Enhance Your Health With Traditional Medicines

A doctor explains why traditional medicines have not been widely adopted by Western medicine yet and why traditional healers still use them.

| November 2014

  • Traditional medicine practitioners claim that preparing herbs naturally preserves their essence and is more compatible with the human body.
    Photo by Fotolia/marilyn barbone
  • “A Doctor’s Guide to Alternative Medicine,” by Mel Borins, outlines the benefits and dangers of traditional medicines, drawing on scientific research to show which treatments work, which don’t and how to use them safely.
    Cover courtesy Lyons Press

A Doctor’s Guide to Alternative Medicine (Lyons Press, 2014), by Mel Borins, uses scientific research to educate patients and physicians on which traditional medicines and therapies are worth trying, which aren’t and why, and how to use the effective ones safely. Written in clear, accessible language for the layperson while providing citations to full studies for the medical professional, Borins covers natural health products, herbal remedies, acupuncture physical therapies and psychological therapies. In the following excerpt from “Traditional Healing and Herbal Remedies,” from Section 1, Borins describes his encounters with various traditional healers and explains why Western medicine has resisted traditional medicines.

Do you remember your mother using a family remedy when you were ill as a child? Perhaps she gave you a glass of ginger ale when your stomach was upset, or, when you had a fever and swollen glands, she might have swabbed your forehead and throat with an astringent of witch hazel. Ever since recorded time, people have taken herbs for health. Western medicine tends to adopt a rather ethnocentric point of view, believing that our modern way must be the only “right” way, and we all know this is not true. When looking at the scope of human history, modern medicine is in its infancy; people have survived for thousands of years with traditional healing practices.

It wasn’t until I began to travel extensively around the world that I saw for myself how health care is (or isn’t) distributed to populations. The World Health Organization reports claimed that the majority of the world’s inhabitants do not have access to modern medicine and pharmaceuticals. Throughout India, Asia, China, Africa, and developing countries across the world, a shortage of physicians and medical centers, as well as the prohibitive cost of drugs and treatments, mean that accessibility, especially in rural areas, is almost nonexistent.

Some years ago, I decided to merge my love of long-journeyed travels with my sincere desire to become more familiar with the world’s approach to healing and health—what type of services there were and how much accessibility existed for people in different countries and cultures. I wanted to observe how doctors and healers in other countries worked with the resources they had. While we have made leaps and bounds in our knowledge about disease and the body, improved treatments, and designed surgical techniques, equipment, and preventive measures, we still have much to draw upon and learn from the apothecaries and practices of our ancestors.

So in 1981, my wife Bonnie and I set out again, only this time we took our three-year-old son, Larry, and we traveled for nearly ten months, going from Fiji and Raratonga to New Zealand, then up to Indonesia, Thailand, Japan, India, Sri Lanka, and Kenya. The Canadian government was instrumental in the success of our journey, putting me in contact with officials in countries where healing practices were outside the realm of Western medicine. Through these dedicated people, I was able to meet and observe healers of many different disciplines.

Of the traditional folk healers, I met bonesetters, herbalists, spiritual healers, and those that combined all three. Particularly in rural areas, these were the mainstay of health care and medicine, and they provided similar care to what a medical doctor does in our culture. In other countries, such as Japan, China, and India, I met medical doctors who practiced Western medicine, as well as those who worked within other well-organized systems of healing and medicine, some of which date back thousands of years. Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayurvedic, Unani, Siddha and other disciplines mirrored ours, with universities, medical schools, research facilities, hospitals, and outpatient clinics.

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