Natural, or alternative, medicine is often thought of as a phenomenon of the so called New Age; in reality, much of it is older than human history. Every society has herbal cures and folk remedies, many of which have been incorporated into orthodox medicine. In fact, it is estimated that at least half of our modern drugs originated with natural plant sources.

In ancient times, many diseases were attributed to the supernatural a sick person was thought to be possessed by demons or to have incurred the displeasure of some god. Thus, many treatments were aimed at exorcising demons; priests or shamans often doubled as physicians, because it was felt they could heal by restoring a god's favor.

These beliefs started to change some 3,000 years ago as Indian, Chinese, and Greek philosophers postulated that health signified a balance of internal forces, and that illness occurred when this natural harmony was upset. This idea gave rise to distinct medical systems and practices aimed at maintaining internal harmony. The alternative medicine of today is a direct outgrowth of these millenia old medical practices, using many of the same techniques.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, a different world view-and with it, different medical practices took hold in Europe, initiating the rift between Western and Eastern medicine. This rift widened further during the Renaissance, with the rise of scientific inquiry and the beginnings of modern scientific approaches to medicine.

In the 20th century, American physicians embraced scientific medicine wholeheartedly, discarding and even outlawing much of what are now considered alternative therapies. But in other parts of the world, including industrialized European nations, traditional, or natural, therapies continued to coexist with mainstream medicine. Even in India, where the teaching of traditional ayurvedic medicine was banned under British rule, the practice never disappeared, and quickly reemerged when India gained its independence.

In recent years, growing numbers of Americans have come to recognize that achieving and maintaining good health is a personal responsibility, affected by lifestyle. There is increasing emphasis on good nutrition, regular exercise, weight control, and smoking cessation. Many alternative therapies, which were once dismissed as mostly hokum, are now considered complimentary adjuncts to conventional medicine, important in preventing and treating many diseases.

Alternative practitioners and their patients have led the movement toward natural medicine, but several prominent physicians and medical educators, among them Dr. Bernie Segal and Dr. Andrew Weill, have helped to sway both the public and physician colleagues, often with best selling books. Dr. Weill in particular offers a balanced approach by advocating that patients see mainstream physicians for infections and other acute illnesses, in which they can truly make a difference, and try alternative therapies for chronic problems that conventional medicine is unable to do much about.

Other well known mainstream physicians, cardiologist Dean Ornish, for instance, advocate a combination of conventional and alternative therapies plus lifestyle changes to treat even serious conditions such as heart disease. The following pages describe some of the more popular alternative therapies and their potential benefits and limitations.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Crohn's Disease
Eye Stye
High Blood Pressure
Substance Abuse
Swimmers' Ear
Temporomandibular Joint Syndrome
Tendinitis and Bursitis
Testicular Cancer
Throat Cancer
Tuberculosis (TB)
Urinary Tract Infection
Uterine Cancer
Varicose Veins
Whooping Cough
Yeast Infection


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