When Did Alternative Medicine Become So Popular?
Alternative medicine’natural remedies, vitamins and herbs’have been around for ages. But since when are they so popular, and more importantly’why?
The popularity of alternative medecine
Alternative medicine is seen as an important part of healthy living-but it wasn’t always like this. What made views on natural medicine change and why does it suddenly seem so popular?
Vitamins in pill form have been available for more than 50 years. Herbs have been staples in the sickroom and the kitchen for centuries. Only 20 years ago, most vitamin pills were fairly uniform one-a-day formulas and herbal remedies often had to be concocted at home or purchased in health food stores. But today, we are offered a vast array of vitamins, minerals and herbs and other compounds that come from natural sources. Available without a prescription, supplements are sold in drug stores, health food stores, online and even some grocery stores. Sales from supplements have gone up exponentially over the years and are expected to grow markedly in the future.
The most common reasons people who use supplements do are to prevent illnesses such as colds and flu, relieve pain and treat headaches. The fact that so many people are eager to try supplements-even when, for some cases, it is hard to find any reliable evidence that they work- shows that major changes in health care have brought herbal and nutritional remedies closer to mainstream medicine. Traditionally, the medical community has been skeptical of these remedies and of alternative medicine. That too is changing. Many doctors and scientists, have come to realize that substances such as garlic, echinacea and grape seed extract, along with vitamins and minerals, are as beneficial to health as low-fat foods, exercise and aspirin. Here are the main factors that have contributed most to this change.
1. Media attention
2. Increased research
These studies have changed the opinions of some scientists and other experts who were skeptics but who now believe supplementation with reasonable amounts of vitamins and minerals may increase a person’s chances of preventing disease and enjoying optimal health.
3. Learning from Europe
Although research into herbal remedies has lagged elsewhere, in Europe herbs have been widely studied and scrutinized over the past 25 to 30 years and standards have been established for their effectiveness and safety.
In Germany, a special body of scientists and health professionals known as Commission E has been investigating the usefulness and safety of herbal remedies since 1978, gathering information from scientific literature, clinical trials and medical associations. It has issued reports on more than 300 herbs and has found about two-thirds of them to be safe and effective.
This invaluable information about the way herbs are used elsewhere has persuaded some doctors and scientists here to take a less dismissive view of herbal remedies.
4. Emphasis on prevention
There is increasing emphasis-backed by growing numbers of medical experts-on lifestyle choices as a critical factor in staying well. This has led more people to pay attention to diet, exercise and weight control, which can help prevent or relieve common complaints, including backache and constipation. Many people have also quit smoking and limited their alcohol intake. All these changes can reduce the risk of serious ailments such as heart disease and cancer.
Vitamins, minerals and herbs may reinforce and enhance the benefit of these self-care measures, which are also essential for enjoying what might be termed optimal health-not simply the absence of illness, but the capacity to lead a full, vital and productive life.
5. Integrative healing
In recent years, people-including many consumers and some doctors-have become increasingly aware of the limitations of conventional medicine. Although medical science has found cures for many troubling health problems (including some infectious diseases that caused sickness and premature death on a grand scale), it has been less successful in combating chronic illnesses such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes. Drugs often offer potent treatments for many ailments but they also pose the risk of powerful and distressing side effects.
People have shown that they want to try alternative approaches, and doctors are slowly responding to demands from patients. Rather than thinking of supplements and other less established remedies as alternatives that exclude conventional treatments, some doctors are attempting to integrate the two, so complementary medicine options can work hand in hand with Western medicine. In an integrative approach, ideally, you and your doctor and other members of your health-care team work together to reach a decision about which supplement or other therapy to use.
6. Public awareness
As awareness of the shortcomings of conventional medicine has grown, people have become more enthusiastic about alternative approaches to treating ailments. Generally these methods-which include therapies such as chiropractic care, acupuncture and massage, as well as supplements-are considered less invasive and more holistic (treating the whole person rather than simply suppressing symptoms) than conventional treatments.
Many supplements often act to enhance the body’s own defenses. A herb you take to help treat an infection, for example, often doesn’t directly kill bacteria (as an antibiotic would) but rather strengthens your immune system so your body can kill the bacteria. Some alternative therapies, such as naturopathic medicine and herbalism, are now covered by some health insurance companies.