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Holistic case for alternative medicine

EVER wondered if there was more to medicine than what you could purchase over the counter from a pharmacy? Have you ever wondered whether the remedies that were laid down by our great-grandmothers for all sorts of ailments were any good? Should we be impressed by exotic-sounding brand names, or lured by slick advertising? Or should we be cautious about spending our hard-earned cash?

The rising cost of conventional medicine and fear of side-effects have cast an adverse effect on many people about the conventional system of health care. On the other hand, it has contributed to the popularity of traditional systems of medication. Now people are looking towards alternative holistic medicine for treatment.

"The reason for its popularity is because of its approach to treat the whole person as opposed to a specific organ or ailment as in conventional medicine. It therefore aims to treat the body, mind and the spirit collectively," said Dr VL Shyam, Ayurvedic consultant, Softouch Ayurveda Centre, Kempinski Hotels and Resorts, Ajman.

The United Nation raised the slogan "Back to Nature" few years ago with the intention of encouraging the use of natural products in prevention and treatment of diseases and promotion of good health. And the UAE government's recent decision to allow its practice in the country has only strengthened belief in the traditional system of healing.

"The major reasons that won the confidence of the UN are the safety of this kind of treatment with no side effects, long-action and its unique effects on difficult and troublesome diseases," said Shyam.

Non-conventional therapies, also referred to as integrative medicine, include a broad range of healing philosophies, approaches, and therapies. A therapy is generally called 'complementary' when it is used in addition to conventional treatments; it is often called alternative when it is used instead of conventional treatment. Depending on how they are used, some therapies can be considered either complementary or alternative.

Complementary and alternative therapies can be used to prevent illness, reduce stress, prevent or reduce side effects and symptoms or control or cure disease. Some commonly used methods of complementary or alternative therapy include mind/body control interventions such as visualisation or relaxation; manual healing including osteopathy, acupressure and massage; homeopathy; vitamins and herbal products; traditional Chinese Medicine and acupuncture, as well as the Indian System of Medicine (Ayurveda).

Since it has become an established fact that complementary forms of medicine and therapies contribute to a health care system, it has become important for everyone to be aware of the value and efficacy of the various types of treatments, be they conventional or those that we have come to know as 'alternative' or 'complementary'.


Basic belief of the science is that "perfect health is essential for the attainment of all objectives of life." Ayurvedic principles are meant for those who want to live a healthy long life.

"Our life is becoming very fast and busy and we don't have time to think even about ourselves. This pace of life and departure from nature's rhythm is the main cause of many health problems in the present time. So this is the time to think seriously about our life style, our life, about the science of life, which is otherwise called Ayurveda," said Dr Shyam.

Ayurveda is the outcome of the mixing of cultures. It is 5,000 years of wisdom distilled into a system of practice. This tradition of natural healing system has been a part of culture and daily life in India. Ayurveda aims at making a happy, healthy and peaceful society.

"Ayurveda is much more than the well-being of the body. Ayurveda defines health as 'Purity' of the body, mind and soul. It leads not merely to the well-being of the individual; it leads to the well-being of the universe. It restores harmony and existence," he said.

This system of science stresses on the prevention of body ailments in addition to curing them. It is the most natural way to refresh yourself, eliminate all toxic imbalances from the body, regain resistance and good health. "Ayurvedic preventive medicine is called Svasthavrtta, means 'establishing oneself in good habits', and its main principle is that one must reject excess in everything. Harmony and health are possible only when everything in life is enjoyed at the proper moment in the proper amount," he said.

Contrary to the popular belief that Ayurveda offers massage therapy for relaxation and offers some herbs for the treatment of common illnesses only, it has eight branches. "The science of Ayurveda is very broad and covers all types of treatment. When we look at the curative aspects, it has been divided into eight sections namely -- Kaya Chikitsa (General Medicine), Bala Chikitsa (Paediatrics), Graha Chikitsa (Psychology, Psychiatry), Urdhwanga Chikitsa (ENT and Ophthalmology), Salya Chikitsa (Surgery), Visha Chikitsa (Toxicology), Rasayana Chikitsa (Rejuvenation Therapy) and Vajeekarana Chikitsa (Aphrodisiac Treatments)," he said. Though Shyam agreed that no one system of medicine has the complete answer to all health care requirements, he refused to compare Ayurveda with other medical sciences. "Ayurveda is a life science, we can't compare it with Allopathy, Homeopathy or Chinese medicine, instead it can be compared with Biology. But we need to be aware of the value and efficacy of various types of treatments, which can be complementary to each other and uplift the well-being of life," he said.

The Ayurvedic concept of physical health revolves around three Doshas -- Vata Dosha, Pitta Dosha and Kapha Dosha -- and its primary purpose is to help maintain them in a balanced state to prevent disease.

"A person is seen in Ayurveda as a unique individual made up of five primary elements," said Shyam.

