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November 17 2020

Traditional vs. Alternative Medicine: How Are They Different?

People who are nursing an illness or disease may turn to a variety of medical treatments for different reasons. Perhaps they know someone who has recovered through a particular kind of medication or therapy and think that it might work for them, too. It is also possible that they find another treatment more attuned with their health beliefs and life values.
Indeed, the medical system offers a comprehensive lineup of treatment options for patients. It encompasses several theories and practices, which have evolved from science-based or modern medicine either as a completely different system or as a complement to it.
These distinct or complementary systems generally fall into two categories, namely traditional and alternative. How do these two differ from one another?

What is Traditional Medicine?

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines traditional medicine as the “sum total of the knowledge, skill, and practices based on the theories, beliefs, and experiences indigenous to different cultures, whether explicable or not, used in the maintenance of health, as well as in the prevention, diagnosis, improvement or treatment of physical and mental illness.”
To put it simply, traditional systems of medicine are those that are unique or indigenous to a particular country or culture. Some of the most widely used traditional medicine methods include those from China, India, and Africa.

Examples of Traditional Medicine

1. Chinese medicine

This system of healing, which dates back to 200 B.C., proposes that the body should balance two opposing yet inseparable forces: yin and yang. When the two forces are not balanced, the condition may lead to a disease because the vital energy known as qi does not flow freely in the body.
To restore balance and wellness, the Chinese medicine system uses a combination of natural products, massages, diet changes, or exercise to facilitate healing. Acupuncture and moxibustion—or the application of heat on acupuncture points—are also vital components in Chinese medicine.

2. Ayurvedic medicine

In India, where this healing system came from, ayurveda means “science of life.” Ayurvedic medicine is a natural treatment method that considers the body, mind, and spirit as having equal importance to one’s health. There is also a belief that yoga is one of the foundations of Ayurvedic medicine.
Under the Ayurvedic medical system, primary treatment methods focus on a person’s diet and exercise, as well as the use of herbs, massage, meditation, and controlled breathing.

3. Homeopathy

The founder of homeopathy, Samuel Christian Hahnemann, was a German physician who developed the so-called principle of similars. Just like in human pathogenic trials, wherein sick people receive drug treatments depending on their symptoms, the core framework of homeopathy involves matching the drug to the symptoms of the disease.

4. Kampo medicine

Kampo medicine refers to Japanese traditional herbal medicine. It is similar to Chinese medicine, with the Japanese symbol kan means China, and po means medicine. As such, Kampo medicine involves the preparation of herbal medicines like licorice and ginseng to treat a wide range of health conditions, from allergies to high cholesterol levels and chronic hepatitis.
Kampo medicine also emphasizes identifying patterns of whole-body symptoms rather than thinking of diseases in terms of specific organs.

5. Naturopathy

Naturopathy, which translates to “nature disease,” originated from Europe, focusing on disease treatment and health restoration. This healing system also considers disease as a way for the body to show that its natural healing processes are changing.
Aside from Europe, naturopathic medicine is also common in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States. Methods of treatment center on modifying the diet, using nutritional supplements, herbal medicine, Chinese medicine, acupuncture, and hydrotherapy.

What is Alternative Medicine?

The term “alternative medicine” refers to medical treatments that are neither part of a country’s traditions nor its primary healthcare system. Others refer to alternative medicine as an “integrative” or “complementary” system since some countries use traditional and alternative medicine interchangeably.

Examples of Alternative Medicine

1. Acupuncture

Acupuncture is the technique of using needles on specific body points. An acupuncturist sticks thin, sterile needles into the skin to stimulate the body’s natural ability to heal itself.
Studies from the National Institutes of Health confirm that acupuncture is an effective treatment either on its own or in combination with conventional therapies like fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, and asthma, as well as stroke rehabilitation.

2. Chiropractic medicine

Chiropractic medicine is the technique of manipulating the spine to improve health without resorting to medication or surgery. This is due to the belief that, given the proper support or alignment of body parts, the human body can heal itself naturally.
The term chiropractic came from Greek words, where cheir means “hands” and praxis means “practice.” Chiropractors use their hands and elbows to realign the spine for pain reduction and improved body function. Chiropractic medicine helps treat lower back pain, neck pain, and dizziness, among other related ailments.

3. Herbal medicine

Herbal medicine refers to the practice of using plant-based products to treat diseases and maintain overall health. Unlike prescription or over-the-counter drugs that may contain purified ingredients from plants, herbal medicines contain entire plants or plant parts.
Some studies have shown the efficacy of certain herbs as treatment for allergies, chronic fatigue, and premenstrual syndrome. However, since herbal supplements fall under the category of foods instead of drugs, they may not be subject to testing, manufacturing, and labeling regulations.

4. Energy therapies

Energy therapies describe the focus on manipulating energy fields within the body. This type of health care taps into external energy sources like electromagnetics and human hands to deliver healing to the body. However, magnetic field therapies are not advisable for pregnant women and patients with cardiac device implants.

Going Traditional or Alternative?

The healing method one chooses may be different from that of another person—it ultimately depends on the individual’s health perspective. Both traditional and alternative medicine are key aspects of the overall healthcare system, with the same goal of helping people to feel well.
However, it is best to consult a board-certified general medicine doctor to discuss medical conditions and their symptoms in determining the most suitable treatment option for the patient.
Consult Makati Medical Center’s doctors regarding the use of traditional or alternative medicine and any other concerns on health and wellness.