Alternative Medicine and the Coronavirus Pandemic

During this global COVID-19 pandemic, it’s essential that individuals and societies alike should strive to remain healthy, safe, and as risk-free as possible. These concerns, as we all know, ledto a dramaticincrease in demand for sanitizers, disinfectants, liquid soaps, and other cleaning agents. And since people know they need to protect themselves and those around them, we’re all wearing face masks. With hands-free sanitizer stands available inall kinds of shop and offices, everybody is doing their part to stay safe from the virus.

While these measures will keep you safe to a certain extent, it’s not enough. As they say, prevention is often better than a cure, so there has also been a spike in the demand for immunity-boosting supplements, medicines, and other products. To strengthen their immune systems, many families across the country are drinking immunity-building kaadha, ginger tea, and other homemade concoctions.

While the world waits for a safe and effective vaccine, people have turned to all sorts of alternative treatments and medication. Alternative medicine is any practice that attempts to mimic the healing effects of mainstream medicine, butis untested and/or lacks any biological plausibility. By this definition, any traditional practices that have been passed down through generations are termed ‘alternative,’ due to their lack of scientific proof. But that doesn’t mean that they don’t work. A few of these practices are based on the placebo effect, supernatural or spiritual beliefs, and some are even just trial medications, or have too many side effects.

These alternative methods go beyond just medication. Alternative health, beauty and wellness are other important sectors. The term wellness is generally associated with the richand has hedonistic connotations. When you think of wellness the images of a spa, a retreat, or a fancy wellness center come to mind – all of which are usually just excuses for the rich to get pampered. ‘Wellness’ has often been condemned for spotlighting lifestyle changes, instead of a rather general focus on the prevention of harm, which would include increasingly established approaches to improving health.

The alternative medicine industry is certainly profitable, and has attracted considerable media attention and a critical mass of followers. The segment also faces fewer regulations on usage and marketing of these often-unproven treatments. Marketing often includes keywords such as ‘natural’, ‘holistic’ or ‘organic,’ and it’s important to be wary of frequently misleading labels.

Since a vaccine and highly effective treatments for COVID-19 are not yet available, perhaps it’s time to turn to some alternative methods? Read ahead to learn about a few types of alternative treatments and medications that may be helpful.             –Devanshi

Ayurveda

Ayurveda is considered the oldest healing science on earth. Originating from Sanskrit, the word means ‘The Science of Life’, and the practice began in India more than 5,000 years ago. Associated with the Hindu god Dhanvantari, an avatar of Vishnu, Ayurveda is also often called the ‘Mother of All Healing’. The knowledge stems from the ancient Vedic culture, and it has been taught and passed down for thousands of years from accomplished masters to their disciples. Even though some of this knowledge was printed several thousand years ago, most people believe that quite a lot of it is lost, or inaccessible. Today, the many principles of these natural healing systems have been appropriated into Western culture. Additionally, a range of globalized and modernised practices have been derived from Ayurveda, and represent a type of alternative medicine.

The origins of Ayurveda state the knowledge being passed down from the gods to the sages, and then from them to human physicians. Over two millennia, these Ayurveda therapies have evolved quite a lot. Typically, the medicines are herb-based, with complex compounds, minerals, and even metal substances. A few of the ancient texts even taught surgical techniques, like sutures, rhinoplasty, and the extraction of kidney stones and other foreign objects.

Ayurveda treatments describe three elemental ‘dosas’, that need to be balanced, as suppressing any natural urges is considered to be unhealthy and is claimed to result in illness. The balance of vāta, pitta, and kapha, the three dosas, results in health, while an imbalance, vitamatva, leads to disease. Their medicine is divided into eight canonical components.

In  India, around 80% of people use just Ayurvedic medication, includingalongside Western treatments. Indian insurance companies sometimescover expenses for Ayurvedic treatments, in cases of conditions like bone disorders, arthritis, spinal cord disorders, and cancer. 5-10% of India’s health insurance claims constitute these.

