Why is "Old" Good in Alternative Medicine?

By Michael Edmonds 11/01/2012 24

A common justification given for various forms of alternative medicine  is that they are based on old or ancient concepts. Such claims have been made, for example, for homeopathy, acupuncture, Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine, to name but a few.

But why is old considered good in alternative medicine? We don’t consider a Model T Ford a better transport option compared to a modern car, or an early flying boat better than a modern Boeing 747. Nor do most of us still embrace old cultural beliefs such as slavery, or that women are inferior to men. And most intelligent people would be wary of any “scientist” who listed the chemical elements as earth, fire, air and water and claimed to be able to transmute lead into gold.

Perhaps it is because many of us have a overly romantic view of the past – when life was supposedly simpler. And also shorter and harder. While today the average life expectancy is around 67 years, it was around 28 in ancient Greece, 30 in Medieval Britain and around 31 at the beginning of the 20th century. Furthermore, up until around 100 years ago, lice, syphilis and other joyous freeloaders accompanied many of our ancestors.

For almost 2000 years physicians believed that disease came from an imbalance of the four humours (blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile) in the body. This belief resulted in some dangerous treatments including bloodletting and the use of dangerous and complex herbal remedies. It wasn’t until the 19th century that an understanding of microbes lead to the development of antibiotics which vastly improved the chances of surviving an infection or the 20th century when we developed a better understanding of how various environmental contaminants could affect our health.

Modern conventional medicine has provided cures and treatments for many diseases that would have devastated previous eras. For those diseases we do not have cures for yet, it makes far more sense to expect the answers will come from future research, rather than by looking into the past.

24 Responses to “Why is "Old" Good in Alternative Medicine?”

  • One of the pithiest responses I’ve heard to someone saying that they wanted to live a natural lifestyle was that they should then ‘expect to live a natural life expectency.’

  • Oh wow, ‘ the human body is composed of five elements’, says the practitioner, & our reporter doesn’t even question this. One can only assume that she was not paying attention in science classes at school (which they would have had to take at least until year 10).

  • Darcy

    Thanks for the link for the Ayurvedic article – yes they do add another “element”. There are various approaches to the humoral system and the number of elements can vary – and also be divided into sub units. However, when it comes down to it, they were all devised before we had an understanding of how the body worked at a cellular and systematic level, so they have very little value.

  • I’ll post something in Ayurvedic medicine when I get the chance, but has anyone else noticed that the alternative therapies the reporters are trying out aren’t actually be used to treat a specific injury or disease! They are just enjoying pleasant massages and other treatments which of course are going to make anyone feel good.
    The articles shouldn’t be entitled alternative therapies, they should be entitled relaxation therapies.
    I have no problem with any of these “therapies” being used for relaxation, what I would have a problem with is if they are being claimed as ways of treating disease when there is no evidence to support it.

  • Michael, exactly. These reporters aren’t getting “treated” they are having a relaxation session.

    Well, leeches don’t sound all that relaxing but it seems to be the odd one out.

  • Leeches for wrinkles – if I was any good with design I would photoshop some images of celebrities with leeches hanging off their faces.

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  • Micky,
    A little more evidence would make it easier to consider your claim. Anecdotes hold no sway here

  • we shouldn’t discount the natural medicines that were used in days of old. Remember, medicine is a business, it sells. My belief is that they have cures for diseases, but how do you make money if the diseases are cured.

    • trevor,
      No, we shouldn’t discount natural medicines that have been proven to work. Unfortunately, many “natural medicines” have been shown not to work, and many of those that do work have been commercialised.
      I don’t understand your belief that “they have cures for diseases, but how do you make money if diseases are cured”.
      Who is “they” and what are these cures you are talking about? Are they “natural” cures? If so then they should be available through herbalists, naturopaths and there would be documented proof that they work. If you are talking about drugs produced by pharmaceutical companies then why would they spend billions on research then withhold a cure?
      And just look at the many diseases that have been cured.
      I can’t see hold your belief could be true.

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