By Manisha Jain September 2002 Both allopathy and alternative systems have their strengths and shortcomings. An emerging trend fuses the best of both to offer salve to suffering humanity ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE· Safer with minimum side-effects · Harnesses the self-regulating healing mechanism of the body · Makes use of natural products that are easily available · Addresses the root of the problem · More effective in treating psychosomatic disorders · Can be used alongside other medication · It can be incorporated into one’s lifestyle · Comparatively less expensive MODERN MEDICINE · Far more advanced in terms of techniques and technology · Very well documented and researched · Medical advice easily available · Treatment is direct, fast · More effective in bringing relief in fatal diseases like heart attack or in times of emergencies like accidents and burns · Great relevance at the time of outbreak of epidemics or natural disasters · Offers scope for advanced surgery It was a symposium on alternative medicine in Delhi where I met a young lady doctor from Mumbai. Curious, I asked her what motivated her to attend it. She said she was a specialist in respiratory diseases, but all through her practice, she felt handicapped, even guilty, because she was unable to help her patients with the options given her by modern medicine, which is found wanting in treating such problems. This lady doctor turned her failure into an opportunity to learn from other systems to equip herself better in her profession. Similarly, there is a glimmer of hope and opportunity in the snowballing global health crisis. Hectic lifestyles, mechanized work, unbearable stress levels, packaged foodstuff, lack of manual activity or exercise and environmental pollution have all resulted in a constant deterioration in health, an increasing number of psychosomatic ailments, and new strains of diseases, some fatal. While modern medicine continues to race to cure the growing number of diseases and patients, the cracks are showing. Strong medicines and invasive therapies invariably lead to iatrogenic diseases. Or, in the absence of addressing the cause of the disease, it resurfaces. With specialization, dependence on sophisticated diagnostic and treatment methods, health budgets-of both families and governments-are bursting at the seams. Not surprisingly then, people, groping for a safer, cheaper alternative, try out traditional systems and newer modes of healing. Some get relief, others are led up the garden path. In any case, information is sorely missing about which system is the most effective in which kind of health problem. Other dilemmas remain. For example, to handle a headache or fight a fever and get back to work, should I just pop some pills or opt for the gentle but long-drawn out solution offered by alternative medicine? There are no easy answers. Only a beginning can be made. Talking to experts or tapping available information can help us understand the strengths and weaknesses of allopathy and complementary systems, which array an entire spectrum from traditional, time-tested systems such as ayurveda and acupuncture, to comparatively recent but well-documented homeopathy, to brand new energy healing practices such as reiki and pranic healing. What is heartening is a new trend to mix n’ match therapies. Complementary systems in any case have scope for this liberty, even many allopaths are opening their minds to experiment with incorporating other systems. Or at least acknowledging the importance of diet, lifestyle changes and psychological factors. The luminaries lighting up the path include from Deepak Chopra and Dr Dean Ornish to Dr Naresh Trehan. Mind-body medicine is now a major discipline. Holistic medicine is a new catchphrase. The trend is leading to Integrated Medicine, harnessing the best from all systems, and prescribing the remedy or remedies to best help the patient. Integrated medicine is thus patient-centric, not pathy-centric. Already there are hospitals and doctors avowedly practising Integrated Medicine. But first the story so far. Conventional medicine is heavily depended on in cases of casualties in war, large-scale disasters, relief operations, accidents and first-aid. Then again, it is the therapy of choice when wrestling with fatal diseases such as cancer and AIDS and emergencies such as a heart attack. Surgery, which in many cases can save lives, is, of course, the sole preserve of allopathy. So is vaccination, which its votaries claim has eliminated many scourges like smallpox from the face of the earth, and controlled childhood diseases such as polio. Critics pick holes in such claims and argue that vaccines needlessly inject poisons into the body. Indeed, one cannot overlook the several side-effects that accompany the use of allopathic drugs and practices. For instance, in the early stages of cancer, chemotherapy is