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The orthodox or mainstream medical system that enjoys the support of governments and public institutions is the allopathic system in almost all the countries of the world. However, there are several traditional systems, some fully developed like Homeopathy and Ayurveda and some not so developed as auto-urine therapy and magneto-therapy which have been accepted as alternatives to allopathic treatment by a good number of people. These people testify to the efficacy of such alternative systems in preventing and treating diseases and in improving physical and mental health.

A World Health Organisation study says that interest in TCAM (Traditional, Complementary and Alternative Medicine) is rising rapidly all over the world. The report says that policy-makers, consumers and professional organisations have been calling for greater evidence of efficacy and safety, integration of TCAM and modern (allopathic) medical services, public sector support for TCAM services and comprehensive national policies for what has been, until recently, a consumer-led interest in most countries.

The report goes on to say that, while consumer demand for TCAM is rising and policy-makers are beginning to respond with moves to formalise TCAM within national policy, 'the indigenous sources of medical knowledge, handed down from generation to generation, are disappearing, especially within the oral traditions of the world'.

World Health Organisation made a global study of all the TCAM systems that are being practiced at present, grouping them as follows:

  • Indian Systems of Medicine: Ayurveda, Unani, Siddha, Yoga
  • Traditional Chinese Medicine
  • Acupuncture
  • Homeopathy, including Anthroposophic medicine
  • Osteopathy
  • Chiropractic
  • Massage and other manipulative therapies
  • Aromatherapy, reflexology and related therapies
  • Herbal medicine and traditional medicine
  • Spiritual therapies

http://apps.who.int/bookorders/anglais/detart1.jsp?codlan=1&codcol=15&codcch=614

We shall make a lightning trip through the above 10 groups of TCAM systems:

Indian Systems of Medicine

Ayurveda

Ayurveda, 'science of life', is the traditional medical system of the Indian subcontinent. From ancient times, Ayurvedic treatments, including medications, massages and surgical procedures, were well-developed in India much before Allopathic system was developed in Europe. In fact, Europe learned surgery from Ayurveda.

In classical Ayurvedic literature Ayurveda is a science of eight components. Kaya Chikitsa (General medicine) treats diseases of the body, Kaumara Bhrtya (paediatrics) treats children, Shalya Chikitsa (surgery) extracts foreign objects that have entered the body, Salakya Tantra (ophthalmology/ENT) treats diseases of the eyes, ears, etc, Bhuta Vidya (psychiatry) cures mental diseases, Agada Tantra (toxicology) concentrates on antidotes, Rasayana Tantra (Elixirs) are medicines of rejuvenation and immunity-boosting and Vajikarana Tantra centres around aphrodisiacs.

What Ayurveda stresses most for wholesome health of a person is a perfect balance of three doshas (elemental substances) which are vata (air), pitta (bile) and kapha (phlegm). Besides dieting and medication, practices like Panchakarma, a therapeutic method of elimination of toxic substances from the system, massages, oil baths, etc are included in traditional Ayurvedic treatments.

Yunani

Yunani Medicine is a traditional Graeco-Arabic medicine widely practiced by Muslims. The name Yunani indicates a region in ancient Greece where this system had been in practice from very ancient times. Based on the writings of Greek physician Hippocrates and Roman physician Galen, Yunani was developed into a comprehensive medical System by Arab and Persian physicians. It has taken much from Ayurveda and is based on four humours, instead of the three in Ayurveda. They are Balgham (Phlegm), Dam (Blood), Safra (Yellow bile) and Sauda (Black bile).

Siddha

Siddha Vaidyam (Siddha Medicine) is believed to be one of the oldest medical systems and it originated in Tamil Nadu, in South India. People believe that Lord Shiva taught the lessons of Siddha to his wife Parvathi, who taught these in turn to Muruga, their son, and Muruga taught the lessons to Agasthiar, the guru of all Siddhars, the practitioners of the system. Naturally, the Siddhars are Shaivaites (followers of Lord Shiva). From 2009, the Tamil New Year Day, which comes in the middle of April, is celebrated also as World Siddha Day.

Yoga

Yoga is considered a way of gaining and maintaining wholesome health of the spirit, the mind and the body through physical postures and meditation. The ultimate goal of Yoga is Moksha (liberation or redemption of the soul) or a state of permanent peace. But Yoga has been used with great efficacy from ancient times to treat all sorts of ailments, to alleviate health problems, to reduce stress and to make the mind and body fit, far better than any other physical therapy routine or comprehensive exercise programme.

