What’s the Alternative

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Alternative Medicine A


Acupuncture developed in China, somewhere between 2000 and 5000 years ago.  According to tradition, doctors who were treating soldiers wounded in battle by piercing weapons such as arrows or spears noticed that the patient sometimes made remarkable recoveries from chronic illnesses.  They made the connection that piercing the skin affected the body's metabolism in some way.  Over a period of time they tried to reproduce these effects by piercing the skin with small needles and noting what effect it had. The first acupuncture manual was published around 200 BC and is called the ‘Huang-di Nei-jing’ (Inner Classic of the Yellow Emperor).

In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), practitioners moderate the working of various organs and body systems, stimulating or soothing these by inserting needles in localised  acupoints around the body.  There is no physical relationship between the position of the acupoint and the organ which it might be affecting.  However, the acupoints lie on energy pathways around the body, called meridians, which are said to connect with the target organs.  There is some actual evidence that these meridians and acupoints do exist, as the electrical resistance of the skin is lower over these specific places.

In the West, doctors have tried to force acupuncture into a more medical model, where specific problems such as pain and arthritis or insomnia are treated with specific acupuncture points being needled for specific amounts of time.  A practitioner of TCM would say that this is an inefficient use of the technology.  No two people are alike, and the same condition can be treated by needling different acupuncture points depending on the person's constitution and energy balance at the time.

Acupuncture has been demonstrated to be effective in the treatment of a number of conditions.  It is very effective in the treatment of chronic pain and has been shown to release endorphins, the brains natural opiate.  It is also effective in the treatment of osteoarthritic pain, and can help abolish the sickness and discomfort associated with childbirth, chemotherapy, and migraine.  There is also good evidence that acupuncture can help addicts cope with withdrawal symptoms when going through detox.  It certainly seems to be true for alcohol, crack and cocaine dependency; there is less evidence that it is effective in helping give up cigarettes, although many people claim that they have been so helped.


Aromatherapy has been around for a very long time, Imhotep an Egyptian physician, used it as long ago as 6000 years for massage and to help breathing.  Hippocrates (from whom we get the medical Hippocratic oath), used it to similar purpose, and also as fumigation to dispel pestilence and plague.

Our sense of smell is our most basic sense.  Our distant ancestors, the reptiles, used it to navigate as their sense of sight was very poor.  When a snake flicks its tongue in and out it is actually seeing the world through its sense of smell.  The part of the brain that these reptiles used, the limbic system, still exists in our brains today and can still have powerful effects on our consciousness, even though most of the time we ignore it.  Bad smells can make us gag or run away and delicious perfumes can increase attraction, so it is not surprising that aromatherapy claims to be able to change our mood by using specific scents.

The term aromatherapy was first used in 1937 by a French chemist called Gattefossé as the title of the book which described the healing abilities of essential oils.  His interest in aromatherapy apparently began when while working in his laboratory.  He burnt his hand and plunged it into the nearest cold substance he could find, which happened to be a vat of lavender oil.  This seemed to speed the recovery of the wound, and also protect against infection and scarring.  He then looked at other essential oils, in preparation for his book.  It was Robert Tissard, who was primary in introducing aromatherapy in Britain in 1969.  He also started the very first training institute in the 1970s.

Essential oils can be extracted by soaking in alcohol, but this is usually done by steam extraction.  There are nearly a thousand essential oils available, but only about 180 are actually used for therapeutic purposes.  Some of these essential oils have been scientifically proven to have medicinal effects. For instance tea tree oil has been shown to have strong antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral effects. Tea tree oil has been used in  hospitals to combat the spread of MRSA and other bugs that have been become resistant to antibiotics.  Eucalyptus oil has known antiviral and anti-decongesting properties.  When you take the commercially available Olbas Oil it is Eucalyptus which is one of the main components.