Overview Of Traditional Medicine – By Dr Muzammil Irshad.


Hi, I am Dr. Muzammil Irshad (MBBS, Punjab, Pakistan), working as a house officer at Nishtar Medical College and Hospital Multan. I am a medical writer and I have written medical papers, original articles, proposals, theses/dissertations, case studies, review articles, meta-analyses, systematic reviews and brief communications for the last two years. From my point of view, I must say that “Nothing is better than the Nature or something natural”. In the same way, natural medicine or food offers the best treatment to our illnesses. Moreover, an axiom “Food is the best Medicine” demonstrates everything I mean. I would like to go through a little introduction to traditional medicine or ethnomedicine and its importance in our lives here.

Traditional Medicine or Ethnomedicine

Traditional medicine or Ethnomedicine is the subdivision of ethnobotany that deals with the traditional medicines. It does not only include Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayurveda and Siddha but also focuses on the knowledge of those preparations which are not available in the written forms but transferred from mouth to mouth [1]. Scientifically, ethnomedicine is characterized by strong anthropological or biomedical approach. Anthropological approach focuses on the perception and use of traditional medicines while biomedical approach intends to discover new therapeutic molecules and focuses on the research studies [2]. The knowledge of effectiveness of ethnomedicine is limited and requires more discoveries and research. However, acupuncture, and some manual therapies and herbal medicinal preparations have been reported effective for specific conditions [3].

In 2008, World Health Organization (WHO) described traditional medicine as “Traditional medicine is the total of knowledge, skills and practices based on the theories, beliefs and experiences indigenous to different cultures that are used to maintain health, as well as to prevent, diagnose, improve or treat physical and mental illnesses [4].” Professor Andrea Pieroni (Editor-in-chief of journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine) quotes ethnobiology and ethnomedicine as “Ethnobiology and ethnomedicine are exciting and revolutionary multidisciplinary fields at the center of many current debates on culturally appropriate management of the biodiversity and the human and animal health [5].”
Medicinal Plants

Regarding ethnomedicine, medicinal plants are of prime importance among all nations for tens, if not hundreds and thousands of years. It is crystal clear that people always depended on plants for their basic needs such as food, shelter, warmth and medicine, and thus learned a lot about plants and their uses. This knowledge of plants continued to be transferred from tribe to tribe and nation to nation, and eventually expanded over the world. Looking at the recent records, Arabs were famous for having vivid interest in plants. On their journey to the East, Arabs collected useful information about local plants’ use, and brought those plants to their indigenous area. Similarly, the Romans employed local herbalists for the services of their troops during their crusade through Europe. Then as well, the Spanish conquistadores collected details of the plants used by the indigenous people they came across in the New World [6].

Medicinal plants are in the use of ethnomedicine since ancient times and are still an important source of ingredients used by many populations and in the modern health care system around the world [7,8,9]. It has been estimated that about 70-80% of people all over the world rely on ethnomedicine in some way to meet their health care needs [10,11]. Outside its indigenous culture, traditional medicine adopted by other areas of the world is also termed as alternative or complementary medicine. Traditional medicines includes practices like Ancient, Ayurvedic, Herbal, Iranian, Islamic, Siddha, Unani and traditional Chinese medicine, Acupuncture, Ifa, Muti and other medical knowledge and practices all over the world. Many people rely on the herbal medicines as they consider them natural and therefore safe to use. However, traditional medicines can harm the body if they are of poor quality or handled inappropriately during their preparation [4]. That is why, strong awareness and collaboration among the providers of ethnomedines and other medicines are required. Now-a-days, traditional medicine is practiced in the form of home remedies.

As described in the introduction to ethnomedicine, traditional medicine is the knowledge, skills and practices based on the theories, beliefs and experiences indigenous to different cultures, used in the maintenance of health and in the prevention, diagnosis, improvement or treatment of physical and mental illness [4,12]. Actually, traditional medicine is the other name of ethnomedicine that covers a variety of practices and therapies which vary from region to region. Outside the indigenous places, in some countries of the modern world, traditional medicine is also referred as “complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) [4,11,12,13]”. However, traditional medicine is widespread in the developing counties while CAM is surging rapidly in the developed countries. Traditional medicine has travelled thousands of years and it has been contributed by many great primary health care providers. It has maintained its popularity throughout the world and its use has been increased in the modern world since 1990 [12,14].