Homeopathy

Homeopathy is another scientificmethod that fallsunder the category of alternative medicine. Created by Samuel Hahnemann in 1796, the practitioners, akahomeopaths, believethat any substance that causes the symptoms of a disease in healthy peoplewill cureany similar symptoms in people who are sick. This doctrine is called ‘like cures like’, and these homeopathic preparations are loosely termed ‘remedies’. They also believe in the concept of the ‘law of minimum dose’, which is the notion that the less medication you take, the greaterits effectiveness will be. Made with homeopathic dilution – a process in which a selected substance is thoroughly and repeatedly diluted, the resulting product is usually impossible to tell apart from the dilutentsat a chemical level. Believers claim that when taken orally, these preparationscan treat or even cure diseases.

Many homeopathic medicinesare made from plants like poison ivy,belladonna,red onion, and stinging nettle, minerals like white arsenic, or even animals, like crushed whole bees. Though most of the products are tablets taken orally, a lot of homeopathic medicines also come in the form of drops,ointments, creams,gels, and even tablets. Each treatmentis customized to theindividual, and it’salso common for people with similar conditions to receive widely varying treatments.

Homeopathycan be a controversial topic, as alot of its key concepts don’texactly adhere tobasic scientific concepts. Researchers over the years have not been able to consistently prove its effectiveness, or even develop methods to measurethe effects of the medicines. Also, a challenge for them is the highly individualized nature of the treatments. Since there is no uniform prescription used by the practitioners, there are a hundred different treatments that can be prescribed in a range of dilutions for a variety of symptoms. As a result, itis often an inexact treatment.

Acupuncture

Another form of alternative medicine, acupunctureis one of the key elements of Chinese medice, wherein extremely thin needles are inserted into your body. There are many different forms of acupuncture, all originating from different sources, with different philosophies and techniques. Used most often for pain relief, acupuncture is generally used in combination with others form of treatment.

Acupuncturists treat conditions by triggering a few specific points on your skin using needles. It’s a minimally invasive method, which stimulates all the nerve-rich areas on the skin’s surface,in an attempt to influence yourorgans,glands,tissues, and the various functions of your body.

Each needle createsa minuscule injury at the site ofinsertion, and though it causes next to no discomfort, it sends a signal to your body to let it knowit needs to respond. Then, the response stimulates the immune system, promoting circulation in that area, healing wounds, and even pain modulation. This theory is what all the contemporary research of acupuncture relies on.

The original Chinese philosophy of this treatment is slightly more complicated. As opposed to theories of science and medicine, they believed that the human body is filled with ‘qi’ (pronounced chee) – an invisible life-giving force (slightly similar to the Hindu belief of an ‘aatma’). When the qi is flowing well, the individual experiences mental and physical health. If the qiis blocked or deficient, it results in illness. To fix a person’s qi, they perform acupuncture.

Nowadays, many people believe that the concept of qi is not that wild a theory. Acupuncturists today think of it as their body’s natural inner working. It’s a proven fact that you’re more prone to illness when you feel stressed or anxious, and when you’re relaxed, happy, and healthy, your body reflects that too. Believers assert that acupuncture assists people in achieving balance, or qi, and thus provides relief for various ailments.

Naturopathy

Naturopathic medicine, also known as naturopathy, is a type of alternative medicine that uses a bunch of practices labelled as self-healing, non-invasive, or natural. Instead of evidence-based medicine, their ideologies and methods are based on folk medicine and vitalism. These practitioners sometimes suggest people should not follow modern medical practices like surgery, vaccines, drugs, or even medical tests.

Naturopaths describe themselves as health practitioners that use natural therapies. Dealing with a lot more than just water, nutrition, fasting, and exercise, they make use of approved natural healing practices like herbal medicines, in combination with modern methods like colon hydrotherapy, ozone-therapy, and bio-resonance.

Naturopaths believe that the poor diet, pollution, and stress prevalent today play significant roles in the deprivation of one’s health.They see many patients for whom naturopathy is a last resort, and help them out by providing them with personalised care. Their vision of humankind includes a holistic union of the mind, body, and spirit.

The origin of naturopathy and its principles date back to 400 BC. Hippocrates, the Greek philosopher, was the first to use them, and he believed in seeing the whole person to find the cause of the disease, and then using the laws of nature to find a cure. A few of their principles include the healing power of nature and its innate ability to heal;identifying the underlying physical or emotional cause and treating it; never using treatments that might potentially cause side effects; treating the person as a whole;teaching an individual to take responsibility and self-care; and the idea that prevention is better than cure.