Traditional Chinese Medicine

Traditional Chinese medicine began to be studied and used more than 5000 years ago and consists of several medicinal practices sharing common concepts. It includes several forms of herbal medicines, acupuncture (pricking with needles), different types of massages, a set of exercises and dietary therapy. It is based on ancient treatises and cosmological notions like yin-yang and the five phases. Authorities in People's Republic of China have been partly successful in modernising these precepts and in integrating modern scientific medicine with the ancient pathological and anatomical notions.

In traditional Chinese medicine, health is considered as harmonious interaction between the functional entities of the body that control and regulate digestion, breathing, ageing and such other functions. It is not concerned much with the anatomical structure of the body. Health is the harmonious interaction that these functional entities maintain with the outside world and disharmony in this interaction is defined as disease. Disease is diagnosed by inspection of the tongue, skin and eyes, analysis of the eating and sleeping habits and measurement of the pulse.

Acupuncture

Acupuncture is a part of the traditional Chinese medical system. It has been practiced for thousands of years in China and several other Asian countries. Stimulating specific points in the body, often by inserting thin needles, is the method of treatment. The insertion of needles causes changes in the physical functions of the body. Western research has proved that acupuncture is effective in reducing pain and subduing nausea and vomiting after surgery and chemotherapy.

Homeopathy, including Anthroposophic medicine

Homeopathic system is a system of medicine that is in use all over the world and is second only to the allopathic system in the number of people using it. It is based on three principles: 'Like cures like'; 'More the dilution, greater the effect'; 'Single remedy for all ailments'.

If the symptoms of the cold you are suffering from are similar to the symptoms of poisoning by mercury, then mercury would be the homeopathic remedy for your cold. Usually the remedial medicine is taken in extreme dilution, say one part diluted in one trillion parts of water. Only one medicine is prescribed for one illness, even if the symptoms are many. You will find these principles used in allopathic treatment for allergies and in allopathic vaccines.

Homeopathy gained popularity because the result is quick, complete and permanent, if the correct remedy is taken. It is safe and can be taken by pregnant women and infants without side effects. Most of the homeopathic medicines are based on natural ingredients. Homeopathic remedies do not suppress your immune system and are not addictive. They are holistic as they treat the cause and not the symptoms alone.

Anthroposophic medicine is a combination of some elements of conventional medicine with homeopathy and naturopathy. According to the principles of anthroposophy human wellness and illness are biographic events related to the body, the mind and the soul. Counselling, artistic therapies and physical therapies are included in the treatment of illnesses. Rudolf Steiner and Ita Wegman founded this system in 1920.

Anthroposophic practitioners, who are working in around 80 countries, have a degree from a mainstream medical institution. Surgery and conventional medications are used as and when necessary. Practitioners of anthroposophic medicine say that it is a holistic approach that strengthens the physiology and individuality of the patient and addresses the root causes of the ailments. Many scientists and mainstream medical doctors, however, consider this system as unscientific and pseudoscientific.

Osteopathy

The practice of the system of osteopathy began in 1874 in the United States and presently it is an officially recognized branch of the medical profession in the United States and sixty other countries. All the states of USA and all the provinces of Canada give licences to Osteopathic physicians (D.O.) to practice medicine and surgery. The followers define it as 'health care that embraces the unity of the living organism's structure (anatomy) and function (physiology)'.

The four major principles of Osteopathy are that (1) the body is an integrated unit of mind, body and spirit, (2) the body possesses self-regulatory mechanisms, having the inherent capacity to defend, repair, and remodel itself, (3) structure and function are reciprocally interrelated and (4) rational therapy is based on consideration of the first three principles. Osteopathic physicians do not hold these as empirical laws, but as underpinnings of the osteopathic philosophy on health and disease.

Chiropractic

Chiropractic is an alternative health care profession and an approach to healing centred on the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of disorders of the neuro-musculo-skeletal system and treatment of the effects of these disorders on the patient's general health. There are chiropractors in over one hundred countries, including parts of Europe, Australia and North America. People usually go to chiropractors for treatment of pain in low back region. The system was founded by magnetic healer, D.D. Palmer, in Iowa, in the year 1895. The system emphasizes manual therapy which includes manipulation and joint adjustment for joint dysfunction.

Massage and other manipulative therapies

Massaging, kneading and other manipulative therapies are clinical approaches utilizing trained and skilled specific hands-on techniques like manipulation and mobilization for diagnosing and treating soft tissues and joint structures with the intention of increasing motion, reducing pain, eliminating inflammation, improving function, inducing relaxation and accelerating contractile and non -contractile tissue repair and stability.

US chiropractors define it as "Procedures by which the hands directly contact the body to treat the articulations and/or soft tissues", while Korr (1978) defines it as "Application of an accurately determined and specifically directed manual force to the body, in order to improve mobility in areas that are restricted; in joints, in connective tissues or in skeletal muscles."

