Natural Healing Through The Ages:
While natural therapies been described as the wave of the future, they're actually much older than Western treatments such as surgeries and antibiotics. Experts estimate that herbal remedies and Ayurveda, the traditional medicine of India, have been around for 5,000 years. Ancient Egyptians used fragrant oils in what may have been an early version of aromatherapy, and hydrotherapy was practiced in ancient Greece and Rome. And homeopathry, one of the newest techniques, is more than 200 years old.
Homeopathy, in fact, was big as allopathy, the type of medicine practiced by conventional doctor, in the early nineteenth century, according to David Edelberg, M.D
It wasn't until the early twentieth century, the golden age of drug development, that Americans developed the attitude that good health was founded in the medicine chest. "Technological medicine made some incredible advances in the first half of the century," says Dr. Weil. In light of lifesaving discoveries such as penicillin and the Salk polio vaccine, it seemed only reasonable to assume that scientist would one day develop similar "wonder drugs" to wipe out cancer, heart disease and other dread diseases.
It wasn't long, though, before people realized that technology create as many problems as it solves," says Dr. Wiel.
A prime example is the widespread use of antibiotics, which has given rise to strains of bacteria that are highly resistant to most drugs in the conventional arsenal.
While antibiotics have save millions of lives, they haven't really solved problems such as tuberculosis, which is turning up in new forms that don't respond to conventional therapies, Dr. Edelberg says.
That's not to say that alternative treatment should be a substitute for conventional medicine. Most alternative health practitioners believe that the best care involves considering all options, including conventional medicine. "Good holistic doctors recognize that regular medicine really is best in certain areas, especially emergency situation," says Dr. Gersten. Using an inhaler during an attack can save the life of someonme with asthma. What it can't do is improve the condition in the long term. That's where alternative treatments come in."
One area where alternative treatment is particulary helpful is the managing of stress, which has been implicated in a wide range of conditions, from allergies and skin problems to gastrointestinal disorders and heart disease. Meditation, sound therapy and touch therapies such as massage and reflexology oofer simple, practical techniques to keep stress at bay.
In the United Kingdom, where natural techniques are better know and more widely used than in the United States, they're called complementary therapies, which both conventional physicians and alternative practitioners seem to like. "In some ways it's a better name," says Dr. Edelberg. "It illustrates the proper place of these therapies: side by side with conventional medical treatment."
This willingness to consider alternative therapies is also beginning to spread to the health inurance industry. A few large carriers have started to experiment with covering alternative treatments. A pilot program at Mutural of Omaha, for instance, covers the Dean Ornish cardia rehabilitation program, and Blue Cross of Washington has a policy that covers naturopathy and homeopathy. But no carrier has made a greater commitment to natural healing than the American Western Life Insurance Company of Foster City, California.
The company's Wellness plan covers naturopathic treatments, including Ayurveda, homeopathy, nutritional counseling, massage and physical therapy.
"People are taking more control of their destinies as far as health is concerned. They have to, because with the cost of health care, they can't afford not to.
At the same time, more and more American have been affected by newly discovered chronic degenerative diseases such as AIDS and chronic fatigue syndrome, conditions that Western medicine can't cure. "Conventional medicine doesn't do all that well with chronic illnesses, which are definitely on the increase," notes Dr. Edelberg. "People are willing to try unconventional treatments because they want to get well."
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