Traditional medicine has a long history of influencing modern medicine and still holds promise.

Traditional Medicine

Traditional medicine

Traditional medicine is the method of treatment using natural remedies and techniques that have proven their effectiveness and safety. People have used home medicines, traditional healers, and historic medical knowledge to meet their health and well-being requirements for ages throughout many different nations. Acupuncture, herbal remedies, indigenous traditional medicine, homeopathy, traditional Chinese medicine, naturopathy, chiropractic, osteopathy, ayurvedic, and Unani medicine are just a few of the systems of traditional medicine that are practiced around the world, according to the WHO Global Report on Traditional and Complementary Medicine (2019). Additionally, 170 WHO Member States have provided information on how their populations use traditional medicine.

Traditional Medicine - everything is connected

Traditional medicine is occasionally viewed as anti-science, with contemporary, superior, and more effective science-based medicine taking its place.  Less well-known are its contributions to contemporary science and medicine and its lengthy history of transforming conventional goods and activities into efficient remedies for diseases.

Approximately 40% of pharmaceutical products today are inspired by nature and conventional wisdom, including well-known medications like aspirin, artemisinin, and treatments for children’s cancer. When examining these drugs more closely, it becomes clear that the researchers who created them drew on prior knowledge to make their ground-breaking findings.

Using indigenous knowledge and natural resources to promote contemporary medicine

To find a cure for chloroquine-resistant malaria, Chinese chemist Tu Youyou turned to traditional Chinese medical literature after unsuccessfully evaluating over 240 000 chemicals for use in antimalarials.  She and her team discovered a mention of using sweet wormwood to treat sporadic fevers there. Artemisinin, an active ingredient in sweet wormwood that was particularly useful in treating malaria, was discovered in 1971 by Tu Youyou’s team. The World Health Organization now advises using artemisinin as malaria treatment’s first and second lines. Tu Youyou received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2015 for her malaria research, which helped to save millions of lives.

Tu Youyou - Nobel Prize Award

Another illustration of how nature and traditional knowledge have influenced contemporary medicine is the ingredient in aspirin, willow bark. The Sumerians and Egyptians have used Willow tree bark as an anti-inflammatory and painkiller for over 3,500 years. Later, it was employed in ancient Greece to treat fevers and lessen birthing discomfort. Aspirin was created in 1897 by Bayer chemist Felix Hoffmann, and it has since helped millions of people every day by avoiding heart attacks and strokes, elevating blood pressure, and reducing pain and swelling, among other things. One of the pharmaceuticals now used the most in the world is aspirin.

Aside from sweet wormwood and willow bark, other plants, including the wild Mexican yam, hawthorn, foxglove, and Madagascar periwinkle, have helped create medical innovations like contraceptive pills and treatments for pediatric cancer. The Madagascar periwinkle has a very long history of use as a medicinal plant. It is mentioned in Mesopotamian folklore, the Ayurveda system of traditional Indian medicine, and traditional Chinese medicine. It is now the source of the childhood cancer drugs vinblastine and vincristine. Medicinal herbs like foxglove and hawthorn have treated heart disease and high blood pressure. Other examples include norethindrone, derived from the wild Mexican yam, which is one of the first active ingredients in contraceptive pills, and shikimic acid, which is extracted from star anise and used in the production of Tamiflu, an antiviral drug that blocks the actions of influenza virus types A and B in the body.

Building on what nature has to give, modern medicine has incorporated traditional knowledge of how these healing plants, herbs, roots, and bark have been used to treat illnesses throughout history.

Using traditional medicine methods to combat global diseases

We have looked to traditional community-based health practices for solutions to present ailments and studied how ancient cultures used natural resources for health. One such instance is the creation of the smallpox vaccine, which is a success story for global health.

Smallpox, one of the worst illnesses known to humanity, is still the only illness to have been wiped out. Smallpox murdered hundreds of millions of people worldwide throughout thousands of years. The premise behind the ancient method of variolation, in which material from smallpox lesions was transmitted to healthy people and resulted in milder forms of sickness, is still applied in today’s smallpox vaccination. According to historical documents, variation was a common practice in Asia and some regions of Africa as early as 200 BCE.

In 1721, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu successfully immunized her child against smallpox after observing the Turkish folk practice among Greek and Armenian women. Persia, China, India, and other nations also practiced this custom.

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu

Similar reports of West African slaves immunizing themselves against smallpox in American colonies raised much-needed awareness of this conventional wisdom. A widely used smallpox vaccine and the eventual elimination of this disease resulted from years of experimentation that proved the traditional immunization method to be an efficient means of protection against the disease.

Traditional healing methods utilized effectively to treat chronic health problems include yoga and acupuncture. According to Dr. Susan Wieland, Director of Cochrane Complementary Medicine and Co-Chair of the WHO Traditional Medicine External Advisory Group, “data from over 20 clinical trials indicates that yoga helps relieve pain and back-related function in chronic non-specific lower back pain. The same is true of acupuncture’s ability to reduce pain. Research findings thus highlight the importance of these historical customs, which have become increasingly well-liked in contemporary society.

Another illustration given by Dr. Wieland is how phototherapy, a modern medical procedure, is similar to an ancient ayurvedic practice of exposing babies with jaundice to sunlight: “We now understand the mechanism of why this (exposure to sunlight) is effective, how it converts bilirubin into an unconjugated form that can be excreted — so, we now have a different understanding of why it works.” But conventional medicine recognized that it was effective.

The development of knowledge through new technology

Where else may traditional and Indigenous knowledge of the environment around us direct research for the benefit of humankind?

The study of traditional medicine has undergone remarkable and quick modernization, and new technologies and technological innovation may lead the way and provide us with a better grasp of the practical advantages of traditional medicine.

The study and application of conventional healing systems are being revolutionized by artificial intelligence (AI), which is emerging as a game-changer.  Researchers can investigate enormous traditional medical knowledge using AI’s cutting-edge algorithms and machine learning skills, mapping evidence and spotting patterns and trends that were previously obscure.

Yoga as a form of traditional medicine

Yoga and meditation are ancient practices that people worldwide are increasingly turning to for their mental health, stress relief, and general well-being. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) has made it possible to study brain activity and measure the relaxation responses of those engaged in these practices.  Through research techniques like ethnopharmacology and reverse pharmacology, new clinically useful medications can be found by taking cues from traditional applications.

The study of traditional medical practices and products, which are being used by people worldwide, is at an exciting period.  With greater use comes more study and data to determine what is effective and what is not.  The research also appears to be very promising.

Traditional medicine in Philadelphia

Philadelphia Holistic Clinic is the #1 naturopathic office in the City of Brotherly Love. Under the supervision of Victor Tsan, MD, traditional medicine practitioners provide treatments using acupuncture, homeopathy, hypnotherapy, reiki, cupping, herbal remedies, and more.

Philadelphia Holistic Clinic - The Home for Traditional Medicine

Contact Philadelphia Holistic Clinic at (267) 403-3085 to schedule an appointment for holistic evaluation and discuss with Dr. Tsan which traditional medicine approaches are best for your medical condition.

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