Natural medicine is known by many different names: alternative, complementary, traditional, or holistic medicine. Physicians of 19th century called it ‘irregular’ medicine, referring to therapies, which were not generally used or recognized by mainstream medicine. Natural medicine is based on old traditional practices of various cultures. Big segment of people in developing countries largely depends upon some form of natural medicine for satisfying their primary healthcare needs (Eskinazi, 2001). This paper examines different approaches of natural and mainstream kinds of medicine towards diseases as well as discusses challenges faced by natural medicine systems. The paper also presents reasons for recent growth of popularity of these systems and discusses the possibility of integrating modern medicine and natural medicine for treating patients more effectively.
Differences in Philosophy
Attitudes of mainstream physicians and those of practitioners of natural medicine towards patients and diseases are totally different. Modern medicine, or biomedicine, believes in materialism and recognizes molecular, physiological, and pathological reactions as the basis for biological processes. Biomedical procedures intervene in pathological processes to promote healing. These procedures do not incorporate spiritual healing or meditation into any of the stages of diagnosis or treatment (Eskinazi, 2001). Biomedicine takes the negative approach to health. It assumes that an absence of disease is an indication of good health. If no abnormality is detected after examinations or tests, the patient is considered to be healthy (Kampner, 2002).
Conversely, natural medicine believes in the concept of ‘holism’. Every life form is considered to be a whole unit, rather than a system of different anatomic parts. Definition of the term ‘health’ by World Health Organization states that “Health is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease and infirmities”. This definition is an example of a holistic positive approach to health as suggested by the underlying philosophy of natural medicine (Kampner, 2002). Therefore, diagnosis and treatment in natural medicine do not necessarily focus on the organ directly affected by the disease. Maintenance of health is believed to be dependent on balanced interaction of the living organism with its environment. Therefore, stimulation of senses (sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch) forms an important part of the treatment as person interacts with physical environment by means of these stimuli. Natural treatment also places great emphasis on interaction with invisible environment by means of meditation and prayer (Eskinazi, 2001). Holistic medicine takes into account the impact of mind and emotions on individual’s health. It treats the person rather than the disease. Natural therapists determine and treat the cause of sickness rather than just its symptoms. They make use of body’s inherent capacity to heal itself and administer therapies to facilitate this process. Therapists also educate patients about healthy lifestyle choices to promote overall health and well-being (Jonas, 1998).
Challenges Faced by Natural Medicine
The rise of consumerism in the society made people want a quick cure for everything. Huge advancement in the field of conventional medicine made people believe that every illness can be cured by a magic pill. This notion was specifically reinforced by the discovery and successful use of antibiotics in treating infections. Eventually, there was a pill for everything starting from headaches and insomnia to weight loss, which people could take to achieve an immediate effect (Kampner, 2002).
Natural medicine systems have always been perceived unscientific by mainstream healthcare system because of lack of reliable scientific research to prove safety and efficacy of treatments (Eskinazi, 2001). Products used in natural medicine are not controlled properly and their quality is not regulated by rigorous checks. They are freely available as diet supplements, which may vary in terms of quality and safety. Thus products of questionable quality may pose a major health risk (Jonas, 1998).
Most natural medicine practices originated hundreds or thousands years ago and have remained unchanged ever since. There has been no recent research, observations, clinical trials, hypothesis-testing, or innovations. Practitioners of natural medicine claim that their treatment procedures are too ‘holistic’ to be studied in accordance with the rules of science. Because of this, alternative medicine runs the risk of being labeled as quackery (Jonas, 1998).
Most countries, until recently, did not have formal training, certification, strict licensing rules, and professional liability for practitioners of natural medicine. It could be practiced by anyone who may or may not have been well-qualified for the job (Jonas, 1998). This scenario, however, is changing fast. An increasing number of people (approximately 40 percent of the population in America) are turning to natural medicine to meet their health care needs (Kampner, 2002).
Revival of Natural MedicineModern medicine has been extremely successful in treating acute conditions increasing average life span of individuals. Since more people are living to an old age, incidences of chronic diseases have increased. Natural medicine is more effective in treating chronic conditions, which may have a psychological component to them. Natural medicine addresses mental and emotional aspects of a disease in addition to the physical aspect. For example, in case of an old person with depression, arthritis, and lower back pain, modern medicine would prescribe antidepressants, anti-inflammatory agents, and analgesics. These drugs, however, treat only symptoms and not the root cause of the disease. Moreover, with so many drugs taken simultaneously, there is always a risk of adverse drug interactions. Natural medicine may address the same health problem of an individual in a more gentle manner, such as regular yoga classes. Yoga is good for improving flexibility and reducing pain and anxiety (Mackenzie & Rakel, 2006).
Another reason for growing popularity of natural medicine is that an average person has more access to information these days. Moreover, the public is becoming increasingly aware of the potential harm of many drugs and therapies used in modern medicine. These include overuse of antibiotics, controversies about hormone therapy, artificial sweeteners, side-effects of diagnostic radiology procedures, and effects of long-term medication to name a few. This has encouraged people to look for alternative options, which are more gentle and natural. Natural medicine Natural medicine is becoming a highly visible and well promoted part of health care package in America. Moreover, the Office of Unconventional Medical Practices was established by National Institutes of Health to regulate all branches of natural medicine (Eskinazi, 2001).
The Future of Medicine: Integrated Healthcare
The current trend in healthcare shows the need for an integrated medical system combining modern medicine with natural therapies. Modern medicine has cutting edge tools and technology for diagnosis and treatment planning, whereas natural medicine has the experience and wisdom to enhance body’s innate healing capacity and emphasize the promotion of holistic healthcare practices. Synergy of the two approaches is a required perfect combination of East and West, modern and ancient, which is necessary to battle rising costs of healthcare, antibiotic resistant infections, iatrogenic infections, and chronic diseases (Stevens, 2002).
The future of natural medicine looks bright. This is because governments are showing an increased interest in natural medicine systems. Specifically, they and trying to regulate qualification of practitioners and standardize quality of medicines used to be at par with mainstream medicine. This will ensure safety of patients opting for natural healing. Modern physicians have also started to acknowledge the power of mind in healing the body, and as such are becoming more open to natural healing techniques. They realize that modern medicine does not have a cure for every illness. Therefore, integration of natural medical practices into mainstream medicine will benefit both doctors and patients as the latter will be able to actively participate in the treatment process rather than passively receive the prescribed treatment.