Chiropractic

Chiropractic medicine falls under the category of CAM – Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Concerned with diagnosing and treating mechanical disorders of the spine in particular, and the musculoskeletal system in general, chiropractors believe that disorders affect the general health of an individual via the nervous system. Their main technique of treatments involves manual work, like the manipulation of the spine and other joints and soft tissues. They also prescribe exercises and provide lifestyle and health counselling. It should be noted that chiropractors are neither medical doctors nor physicians, and use the initials DC to identify themselves as chiropractors.

Most people who seek the help of a chiropractor do so looking for relief fromback pain. Other issues include pain in the arms, and legs, neck, and even headaches.

Chiropractors depend on the theory that if the body’s musculoskeletal structure is in proper alignment, there will be no need for surgery or medication – the body will heal itself. Today, the focus has shifted to just pain relief. They use manipulation to restore mobility in joints that were restricted by tissue injuries caused by a traumatic event like falling, repetitive stress, or sitting without proper back support. This sort of treatment is usually used to provide pain relief for bones, muscles, joints, and connective tissue, like ligaments, tendons, and cartilage. Sometimesit’s used along with conventional medical treatments. 

Chiropractic care and spinal manipulation are usually quite safe and effective treatments for low back pain – the type of injury you may suffer from when you move furniture or fall down. Additionally, research has proven that chiropractic care can be helpful in treating neck pain and headaches, too.

COVID-19 and Alternative Medicine

Coming to the need of the hour, let’s discuss COVID-19 and possible alternative medicine treatments. The AYUSH Ministry in India promotes the use of alternative Indian medicines like Ayurveda, Yoga, and Siddha, among others. According to AYUSH, recent clinical trials on the effectiveness of alternative medicines on the coronavirus show ‘promising outcomes’. They also claim that some people in quarantine who have used preventive measures like AYUSH-based therapies have not reported many severe symptoms. Currently, the ministry is working on gathering tangible evidence to prove that AYUSH-based therapiescan be effective against the virus.

In light of the pandemic, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is promoting the use of alternative medicines, and Ayurveda specifically, not just to combat the virus, but to boost overall immunity. He’s urging people to use home remedies to strengthen their immunities.

One of the industries that hasbenefitted from a surge of demand of these immunity-boosting ingredients is thealternative medicine sector, particularly the TCM – Traditional Chinese Medicine, and Ayurvedic Medicine.These traditional, alternative and complementary medicines are an important part of the healthcare industry, but are often overlooked. Various local and global practices are found all over the world, and their demand, acceptance, and usage has been on the rise, and is predicted to rise further.

The Ayurveda market in India is said to be worth Rs. 300 billion, and it is constantly growing. Ayurveda is being integrated in our economy through attempts like adopting it as a preventive measure for the recent pandemic. As an attempt for scientists and doctors to design and test solutions for COVID-19, Modi has recently launched the ‘Drug Discover Hackathon’, responding to which a team of Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan recipient doctors have come up with an Ayurvedic drug, which is undergoing clinical trials. Other Ayurvedic brands like Patanjali are also trying their best to search for a cure.

Since there is no mainstream medicinal cure yet, many of India’s efforts have turned towards our history to look for a cure. At an individual level, some people are more comfortable resorting to home remedies and immunity-boosting hot drinks. Auric, an Ayurvedic health drinks company, has reported a 30-35% increase in demand for their immunity-boosting drink. Dabur is seeing a whopping 400% increase of demand for their flagship product – the Chyawanprash, a well-known Indian immunity and health booster. Himalaya has also seen an increase in the sales of its immunity tablets, as Patanjali is planning to hire over 5,00,000 new employees to meet the increase in demand.

Statistics project a strong demand for these kinds of products even after the pandemic is over. A major reason for this is that Indian millennials are increasingly rejecting Western culture and are reverting to their roots and ‘Indian-ness’. It also helps that Indian culture has been embraced all over the world, so practices like yoga and drinks like chai have gained global attention, thus reinforcing their popularity amongst Indians.

It doesn’t matter if you believe in alternative medicines or think that they are a sham. Their needs are increasingly relevant in the context of the ongoing pandemic, and there is no arguing that this sector is bound to grow – at stunning rates!

Though Western medicine will remain the core of the health industry, alternative medication will always occupy its fair share in the economy, as well as people’s homes. With the virus further stimulating the growth of this sector, we can’t wait to see what else they have in store!?