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Modern/mainstream medicine or alternative/complementary medicine…which is better?
If you asked most doctors, they would probably say that official medicine is the only real medicine and all the rest (or most of the rest) is just placebo at best and a waste of money at worst.
Many practitioners of alternative medicine, on the other hand, may explain that modern medicine can cure specific problems but not the person as a whole, and the remedies it offers are mostly there to relieve symptoms and have often some unpleasant side effects.
In my view, the truth probably lies in the middle—both are good, both can be effective, provided that one chooses which one is most effective and less damaging in specific instances. No one can deny that modern medicine can now do amazing things, can reconstruct organs, can cure diseases that used to kill millions in the past.
So, in this article, I would like to relate some of my personal experiences with respect to both kinds of medicine. I will not talk about the usefulness of pain killers, antibiotics (when they are really needed), or vaccinations. I think this is obvious to anybody (even though some alternative remedies may also be effective with pain and infections, in a slower way, though).
I only want to mention examples where alternative medicine has worked better for me than modern medicine.
I shall start with my eczema, which every now and then makes my hands or feet swell at night, especially after carrying heavy things with my hands or walking barefoot on a hard surface. The mainstream doctor prescribed some cortisone or steroid-based cream, which did help, but could not be used too often or for too long as it would cause serious skin problems.
One day, a friend of mine told me, “Hey, Paolo, why don’t you try Calendula Cream?” I did, and I haven’t stopped ever since. Whenever my hands or feet would swell, become red and itchy, I just use some Calendula Cream, and that’s it. The itchiness subsides greatly and I can sleep undisturbed. I can use as much as I want, with no possible side effects at all. I also had other problems, quite big ones, including pins and needles in my hands, backaches, a stiff neck or shoulders, among other things.
Modern medicine would prescribe pain killers and other chemical medicines, and perhaps some physiotherapy, too. In my case, all these problems were solved completely in a matter of a few sessions (and some exercises to do at home) by the good osteopaths who treated me.
Another interesting case has been my enlarged prostate. I started having some problems with it six years ago and went to see a urologist. After visiting me, he told me I needed to undergo surgery as soon as possible. I had to do a transurethral resection of the prostate (TURP), which had common side effects including impotence and incontinence among other things.
“Can’t I try with some herbal supplements?” I asked. He laughed and said I could try if I wanted, but in the end, I would still have to undergo surgery. At that point, I started taking saw palmetto and intensified my tai chi practice, and things gradually improved.
A couple of months ago, it started getting worse again, but I began treatment with some ayurvedic herbal pills (Himplasia), and now it’s back to normal. However, perhaps the most amazing result my wife and I obtained through Chinese medicine was…my son, Leo.
After trying to have a baby for a couple of years without success, we finally decided to try artificial insemination, partly because my wife was 39 years old and I was much older, 58. However, it didn’t work. At that point, my wife was hinting at the possibility of trying something stronger (and more expensive), such as in vitro fertilization (IVF).
I didn’t really like the idea, and I remembered a Chinese fertility center here in Kuala Lumpur that was recommended by a Chinese friend of mine a year before, and that I had almost forgotten. I looked it up on the internet and then proposed to my wife, “Why don’t we go visit this doctor and see what he says? It’s worth trying, right?” She agreed, and off we went.
Our first impression was good. The doctor explained to us that most of his patients get pregnant after about six months from the beginning of the treatment, or shortly after. But we had to see him once every two weeks for Chinese pulse diagnosis and an ultrasound scan and take the many herbal capsules that he would prescribe both to me and my wife. We decided to give it a go.
We went there every other Friday. And once a month during ovulation, we had to have sexual intercourse on the dates suggested by the doctor. It was not easy. There were many pills and sex on the days prescribed. It didn’t matter whether we were tired or not. However, amazingly, after exactly six months, my wife got pregnant. She was advised to keep taking some of these supplements even during pregnancy. Everything went perfectly and our son, Leo, was born in perfect health two and a half years ago.
This is obviously just my personal experience, and I do occasionally see a mainstream doctor when I think alternative medicine would not be so effective.
As I mentioned in the beginning, I do believe in a holistic approach to health—the Buddhist middle way. The biggest problems with modern medicine, in my view, are three. First and foremost, modern medicine is there to cure somebody who is already sick. Unlike some alternative approaches, there are hardly any preventive procedures involved. This may be due to various causes, among which, perhaps, is the big pharmaceutical business. Healthy people don’t need to spend money on medicines and treatments.
It may also be because of the economic interests in such businesses that so many medicines are produced and prescribed, even when they are not really needed. If I had to guess, I would say that perhaps only 30 percent of the medicines currently sold are really useful. For example, research shows that practices such as yoga, tai chi, or shinrinyoku (forest bathing) are powerful and effective in keeping our immune system strong and keeping us healthy.
Another problem with the chemical medicines normally prescribed, apart from the possible bad side effects, is that they make people lazy. What I mean is that many people stop looking after themselves in a proper way when they think a pill (or sometimes even surgery) will solve their problem. I know people with high cholesterol who, instead of doing exercise and following a diet, prefer to take a pill and go on with their unhealthy lifestyles.
My final advice based on my personal experience is this: do see a doctor when it’s really necessary, but do consider alternative medicine whenever you can. And stay healthy through good food and proper exercise.