These elements are ether (space), air, fire, water and earth. Just as in nature, we too have these five elements in us. When there is an imbalance in any of these elements in the environment, they will in turn have an influence on us. The food we eat and the weather are just two examples of the influence of these elements.

The elements combine with Ether and Air in dominance to form what is known in Ayurveda as Vata Dosha. Vata governs the principle of movement and therefore can be seen as the force, which directs nerve impulses, circulation, respiration and elimination etc.,

The elements with Fire and Water in dominance combine to form the Pitta Dosha. The Pitta Dosha is responsible for the process of transformation or metabolism. The transformation of food into nutrients that our bodies can assimilate is an example of a Pitta function.

Finally, it is predominantly the Water and Earth elements, which combine to form the Kapha Dosha. Kapha is responsible for growth, adding structure unit by unit. "When any of the doshas become accumulated, Ayurveda will suggest specific lifestyle and nutritional guidelines to assist the individual in reducing the dosha that has become excessive. Also herbal medicines will be suggested, to cure the imbalance and the disease," explained Shyam.

Dr. Abdul Gafoor P is among the first batch of Ayurvedic medical practitioners who got a licence from the Ministry of Health to practice in the UAE. But the doctor is serving the society for the past couple of years by practicing massage therapy to cure an ailment.

Although it has been only a few months since he started his practice as a doctor, he is receiving good number of patients for consultation. "Ayurveda is not new to the people of the region. They are well aware of the efficacy of the science. That is why within a few months, hundreds of people have consulted me for their treatment," said Gafoor. Though most of them were Asians, many locals and people from the GCC countries have also visited his clinic in Ajman. "The popularity can be measured by the fact that most of the patients who consulted me for medication were having treatment somewhere else, but they were dissatisfied," he added.

Gafoor's Italian Herbal Centre is quite popular among the masses and still a major part of his daily patients consists of those willing to go for massage therapy. "We practice several types of massage therapies to heal the disease people are suffering from. Dhara, a method of massage by pouring medicated milk, buttermilk etc. in a special way on the whole body, and Kizhi massage are among the most commonly used," said Gafoor.

Chinese medicine
There are many misconceptions associated with the Traditional Chinese medicines that make people wary when they are advised to try it.

"Many people think that all the products are animal-based. Thus it is not suitable for vegetarians, or animal lovers with concerns about endangering protected species. Another section of the society feels that the products may require elaborate preparation in the home before they can be used. But none of these premises are accurate. While it is true that some products are animal-based, not all are. Most of the products are herbal and therefore derived from plants," said Dr Helen Zhang of Al Rahma Chinese Centre, Sharjah.

Clarifying the two misconceptions, she said most of the popular brands carry labels with detailed information. Otherwise one may ask the practitioner or the person available at the retail outlet. "Also, not all products require lengthy preparation. Many herbs come in the form of teas and can be prepared in a matter of minutes. While some products appear in the form of pills or powders," she said.

The theory of characters and functions of traditional Chinese medicines is based on the theories of yinand yang, viscesa, channels, collaterals and treatment principles of traditional Chinese medicine, which has been developed and summed up throughout a long history of medical practice. The theory provides the basis for drug analysis and application.

"In traditional Chinese medicine, the different characters of drugs are employed to treat diseases, rectify the hyperactivity or hypoactivity of yin and yang and help the body restore its normal physiological functions, consequently curing the disease and restoring health," said Dr Helen Zhang.

The different tastes, aromas and benefits make it an exciting addition to your diet and life-style, and there is no reason why one should not take advantage of Nature's own store-cupboard. But Zhang is quick to remind that "these remedies are not 'quick fixes' and certainly not to be used in favour of conventional medical care in cases of serious illness. They do however, provide a good boost to the immune system and the benefits are usually seen over a longer period of time."

Unani medicine
Unani medicine believes in promotion of health, prevention of diseases and cure. According to this science, the health of human beings is based on the six essentials. If these are followed, health is maintained otherwise there will be diseases. The six essentials are -- Atmospheric Air, Drinks and Food, Sleep and Wakefulness, Excretion and Retention, Physical Activity and Rest, and Mental Activity and Rest.

There are four ways to treat the diseases. They are Ilajbil Tadbeer (Regimental Therapy), Ilajbil Ghiza (Dietotherapy), Ilajbil Dava (Pharmacotherapy) and Ilajcil Yad (Surgery).

"In this science, some drugless regimens are advised for the treatment of certain ailments -- Exercise, Massage, Hamam (Turkish Bath), Douches (Cold and Hot) and the Regimen for Geriatrics. Sometimes, we try to treat the disease by following a certain diet for the treatment of a particular disease," said a leading practitioner.

While the third therapy works on the concept of treatment by correcting the cause of the disease that may be abnormal temperament due to environmental factors, or abnormal humours either due to internal causes or external causes which may be pathogenic micro-organism, through drugs of opposite temperament to the temperament of the disease or drugs of similar temperament in keeping with the temperament of the disease.

Courtesy: Gulf Today

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