Ethnomedicine has its roots embedded in the cultural practices that offer solutions for health complications in society. It has been used extensively worldwide, especially for people who have no access to modern medicine and also in communities who believe nature can be utilized as a healer. The treatments are based on the harmony between body and soul, which is responsible for causing ailments. Modern medicine has incorporated the use of different types of ethnomedicine to supplement conventional therapy. However, some research issue warning on the use of ethnomedicine to replace the western medicine bringing forth claims that unproved herbal treatment may be fatal to the consumers.
Ethnomedicine is a term used to refer to a range of healthcare structures, practices, beliefs, and therapeutic techniques that arise from indigenous cultural development (Staub, Geck, Weckerle, Casu, and Leonti, 2015). It also entails the comparison of such health care systems between cultures as each is unique to a particular society. This study of these systems is done from an anthropological point of view as their main aim is to improve health-related issues within the community. These health care systems generally do not follow the structure of modern medicine popularly known as western medicine, as they are based on a unique culture developed from indigenous people.
These structures are not limited to indigenous ingredients such as plants to treat the sick but on an integrated system. This system involves studying how the disease arises from an indigenous point of view, the native’s beliefs of signs and symptoms associated with the illness, how a disease progresses, and finally, consider how to manage the disease. This form of medicine is a prevalent part of the present culture involving traditional healers and herbal medicines in developing countries. The ethnomedicine system sees the body and mind as one entity and thus focus on preventive techniques (Lysiuk and Darmohray, 2016). The common belief in ethnomedicine systems is that a singular bodily force coordinates human health.
Types of Ethnomedicine
The major forms of ethnomedicine practiced in today’s world include Traditional Chinese medicine(TCM) and Ayurveda medicine of India. TCM’s basic concept revolves around Qi, an important force of life that surges through the body. An imbalance to the Qi believed to cause illness and diseases. This imbalance is brought by forces that make up the Qi, which is ying and yang. Ying and yang are opposites whose alteration can cause illness. TCM believed that humans are intertwined with nature hence subject to its forces that are earth, fire, water, wood, and metal. Regaining the balance of Qi means that the person must first maintain the balance between the body and the five nature elements’. Treatment included acupuncture, moxibustion, cupping, Tui Na massage, herbal remedies, exercises, and nutritious foods.
Acupuncture is the practice of inserting needles into the skin and muscles, usually at acupuncture points, and manipulating them to influence the flow of Qi. This mode of treatment has been studied the most and is a common occurrence in western medicine. This practice is believed to keep the balance between the ying and yang, therefore allow for the normal flow of Qi in the body. Moxibustion is a therapy session that involves burning herbs around a person, which is meant for inhaling to invigorate the blood and ensure the free flow of Qi. Chinese herbal remedy entails the use of different leaves that are combined into a tea-like formula for ingestion. Ginseng is the most used herb for these treatments. Exercises believed to harness the power of Qi included tai chi and yoga.
Ayurveda medicine was developed more than 3000 years ago in India. It is based on the belief that health depends on the maintenance of balance between the mind, body, and spirit (Pandey and Tripathi, 2017). It aims to promote good health and not geared towards fighting diseases. The treatment combines products mainly derived from plants to purify the body, diet, exercise, and lifestyle and may also use laxatives to maintain harmony and balance within the body. The belief is established from the interconnectedness of physical forces and life forces, which must be purified to achieve good health. Ayurveda medicine aims at eliminating impurities, increasing resistance to disease, and improving harmony in life.
Usage in Contemporary World
Ethnomedicine has been integrated into modern medicine and is being practiced worldwide. Health professionals are turning to traditional medicine to supplement the use of synthetic medicine. Western medicine focuses on scientific methods to treat diseases, thus viewing the body from a mechanistic approach different from ethnomedicines’ perspective. Acupuncture, a product of TCM remedy, has been used extensively in the modern world, achieving the desired results. There have been relatively few complications involving the use of acupuncture, with most people embracing the therapy. This therapy is used to ease joint pain in patients undergoing breast cancer treatment (Singh, Panda, and Satapathy, 2020). Tai chi is also frequently used for exercise therapy due to its safe practices, while Tui Na massage has been used to treat muscular conditions. Ayurveda medicine in India is considered a form of medical care equivalent to modern medicine; thus, practitioners are required to undergo state-recognized training before being licensed. The practice can have positive effects when used in combination with conventional medical care. Ayurveda medicine has been used to treat arthritis and diabetes successfully, while cancer survivors who use this medical acre have a positive effect on their improved quality of life.
Criticism of Ethnomedicine Usage
The use of ethnomedicine to complement modern medicine has received criticism from some health officials, citing toxins such as metals in the ingredients used for preparation. The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2004 banned the sale of supplements containing Ephedra. Ephedra is a Chinese herb used as a supplement to induce weight loss and enhance performance (Brown, 2017). Some of the herbal products used are contaminated with heavy metals such as lead and mercury, which cause organ damage. The FDA warns about the possible complications of using conventional medicine and ethnomedicine, as this may counter the effects of modern medicine.
Brown, A. C. (2017). An overview of herb and dietary supplement efficacy, safety, and government regulations in the United States with suggested improvements. Part 1 of 5 series. Food and Chemical Toxicology, 107, 449-471.
Lysiuk, R., & Darmohray, R. (2016). Pharmacology and ethnomedicine of the genus Astragalus. International Journal of Pharmacology, Phytochemistry, and Ethnomedicine, 3, 46-53.
Pandey, A. K., & Tripathi, Y. C. (2017). Ethnobotany and its relevance in contemporary research. Journal of medicinal plant studies, 5(3), 123-129.
Singh, Y. D., Panda, M. K., & Satapathy, K. B. (2020). Ethnomedicine for Drug Discovery. In Advances in Pharmaceutical Biotechnology (pp. 15-28). Springer, Singapore.
Staub, P. O., Geck, M. S., Weckerle, C. S., Casu, L., & Leonti, M. (2015). Classifying diseases and remedies in ethnomedicine and ethnopharmacology. Journal of ethnopharmacology, 174, 514-519.
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