CAM practices and related therapies are classified into natural products, mind and body medicine, and manipulative and body-based practices [13,15]. Natural products include herbal medicines such as botanicals, dietary supplements, vitamins, minerals and probiotics. Mind and body medicine focuses on the interactions among brain, body, mind and behavior, and their effect on the health and physical functioning. Meditation techniques, acupuncture, hypnotherapy, guided imagery, yoga, qi-gong and tai chi are some examples of mind and body practices. Manipulative and body-based practices include spinal manipulation, massage therapies and reflexology [13,15].

Use of CAM natural products has increased considerably in the past few decades. In 2007, it was estimated that 17.7% adult Americans used non-mineral natural products to cope with their primary health care needs [15,16]. Herbal preparations, in fact, reflect some of the primary and first attempts to combat with health conditions. Probiotics are available in foods like yogurt and in the dietary supplements which they intend to stimulate the activity of the useful microorganisms in the body. Practices like meditation [17,18] techniques, yoga [19,20] and acupuncture [21,22] procedures enhance brain and body functioning, thus promoting physical health. Meditation techniques offer calmness, psychological balance, enhanced overall health and well-being by specific postures with focused attention. Yoga is now a part of general health regimen and helps improve a variety of health problems. Acupuncture procedures are included among the oldest health practices and are the key components of traditional Chinese medicine [22].

Concept of mind and body is an part of healing approaches in traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurvedic medicine, about dating back 2000 years. Hippocrates also remarked that attitude, environmental influences, and natural remedies affect the healing processes [13]. Deep breathing exercises, meditation and yoga are ranked among top 10 CAM practices. Also, yoga, tai chi [23,24,25] and qi-gong [25,26] practices combine movements, meditation and controlled breathing to have an enhanced and better effect on the health conditions.
Spinal manipulation [27] is one of the most common practices in chiropractic care system. It has been used since the time of ancient Greeks [28] by chiropractors, osteopathic and naturopathic physicians, physical therapists, and medical doctors. Practitioners manipulate the patients’ spine manually or by applying a device with controlled force to the joints of the spine. Similarly, massage therapy covers a variety of healing techniques. Therapists or massagers simply press, rub or manipulate muscles and soft tissues of the body to relieve pain, improve relaxation, and reduce stress and to address anxiety and depression.

CAM practices evolved basically from traditional medicine. However, traditional medicine widely encompasses the techniques and manipulations based on indigenous theories, beliefs, and experiences passed down from tribe to tribe. Anyhow, the purpose of the both practices is same and both are intermingled. Moreover, both of these terms are being used interchangeably [29,30].

It is evident that the human being always relied on the plants for his shelter, food and medicines [6]. Since the ancient times, men are interested in obtaining medicines from plants [7,8,9]. Traditional medicines obtained from plants are called phytomedicines. Phytomedicines are usually plant extracts which contain mixture of chemicals that act on human body tissues to prevent disorders or restore primary health [31]. South Africa is the most abundant region with temperate flora having up to 19581 indigenous species. Of these plant species, about 3000 species are being used to prepare traditional medicines [32,33]. According to WHO report about 80% African people and 65% overall world population use ethnomedicine or traditional medicine [34].

Indigenous and local communities who used traditional medicine are being recognized widely. Traditional knowledge has played an important role in the development of communities. Traditional medicine does not only helped the indigenous people but also benefited the nearby tribes and nations or the regions where the indigenous people traveled or migrated [35,36,37,38]. Traditional knowledge built upon the years of experiences of the communities and human efforts, and applied in social, spiritual, political and environmental practices. Traditional knowledge, in fact, is an important source to search new drugs as it has been screened through a long trial and error.






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Dr Muzammil Irshad writes for Home Remedies Log which is one of the best websites dealing with natural treatments, traditional therapies and home remedies. No doubt, natural medicine benefits our body without causing any serious side-effects. Check the knowledge available on this website on natural or home remedies, get an advice from your health care provider, have faith and use natural products as per recommendations.

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