HealthImpact discovers that there’s more to wellbeing than conventional medicine, so put the chips down and consider this…

Since before the era of the Pharaohs there have been physicians. Through Ancient Rome, the Dark Ages, and the Industrial Revolution we have struggled to advance medicine, conquer disease, cure the sick and stave off the grave. Drugs have been developed from natural resources using human intuition; some of the greatest minds of their ages have contributed to our knowledge. Today trained doctors have two thousand years of learning at their fingertips. So why, when offered this, do many of us prefer to head down the high street to get smeared in whale sperm, stabbed with pins, chanted over, and then deliberately stung by bees? These are just a few of the massive variety of alternative remedies available, some effective and others…err, less so – I mean whale sperm, for Christ’s sake!

A medical practice is called ‘alternative’ if it is based on untested, untraditional, or unscientific treatments or knowledge. There is, however, substantial evidence that many so-called alternative remedies are effective and are often advised by doctors as a supplement to traditional medicines. They are employed by a growing number of people, and it is estimated that alternative medicine is a $15 billion a year business.

What makes us chose the spiritual over the scientific, the unknown over the proven, and the natural over the chemical? Here’s a quick look at a few remedies, some which have demonstrable effects, and some that are best described as ‘alternative.’

Acupuncture

This is one of the better-known remedies, and although the idea of sticking pins into you may seem bloody stupid to many people it does appear to have positive effects. The most common claim of success by acupuncture advocates is in the area of pain control. Studies have shown that many acupuncture points are richly supplied with nerves, therefore stimulating these areas affects the nervous system and stimulates the body’s production of natural painkillers. So stab more equals hurt less – not a traditional idea but it works! Another theory suggests that acupuncture blocks the transmission of pain impulses from parts of the body to the central nervous system. Again this is possible, but whatever the scientific reason, evidence does seem to show that acupuncture relieves pain, at least temporarily.

Copper bracelet

Another classic, which only costs a few quid, looks cool and has the alleged bonus of stopping all joint pain. Using copper bracelets for arthritis relief is an old folk remedy. It’s believed that copper is absorbed by the skin to relieve joint pain. The concept of copper remains controversial and any chemist (or honest person) will tell you that it’s bull – but at least it looks good, if that’s your thing.

Crystals

Yeah. Enough said.

Magnetic healing

This is interesting. Static magnet therapy is believed to relieve pain by increasing circulation, although its effectiveness is still questionable. The treatment is generally considered harmless unless it causes people to neglect other medical treatments. One happy advocate of this therapy, having forked out God knows how much for a new magnetic mattress, was ecstatic. The lucky lady said it must have worked because although she still had all the aches and pains, she was sleeping for longer and therefore must be more comfortable. Of course this could have something to do with replacing her crappy old mattress with a brand new one…

I may have been a bit cruel in my analysis of some of these remedies; after all millions of people can’t be wrong (well they can actually – whale sperm? Come on!), but we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. Many of these remedies do work and most can be boiled down to a few core ideas. Meditation, which is known by myriad names but whether it’s relaxation, balancing your aura, or realigning you spirit, it essentially means chilling out, having a cup of tea, and letting the world worry about its own problems for once. We love massages, they’re good for you – and hell, they’re even fun to give. Play a bit of whale music, rub in oil, and the world just seems like a better place. Other than that eat right, drink right, and when you really feel like crap, go see a doctor. It’s what they get paid for.

Chris Arrowsmith

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