Over the past century, there have been significant advances in detecting, preventing, and treating many chronic and complex diseases in mainstream medicine. However, more often than not, the available treatments bring about limitations and undesired side effects, and sometimes patients find it insufficient to totally cure their illnesses.
Hence, the need arises for unconventional methods of treatment, to complement, rather than replace, the known conventional mainstream medical treatments. It comes as no surprise that many of these complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) treatments have been available for centuries.
But, in the past, such types of medicine were frowned upon by mainstream medicine seekers who accused them of being unproven or sometimes, even harmful. Today, however, populations have restored their faith in those unconventional types of medicine, now that mainstream methods have fallen short of meeting healthcare needs
alone and due to the rising awareness of the safety and effectiveness of those types, namely traditional medicine and integrative medicine.
As implied by its name, traditional medicine refers to the culture-specific practices in different traditions and countries. The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines traditional medicine as “the sum total of the knowledge, skills, 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”.
Over the centuries, especially in old civilisations, people have healed with herbal and natural remedies, using knowledge handed down through the generations. In some parts of the world today, such remedies are still the primary source of healthcare for their communities.
They use it as an alternative to the conventional care although further research is still needed to examine the efficacy and safety of many of the traditional medicine practices. Among the most commonly used and known traditional medicines are the African, Asian, Islamic, and Persian ones, just to name a few. The most famous Asian traditional medicine is Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), which has been used in treatments for thousands of years.
Chinese Medicine consists of five main branches: acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine, food therapy, exercise (Tai Chai Qi Gong, Yoga) and meditation, also known as “ancient wisdom healing arts”. Herbal medicine, which has been around for over 5000 years, makes use of natural substances for their effect on specific illnesses and medical conditions.
Although originating in ancient times, herbal medicines are still being developed and updated to meet today’s health needs. Some of its products have been empirically proven to be effective in both healing illnesses and restoring health and wellbeing.
With the medical and scientific revolutions, conventional medicine became the only trusted medical approach. However, recently, traditional medicine has gained wide acceptance across the world, even in the west, that some types are now used as part of conventional medicine, such as acupuncture, which is widely taught and practised in the US today.
Unlike traditional medicine, integrative medicine does not replace nor do without conventional medicine; it rather pairs itself with other forms of medicine with the aim of restoring and maintaining the patient’s overall health, not just healing a single illness. The patient’s health and wellbeing are at the core of the practice of integrative medicine.
WHO defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” This is the focus of integrative medicine whose approach takes the most effective treatments from different disciplines, including both conventional and alternative approaches, thus making a personalised health plan for each patient’s unique physical and emotional needs.
Integrative physicians can be board certified and only use safe, proven and effective treatments, whether conventional or not. For example, in the case of cancer, a doctor can prescribe chemotherapy for their patient and also, acupuncture, to help reduce the chemotherapy side effects and manage pain.
This way, the doctor integrates both conventional and traditional treatments not only to fight cancer, but also, to maintain the patient’s health and wellbeing.
Dr Abdulla El-Hossami
Head of Integrative Oncology Asia Pacific
Verita Life, Integrative Cancer Centre
02 554 8300