Natural Healing Develops Alongside Modern Medicine
Natural health systems are as old as humanity itself. As our ancient ancestors wandered in nature, they learned the characteristics of different plants and methods of treating disease with substances from the earth. Natural healing appears in every tribe in every era and corner of the earth. Herbs, essences of natural plants and manipulations of all kinds have been used to heal individuals from the beginning of time. Natural health care is becoming ever more popular, predating the modern medical profession by centuries. Today, both methods are prominent in health care and represent divergent philosophical viewpoints; tapping the body’s natural healing abilities vs. the application of medicines to effect a cure.
Egyptian doctors were famed throughout the ancient known world. Imhotep, in the 3rd Millennium BC, the first physician known by name, is known as one of the fathers of modern medicine. Egyptians developed surgery, including some operation procedures on the brain, and sophisticated prostheses. They practiced dentistry and herbal medicine of many kinds. Many of their methods were effective, although some were not – the use of dung was a particularly ineffective cure that remained in use as late as the Middle Ages. Magic and superstition figured prominently in Egyptian medicine, also remaining popular for centuries.
The ancient Chinese refined the natural health system to a high degree. The Chinese determined the placement and purpose of organs in the body, as well as accurately defining the circulatory system without ever cutting open a human body. They also defined the flow of energy, or qui, in the body, and that system is still in use in alternative methods like modern acupuncture and Shiatsu massage.
Ancient Greece brought the art of healing to a new height, especially with the establishment of Hippocrates’ medical school on the island of Kos. He advanced the systematic study of clinical medicine, and focused on observation of patients, establishing a practice of keeping careful records of a patient’s pulse, temperature, pains, and excretions. He is called the Father of Western or clinical medicine.
Ancient Rome spent more on staying healthy with exercise rather than using doctors, although rich homes often had a household doctor, usually a Greek prisoner of war. Hydrotherapy, a mainstay of Roman natural health care, continues to this day. Early in the first century CE, the Roman herbalist Dioscurides wrote De Materia Medica, which collected information about the medical properties of plants, animals, and minerals. It remained in use until about 1600 AD.
One important physician in the Middle East was the Muslim Avicenna, another who was called the father of medicine. He wrote The Cannon of Medicine, one of the most famous medical treatises in history.
By the Middle Ages, the momentum of the medical understanding of the ancient world began to slow. Medical advancements were effectively stonewalled by the Roman Catholic Church, which taught that disease was a punishment from God. Bloodletting was popular in medieval health care, along with astrology and magic. The four humors defined in Hippocratic medicine — black bile, yellow bile, phlegm, and blood – remained a part of medical philosophy until the advent of modern medicine. These substances, in balance in a healthy body, when unbalanced were believed to lead to sickness. Witches and other resourceful women developed herbal medicine, which was also denounced by the Roman Catholic Church. Midwives, important to female health and the birthing process, were pushed out by mainstream doctors by the end of the 16th century.
In 1796, Edward Jenner discovered the smallpox vaccine, beginning the modern era of medicine. The discovery of the bacterial transmission of disease (1880) and of antibiotics (1900) set medicine on the modern course. Since, medicines have been developed from both natural and synthetic substances with increasing sophistication.
Today, alternative health systems, many of which are centuries old, vie with established modern medicine, which has fought hard to keep them down. The American Medical Association tried to destroy the profession of Chiropractic, a method of spinal manipulation to increase health, an attempt that ultimately failed. Other forms of alternative health, like acupuncture, homeopathy, massage, and energy therapies, are more mainstream now, leading to the idea of Integrative Medicine, which is open to using all methods of healing.