WHEN Western medicine is no longer enough, patients now have the option of turning to less traditional forms of therapy called complementary and alternative medicines (CAM) for the relief, even cure, of their illnesses.

Dr. Victoriano Lim of the UST Hospital department of Medicine defined CAM as “any form of therapy not approved by Western or traditional medicine that can be used to improve health or even cure a disease.”

Lim openly supports the use of CAM by his patients, through his book Introduction to CAM: Complementary and Alternative Medicine, which won the National Book Award in 2007.

“CAM is beneficial when used in conjunction with traditional medicine, and it is useful in relieving and treating the symptoms of many chronic diseases like cancer, stroke, heart attack and critically ill patients,” Lim said.

Existence of CAM has been established in ancient times, when Chinese emperors employed the service of herbalists to cure their ailments. In the Philippines, since the pre-Hispanic era, CAM has been used in the forms of herbal medicines, faith healing, and folk healers (albularios). Through the establishment of the Philippine Institute of Traditional and Alternative Health Care, the use of CAM has become accepted, as long as the therapies are non-invasive, thoroughly investigated, and safe.

According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, there are five categories of CAM practices namely alternative medical system such as Tai Chi and acupuncture, mind-body interventions like meditation and prayer, biological treatments or herbal medicines, body-based methods such as massage therapy, and energy therapies such as Reike and Qi Gong.

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Among the forms of Eastern medicine available, Lim gave emphasis on acupuncture, Taiji and Quigong in his book.

“Acupuncture is the insertion of very fine needles into various forms of the body so that the Qi, the vital life energy, can flow through way points called meridians to relieve pain and restore body functions,” Lim said. It has been recommended by the World Health Organization in over 40 medical conditions, including back, neck and shoulder pain, arthritis, and sprains.

Acupuncture is considered part of Chinese medical therapy and was given scientific backing through the endorphin hypothesis formulated by Dr. Bruce Pomeranz of the University of Toronto in 1976. According to the theory, the numbing effects of acupuncture is a result of peripheral nerve stimulation that sends impulse to the brain to release endorphin, a natural pain reliever.

Meanwhile, Taiji, literally meaning “extreme ultimate”, is an art of self defense deeply rooted in martial arts. It is used in combination with Quigong, the art of breathing exercises, to achieve mood elevation, improve concentration, relieve stress and improve blood circulation. According to research, the use of Taiji promotes discipline, enhanced coordination and balance, and increased relaxation, decreasing anger and depression.

Another popular form of CAM is aromatherapy, which is the therapeutic use of essential oils to promote relaxation, relieve stress and alleviate disease. Today there are around 32 aromatherapy agents to choose from, including lavender, rosemary, eucalyptus and ylang ylang.

“The use of aromatherapy has been observed to relieve symptoms such as headache, colds, indigestion, nausea and depression,” Lim said. “It can also be used to improve atmosphere, promote vitality and enhance overall function.”

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Meanwhile, orthomolecular medicine and chelation can be considered as approaches closely linked to traditional medicine.

“Orthomolecular medicine uses substances naturally present in the body to help correct or stabilize body condition caused by disorders such as depression, hypertension and cancer. Chelation therapy on the other hand, uses agents to bind toxic materials and minerals from the body and transport them to the blood stream to be eliminated by the kidneys.”

Orthomolecular medicine has been used since the 1920s to treat illnesses not related to nutritional deficiencies. Vitamin A, a nutrient closely associated with improving vision and skin health, was once used for prevention of childhood deaths from infectious diseases. In the 1950s, Vitamin B3 (Niacin) in combination with traditional medicine, was used to treat schizophrenia. This mode of therapy includes the use of magnesium to stop arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeats, and use of antioxidants for heart disease and visual impairment.

Chelation, on the other hand, was used in 1950s as a cure for lead poisoning. It is now also being used to manage atherosclerotic heart disease.

While CAM has potential benefits, Lim stressed the importance of medical supervision.

“It is very important for patients to always consult their doctor before using any forms of CAM to prevent compromising patient health, such as possible allergic reactions to oils used in aromatherapy,” Lim said. “It is also important to consult your doctor if there are manifestations of worsening symptoms.”

“Most forms of CAM provide supportive therapy. Therefore its effectiveness can be heightened if it is use collaboratively with western medicine,” Lim added.

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