known to be fairly effective and has near perfect results. But it has long-lasting deleterious effects, causing severe hair loss, in some cases, even baldness. This can leave deep, psychological scars, especially for women. Chemotherapy is also known to cause severe depression and anxiety. Complementary systems, on the other hand, are known to have no side-effects. This is because many of them are drugless while others predominantly use herbal preparations. So it is not as if a pranic healer, treating you for backache, will divert all the negative energy to settle in your stomach, causing a stomachache. But if you continue to take Brufen or Voveron (for backache) over long periods, it will lead to serious gastric and intestinal disorders. The multiplicity of complex and expensive diagnostic procedures is another bane of allopathy. The modern practitioner recommends them because he has stopped relying on his own observation and experience and wants to play safe. Even pediatricians are now seen writing out a flurry of tests in something as commonplace as a fever. In sharp contrast, pulse diagnosis of ayurveda and Tibetan medicine can identify and pinpoint the disease within minutes. Some energy healers claim to scan the chakras (in the bio-plasmic body) to gauge what is wrong in your body. Sometimes, a disease that may not surface in normal diagnostic procedures can be detected thus. When it comes to choosing the cure for his malady, a patient is impeded by the lack of research available on the alternative systems of medicine. Medical journals and tomes on conventional medicine abound but although some doctors of Indian Systems of Medicine (ISM) and homoeopathy have floated their websites to offer interactive information over the web, there is still a need for more and more practitioners to put together their research and make it easily available. In the face of such a lack of knowledge, a patient falls back on allopathy for ‘instant relief’. Doctors, of course, defend allopathy against all criticism. Dr S.P. Seth with a clinic in south Delhi, asserts: ‘I get 100 per cent success rate with allopathy alone. We take care to avoid side-effects by giving a balanced prescription. For instance, if we give Brufen to a patient, we also give antacid along with it.’ Dr Seth strongly believes that we should not mix two pathies. ‘There is no comparison between homeopathy or ayurveda with allopathy. A lot of research has gone into allopathic medicine, for example on life-saving drugs. But homeopathy seems to work more as a fluke. There is no R&D there.’ However, a major limitation of allopathic medicine is that it is geared towards treatment of symptoms only. It does not go to the root or the intrinsic cause of the illness. Once the symptoms are addressed, the treatment ends. After some time, a relapse may occur and symptoms reappear. Alternative medicine looks into the root of the disease, taking into account various factors such as heredity, psychological condition, fatigue and anxiety. For instance, recurring headaches can be cured rapidly with few doses of Aspirin or Vasograin, but the underlying cause may be related to weak eyesight, sinusitis, a faulty diet or anxiety. A homoeopath spends at least one hour interviewing his patient, on life history, food habits, hereditary factors, stress conditions and so on. He does this to ascertain psychosomatic origins of the ailment before prescribing a remedy. The increasing number of votaries of homoeopathic medicine include those who were not cured by allopathy. Usha Thakore, a reiki teacher in Mumbai, says: ‘The prime difference between allopathy and alternative therapies is that while the former acts only on the body level (effects), the latter works on the mind (the cause). Following alternative medicine is all about self-discovery and nurturing your body with minimum side-effects.’ She adds, ‘Take insomnia. Many doctors would recommend sleeping tablets, but in the long run, meditation can give you a lasting change. My students have been able to cure a wide range of problems, from chronic acidity to thyroid trouble with reiki. Again, are there medicines to become loving and kind or to repair your relationships?’ All systems of medicine are aimed at harnessing the self-regulating and healing mechanisms inherent in the human body, but we often overlook this in our obsession with modern science and progress. The objective of medicine is not only to treat sick people but to ensure their good health and well-being significantly. A healthy person can realize his full potential and armed with better immunity prevent many illnesses. Another advantage alternative medicine has over conventional medicine is the significance it attaches to prevention. Preventing a disease is always easier than curing it. Ayurveda and nature cure practitioners particularly counsel you on
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