The History of CAM20 years, 3 months ago
Posted on Nov 07, 2003, 12 p.m.
By Bill Freeman
The History of Complementary andAlternative Medicine in the United States and Beyond Around the time of the Revolutionary War (1775-1783), medical doctors were not considered to fulfill major societal roles. In fact, the practice of medicine was seen as more of a part-time avocation due to the fact that the majority of citizens labeled as "doctors" also took on full-time occupations such as judge, magistrate, farmer, or merchant.
The History of Complementary and
Alternative Medicine in the United States and Beyond
Around the time of the Revolutionary War (1775-1783), medical doctors were not considered to fulfill major societal roles. In fact, the practice of medicine was seen as more of a part-time avocation due to the fact that the majority of citizens labeled as "doctors" also took on full-time occupations such as judge, magistrate, farmer, or merchant. This left little room for private or hospital practice, and as a result, midwives and lay practitioners took care of most medical matters including births, injuries, and illness through the use of herbal medicines and teas, salves, emetics, and purgative medicines.
Yet, by the beginning of the 19th century, conventional medicine was beginning to grow. Young men left family businesses, apprenticeships, and clerkships to pursue medicine in prominent colleges around the U.S. Eventually, the use of full-time medical professionals far outweighed the use of midwives and lay practitioners.
Despite the growing popularity of the medical profession, patients often labeled conventional medical practices as expensive, imprecise, and dangerous. In response to these concerns, a number of citizens formed the Popular Health Movement (PHM) during the 1830s and 1840s.
PHM supporters sought to alter conventional medical practices by incorporating and emphasizing some of the ideas that midwives and lay practitioners had long used to heal their patients. These included herbal remedies, proper nutrition, clean water, exercise, disease prevention, the body's innate ability to heal itself, and health education.
The PHM, along with several other political action groups run by such herbalists as Samuel Thompson and Wooster Beach, influenced state after state to repeal their conventional medical licensing laws and allow for certain complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapies to be part of everyday health care. Today, 69% of the U.S. populace reports using at least one form of CAM in any given year.
While the use of CAM appears to have a fairly long history in the U.S., it actually spans almost the entire history of man. From primitive medicine, mythology, and folklore of ancient times to the traditional Chinese and Indian Ayurvedic systems of medicine, CAM therapies have a broad and captivating past that extends well beyond American medical history.
Native American Medicine
Like other ancient healing systems, Native American medicine focuses on a holistic approach to medicine that emphasizes the treatment of the entire person, including physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects. Native American healers, often referred to as "medicine men," "medicine women," or "shamans," believe that individual health is intertwined with the natural and spiritual world and thus incorporate symbolic healing rituals, ceremonies, and the extensive use of herbal remedies.
Native American medical interventions, such as medical herbs and healing plants, have had a significant impact on modern society. In fact, 7 out of the 10 top-selling herbal remedies in the U.S. today were originally used by Native American tribes.
Traditional Chinese Medicine
In a different fashion, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has restored harmony to those with illness for close to 23 centuries. By enhancing recuperative power and immunity through several mechanisms including herbs, acupuncture, diet, massage, and exercises such as qigong and tai chi, TCM is used today throughout the world.
TCM is based on a belief in yin and yang-defined as opposing energies such as earth and heaven, winter and summer, and happiness and sadness. When yin and yang are in balance, patients feel relaxed and energized, experiencing only occasional highs and lows. Out of balance yin and yang, however, can negatively affect the health of a patient. In addition, TCM professionals believe that there is a life force or energy in all people, known as qi. In order for yin and yang to be balanced and for the body to be healthy, qi must be balanced and flowing freely. When there is too little or too much qi in one of the body's energy pathways (called meridians), or when the flow of qi is blocked, illness may result.
Considered by many scholars to be the oldest healing science, Ayurveda is a holistic approach to health care that is designed to help people live long, healthy, and well-balanced lives. Ayurveda, taken from the Sanskrit words "ayus," meaning life or lifespan, and "veda," meaning knowledge, originated in India about 5,000 years ago and is still being practiced around the world today.
Ayurvedic tradition holds that each person manifests basic biological energies, or doshas, which determine who we are. Doshas may specify our emotional traits, the kinds of foods we should eat, and the kinds of activities that we should partake in. The basic principle of Ayurveda is to prevent illness by maintaining dosha balance throughout the body, mind, and consciousness. This is usually accomplished via the use of herbal remedies, yoga, meditation, and proper diet and lifestyle.
It is easy to see that CAM has had an interesting past, both in the U.S. and beyond. While having been established for centuries upon centuries, the popularity of CAM nevertheless continues to grow. In fact, 69% of Americans today report using at least one form of CAM in any given year. Whatever the future holds, it is always important to remember the widespread roots and evolution of CAM therapies.
Miller, M. (1999). A brief history of CAM in the US. Foundation for the Advancement of Innovative Medicine. Retrieved March 15, 2002, from http://www.faim.org/legal.htm
Davis, J. (2000, August 22). Native Americans knew the power of herbs but to modern-day scientists, many botanicals remain a mystery. WebMD Medical News. Retrieved from http://my.webmd.com/content/article/1728.60591
Kessler W, Goodkind M. (1998, Sept 23). Americans mingle complementary techniques with traditional medicine. Stanford Online Report. Retrieved from http://www.stanford.edu/dept/news/report/news/september23/altsurvey923.html