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Alternative Medicine

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Essay title: Alternative Medicine

Alternative Medicine

Throughout recorded history, people of various cultures have relied on what

Western medical practitioners today call alternative medicine. The term

alternative medicine covers a broad range of healing philosophies,

approaches, and therapies. It generally describes those treatments and

health care practices that are outside mainstream Western health care.

People use these treatments and therapies in a variety of ways. Alternative

therapies used alone are often referred to as alternative; when used in

combination with other alternative therapies, or in addition to conventional

therapies they are referred to as complementary. Some therapies are far

outside the realm of accepted Western medical theory and practice, but some,

like chiropractic treatments, are now established in mainstream medicine.

Worldwide, only an estimated ten to thirty percent of human health care is

delivered by conventional, biomedically oriented practitioners ("Fields of

Practice"). The remaining seventy to ninety percent ranges from self-care

according to folk principles, to care given in an organized health care

system based on alternative therapies ("Fields of Practice"). Many cultures

have folk medicine traditions that include the use of plants and plant

products. In ancient cultures, people methodically collected information on

herbs and developed well-defined herbal pharmacopoeias. Indeed, well into

the twentieth century much of the pharmacology of scientific medicine was

derived from the herbal lore of native peoples. Many drugs commonly used

today are of herbal origin: one-quarter of the prescription drugs dispensed

by community pharmacies in the United States contain at least one active

ingredient derived from plant material ("Fields of Practice").

Twenty years ago, few physicians would have advised patients to take folic

acid to prevent birth defects, vitamin E to promote a healthy heart, or

vitamin C to bolster their immune systems. Yet today, doctor and patient

alike know of the lifesaving benefits of these vitamins. Twenty years ago,

acupuncture, guided imagery, and therapeutic touch were considered outright

quackery. Now, however, in clinics and hospitals around the country,

non-traditional therapies are gaining wider acceptance as testimonials and

studies report success using them to treat such chronic maladies as back

pain and arthritis.

The number of people availing themselves of these alternative therapies is

staggering. In 1991 about twenty-one million Americans made four hundred and

twenty-five million visits to practitioners of these types of alternative

medicine; more than the estimated three hundred and eighty-eight million

visits made to general practitioners that year (Apostolides). The U.S.

Department of Education has accredited more than twenty acupuncture schools

and more than thirty medical schools now offer courses in acupuncture

(Lombardo; Smith). As the number of Western medical institutions researching

alternative therapies increases, the legitimacy of at least some alternative

therapies will also increase.

Does all this recent medical establishment attention mean that the


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