May 30, 2024

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Pills or herbs? Traditional medicine in modern age

3 min read

KUWAIT: Ever wondered why the homemade remedies passed down by our grandparents are still used in the modern age, despite advancements in technology and medicine? The World Health Organization (WHO) found that 88 percent of countries worldwide use traditional methods like indigenous medicines, herbal remedies, and acupuncture for healing purposes. This trust in traditional medicine, also known as folk or complementary and alternative medicine, is driven by the belief in the safety of its natural ingredients, compared to the chemical components of contemporary medicine.

Less side effects

Surprisingly, this belief isn’t limited to patients alone; even doctors specializing in modern medicine shared it. “Ninety percent of traditional medicine lacks any side effects… relying on it, especially in cases of chronic diseases, can be much safer than modern medicine,” noted Dr. Hamed Hefiela, a consultant in Internal Medicine and Cardiology. Additionally, WHO has endorsed this belief, recognizing the health benefits of traditional medicine and its minimal side effects compared to chemical pills. This makes traditional medicine a perfect approach in addressing pre-disease cases, which represent medical conditions existing between illness and optimal health.

Dr. Hefiela explained that since these conditions do not entirely meet the criteria for diagnosable illness, modern doctors prefer to refrain from prescribing chemical medications that could potentially worsen the situation by harming other organs in the body. Instead, they prescribe medicinal herbs, aiming to provide safer and more gentle interventions for patients.

Originating from nature

Jawad Al-Rashed, specializing in herbal medicine, and known as Hakeem (a title equivalent to a doctor in traditional medicine) attributed the effectiveness of herbal medicines to centuries of accumulated wisdom and observations. Referring to it as “The green pharmacy,” he elaborated, “It encompasses secrets and healing properties that were acquired through observation of animals’ behavior.” One intriguing example he mentioned involves snakes, which experience temporary blindness upon emerging from hibernation. They have been observed rubbing against a plant known as “fennel” to restore their vision, a discovery which led to the understanding that fennel plants could be used to improve human sight.

The strong connection between traditional medicine and nature seems to be the reason why the human body can more easily absorb natural remedies compared to chemical medications. This idea, shared by Hefiela, explains why many modern medicines still use natural ingredients to aid in the absorption process. It’s even supported by WHO, which says, “around 40 percent of pharmaceutical products today draw from nature and traditional knowledge, including landmark drugs.”

Incompatible role

Despite its proven record in treating diseases, traditional medicine often falls short in providing accurate diagnoses of diseases. Therefore, before seeking treatment, Rashed advocated for always consulting modern medical professionals and hospitals due to the accessibility of advanced diagnostic technologies. Following that, he suggested that the choice between traditional and modern medications should be based on individual preferences.

Yet, according to Hefiela, patients have no choice when it comes to later stages of medical conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, or hypertension, as he warned. “While traditional medicine remains very useful in supporting the treatment of already diagnosed cases, it cannot work alone in critical situations,” he explained. He further clarified that he would never advise a patient in the advanced stages of any disease to discontinue their chemical medications in favor of herbal medicine. “It happened once with a diabetic case that I witnessed myself, which went into a diabetic coma from stopping insulin and relying solely on herbs,” he noted.

Both Hefiela and Rashed are in agreement that traditional medicine still requires further research studies and supportive experiments to become more reliable in the modern age. Rashed expressed confidence, stating, “If more successful experiences were proven, traditional medicine will undoubtedly prevail over any other form of medicine.” Hefiela additionally recommended the integration of a specific department for studying traditional medicine within medical colleges. This approach would allow doctors and patients to choose their desired treatment method, providing more options and autonomy in healthcare decisions.


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