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The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College's student newspaper

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College's student newspaper

The Berkeley Beacon

Moving away from society’s dependence on contemporary medicine

“Natural treatments are not as unconventional as people think” / Illustration by Christine Park

On average, 47 million prescriptions are unnecessarily written up by doctors and emergency departments per year across the United States. But there’s a natural side to medicine used to treat pain and illness that’s often overlooked. By opting to use natural remedies, people can alleviate pain and strengthen their immune system while avoiding sometimes harmful side effects of prescription medication. This approach has been in use for hundreds of years, and its application is still valid today. 

Needless to say, contemporary medicine has helped cure and prevent hundreds of illnesses. Vaccinations almost completely eliminated diseases like polio, measles, and chickenpox. Thanks to Alexander Fleming, penicillin now helps treat bacterial infections like pneumonia; which before the twentieth century, were the leading cause of death.

For that reason, I don’t intend to direct people away from contemporary medicine. Rather, I support and encourage the use of traditional medicine as an alternative to the constant dependence on prescription and over-the-counter drugs.

In the fourth century B.C., Socrates said of the human body, “the part can never be well unless the whole is well.” The American Holistic Health Association bases its approach on Socrates’ belief: “An individual is a whole made up of interdependent parts. When one part is not working at its best, it impacts all of the other parts.” 

The World Health Organization defines traditional medicine as “all the natural practices and theories used in the diagnosis, treatment, and maintenance of physical and mental health.”

From a young age, I’ve strayed from dependence on and use of prescription medications unless they become necessary. For small colds, coughs, and aches, I like to use home remedies. Examples of this include ginger, echinacea or chamomile teas, natural topical ointments, and vitamin-rich supplements. 

I first heard of traditional medicine from a family friend. I explained to her that I felt an odd and uncomfortable feeling in my stomach when I take antibiotics. While taking them, I felt like I was curing my illness, but damaging other vital functions of my body. She then recommended fighting my cold with a mix of natural supplements and teas instead. 

Scientists have found that the overuse of synthetic medicine and antibiotics has counterproductive effects. It is important to not default to taking an Ibuprofen or doubling our prescription dosages when we feel ill. In fact, antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest issues of our time. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), each year at least two million people in America get an antibiotic-resistant infection and at least 23,000 of those infected die. Still, if you’re constantly feeling ill and unsure about the symptoms, a visit to your nearby doctor can bring you peace of mind and help you feel better. 

Plus, natural treatments are not as unconventional as people think. They are prevalent around the world.  

One common treatment for pain and illness is acupuncture. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health describes acupuncture as a technique in which practitioners stimulate specific points on the body—most often by inserting thin needles through the skin. Seeing as it has little to no side effects, people around the world have used acupuncture to treat muscle and body pains, and in some cases, eliminate chronic migraines. Famous retired basketball players like Kobe Bryant, Yao Ming, and Steve Nash are among many athletes who attend acupuncture sessions to relieve pain.

Another broadly used treatment is known as cupping. Cupping therapy is a traditional Chinese and Middle Eastern treatment for pain. The cups are used to locate acupoints and stimulate the flow of blood across the human body. Cupping is used in the treatment of lower back pain and other muscle aches, skin conditions like acne, and it is especially prevalent in sports recovery. 

There are also treatments like reflexology and aromatherapy. Reflexology involves applying pressure to specific points in the hands, feet or ears that correspond to different organs in the body. In one case, applying pressure to a spot in the arch of the foot is believed to improve bladder function. With aromatherapy, specialists use essential oils—a highly concentrated mix of roots, leaves, and seeds from plants—to treat inflammation or infection. This works by inhaling the essential oils or massaging them into the skin. In a 2017 study, the use of lavender aromatherapy was found to improve sleep and reduce anxiety. 

All in all, people should approach their health in ways they’re most comfortable with. But as a whole, we may be too quick to reach for the Advil or cough syrup. Research in the field of traditional medicine is still growing and will continue to expand with time. It’s essential we look to these findings to find more herbal ways to treat our minor illnesses. Conduct research on both traditional and contemporary medicine and see what may work and what is most accessible. In the end, your own health is in your hands.


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