knowledge and skills related to Ayurveda.
Based on the principle of “like cures like”, this natural therapy was introduced by German physician, Samuel Hahnemann in the year 1796. This form of medicine has been integrated into the healthcare systems in India, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Switzerland, and Portugal; and is growing in popularity across other nations. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health reported the use of Homeopathy by five million adults and one million children in 2011.
Homeopathic medicines contain drugs or substances that have the potential of stimulating symptoms similar to that of the disease. Drugs for medicines are derived from plants, animals, minerals, crushed whole bees, poison ivy, stinging nettle, and white arsenic.
3.Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)
Traditional Chinese Medicine has derived from 2,500 years old Chinese medical practices and includes herbal medicine, acupuncture, exercise, massage, and diet therapy. The clinical diagnosis and treatment in TCM is based on the study of physiological activities, pathological changes in the human body, and the interrelationships between the former and the latter.
The theory of Yin and Yang is fundamental to the practices of TCM, for understanding, diagnosing, and treating health conditions. TCM includes techniques of acupuncture, acupressure, classical herbal therapy, eating for healing, five element psychology, and qigong.
4. Unani Medicine
Known to have been invented by the Greeks and later refined through systematic experiments by the Arabs, the Unani system of medicine is widely practiced in South Asia.
This form of medicine is based on the principles of harmony and balance that exist to unite the physical, mental, and spiritual spheres of the human body. After being recognized by the WHO, Unani medicine has been gaining increasing global acceptance.
The Unani Pharmacotherapy or the system of medicine is vast and has produced over 2,700 medicines using numerous herbal, animal, and mineral sources. This form establishes that a balanced existence is brought about by six external factors namely air, food and drink, exercise, work and rest, sleep and wakefulness, and finally retention and excretion of toxic substances.
The first approach in Unani treatment is to normalize the balance of the external factors – air, food and water. Should this approach prove inadequate, drugs made from natural herbal and animal sources are prescribed to patients, along with a strict diet. Surgical procedure is the last resort and rarely preferred in Unani practices.
Popular in Japan and Taiwan, Kampo is based on traditional Chinese medicine that was shared with Japan during early cultural exchanges. Used by 84% of Japanese physicians, the Kampo form of T&CM is fundamentally based on herbs and herbal formulas, and differs from the TCM by the group of primary herbs and formulae.
The Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare in Japan approved 82 Kampo medicines in 1976, resulting in the consequent integration of Kampo into the Japanese national healthcare system. The medicines are produced for clinical use and over-the-counter sales in the country. Kampo medicines are typically prepared by blending and boiling natural herbs to produce the herbal decoctions. Modern practices produce extract granules or tablets containing herbal extracts for commercial consumption.
Acupuncture has made significant progress in terms of its application across the globe. Known to be an integral part of the traditional Chinese medicine, Acupuncture is now also observed as a stand-alone T&CM practice.
178 countries or 93% of 192 member states of United Nations use Acupuncture as medical practice and several countries offer partial or complete insurance cover for this natural healing medical practice.
The said practice involves insertion of needles into the skin and the tissues located at strategic points over the 12 basic meridians. Needle insertions are performed to re-balance the energy flow and stimulate the nerves and muscles to relive pain, stress, and treat several other medical conditions occurring in the body.
Of the many forms of alternative medicine, only a few have earned global recognition and widespread application. Standardization of medicines and practices involved in traditional medicine helps to increase the application of and awareness about natural therapies that can be used to treat several medical ailments at low costs. Complete integration of these practices into dominant healthcare systems, which is now an on-going process, provides numerous career opportunities for students to pursue.
Pratima Makanji is the founder of AIHT Education (American Institute of Healthcare & Technology), a US based healthcare training and educational institute. She started AIHT with the aim of providing the best education opportunities in the rapidly growing field of Allied Health. Located in Connecticut, AIHT helps graduates pursue lucrative careers in the medical industry by providing traditional and structured training.