From followers of Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine to mainstream physiotherapists and osteopaths, thousands of medical practitioners use this therapy in one form or other. In some Ayurvedic treatments feet are used in place of palms. Acupressure, Anma, Bowen technique, chiropractic, Dom method, myotherapy, naprapathy, osteopathy, physiotherapy, polarity therapy, Seitai, Sotai, Shiatsu, Tuina etc are some of the different forms of manipulative therapies.

Aromatherapy, reflexology and related therapies

In aromatherapy volatile plant materials or essential oils and other aromatic compounds are used to improve the functions of the mind, alter the mood and enhance cognitive functions and health. Aerial diffusion, inhalation and topical application are the modes of application of the medicines. Both the pharmacological effects of essential oils and the effects of aromas on the brain are put forward as explanations for the beneficial results of aromatherapy. The practitioners claim that aromas help the body to find a natural way to cure itself and improve its immune response.

The physical act of applying pressure to certain areas of the body like the hands, feet, ears, etc using thumb, finger and hand to apply the pressure for bringing about physical changes is the method of treatment in Reflexology. No oil or lotion is used. The Reflexology Association of Canada defines reflexology as: "A natural healing art based on the principle that there are reflexes in the feet, hands and ears and their referral areas within zone related areas, which correspond to every part, gland and organ of the body. Through application of pressure on these reflexes without the use of tools, crémes or lotions, the feet being the primary area of application, reflexology relieves tension, improves circulation and helps promote the natural function of the related areas of the body."

Herbal medicines and traditional medicines

Herbal medicine studies and uses the medicinal and wellness properties of plants. Studies and uses of fungal and bee products, minerals, shells and some other animal parts are also included in the wider sense of this term. Study of all medicines from natural sources is known as Pharmocognosy.

Herbal remedies and wellness preparations are widely used by societies in all the non-industrialised nations of the world. According to an estimate of the World Health Organization (WHO), 80 percent of the people in some Asian and African countries use herbal medicine for health care and wellness. Herbal remedies are more affordable and have very little side effects. As more and more scientific evidence of the effectiveness of traditional herbal remedies are coming out every day, they are being increasingly used even in industrialized countries like the US and West Europe.

Plants are able to synthesize several chemical compounds for their biological functions and for defence against insects, herbivorous mammals and fungi. There are over 120,000 such compounds and one tenth of these have been isolated so far. As chemical compounds that are in plants function just as such compounds in conventional drugs function, herbal medicines are as effective as conventional medicines. For example, the willow bark has been used for thousands of years to reduce fever and pain because it contains large amounts of salicyclic acid, the active metabolite of aspirin.

The study of traditional uses of plants, called ethnobotany, is now recognized as an effective source for discovery of future medicines. In a study conducted in 2001 it was found that 122 compounds used in modern medicine were derived from ethnomedical plant sources and that 80% of these had an identical use in traditional medicine. Aspirin, digitalis, quinine and opium are examples of pharmaceuticals that are used by modern mainstream medicine, while these have long been used in traditional medicine.

An all out effort has to be made to study all traditional herbal remedies and wellness preparations so that people may have access to more affordable and safer medications and wellness food supplements, without the harmful side effects related to most of the mainstream medications.

Spiritual therapies

There are numerous spiritual therapies practiced all over the world under religious and non-religious practitioners these therapies. Prayers and meditation are the most widely used spiritual therapies and these are different from other spiritual therapies as there is no need of a practitioner to conduct, lead or guide the treatment sessions. The patients can do these themselves, though in group sessions there will be leaders and guides.

Pranic Healing makes use of Prana or life energy to create health and well-being in a person. Practitioners of Pranic Healing claim that it clears and corrects energy imbalances and removes depleted, congested or diseased energy to clear the way for pure and fresh energy to fill the patient.

Discovered by Dr. Eric Pearl, Reconnective Healing is a therapy that utilises energy frequencies to heal the mind, the spirit and the body. Initiated by the practitioner at the start of a session, these energies will exert their influence for a long time to come.

Energetic Healing, Vibrational Healing, Clairvoyant Healing, etc are some of the treatments that come under the general term Spiritual Healing. No medicine or other remedial measures are used in these therapies, except spiritual energy which is described as Light, Life Force or Vital Force

Transformational Kinesiology works with muscle responses and subtle energies that encourage a person to live his life intentionally with a goal to achieve. The goal must have been considered unachievable previously. Discovering and subduing any hidden blockage or behavioural hindrance in the path of achievement of the goal becomes a process of treatment

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