Thursday, April 19, 2012

Alternative Medicine

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Through out recorded history, people of various cultures have relied on what Western medical practitioners today call alternative medicine. The term alternative medicine covers a broad range of healing philosophies, approaches, and therapies. It generally describes those treatments and health care practices that are outside mainstream Western health care. People use these treatments and therapies in a variety of different ways. The most common form of alternative medicine that is the most widely used is herbal medicines. Herbs have been used for thousands of years through out the world. There are records of the Egyptians using them in 1 600 BC, and scriptures that date back to the Yin dynasty in 1 500 BC (). The Old Testament also has many references to herbal medicines. These natural remedies can be found in millions of homes in the US and Canada today. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 4 billion people, 80 percent of the world population, presently use herbal medicine for some aspect of primary health care (). There are several benefits to and reasons why people have turned to herbal medicines, different methods in which to use them, the most popular herbs taken for specific problems, and (like with all medicines) cautions you should remember.

Even with all the advances in technology and modern drugs that are prescribed, more and more people are turning back to herbs to help their health. One of the main reasons is that they are gentler and safer than drugs. It’s almost impossible to overdose on a healing herb, and it’s not likely that you’d get addicted to one. They also have fewer to no side effects. “Because treatment is so specifically tailored to each person, the treatments prescribed [by the herbalist] should have no side effects” (4). Any mild side effects that may arise in the initial stages of herbal treatment can be corrected by adjustments to the herbal formula. Which, when you think about it, is better than drugs prescribed by doctors, that may have potentially serious, and irreversible side effects. When it comes down to it, for many minor, and not-so-minor health problems, herbal remedies work as well if not better than off-the-shelf drugs and standard prescriptions.

Have you ever tried peppermint or chamomile tea? Well you are one out of the millions who use a form of drink to ingest their herbs. If the herb is a flower or a leaf of some kind, it will make a good tea or infusion. An infusion is when you steep a large amount of an herb in boiling water (or cold water for a cold infusion). If the herb is a bark, seed, or root, you make a decoction (combine the herb with cold water in a pot, boil, then simmer). Teas, infusions, and decoctions don’t keep well, and infusions have more medicinal power over teas. A tincture is an herbal extract made with alcohol (vodka) instead of water. Tinctures are more concentrated, so you take less, and they keep well. Since a lot of herbs taste terrible, you can swallow the dried, powdered herb in a gelatin capsule. Herbs can also be used in the form of a salve or ointment, syrup, or poultice ().

Out of the hundreds of herbs you can take for certain problems, there are five that top the list which are the most popular, that have a long tradition of use garlic, ginger, ginkgo, ginseng, and Echinacea. (Why do four start with the letter ‘G’? Maybe it’s just a coincidence.) Garlic is used medicinally in almost every culture. Ginger originally came from India and China. Ginkgo and ginseng came originally from ancient China, and Echinacea is a homegrown herb that was well known to the Native Americans. When using herbs, there are rules you should follow to avoid problems, for instance, only use an herb is you are positive that you know what it is and what it does. Only use the recommended amount of an herb, and don’t take one for a long period of time. Don’t give herbal remedies to children under the age of two, and don’t give full-strength herbs to people over 65 (use lower doses) (1). Those are just a few things to keep in mind.

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