Herbal and traditional medicine is a huge component of care that can add to happiness. To create happiness, it utilizes the ancient traditions of India and China, as well as those of indigenous people all over the world. Disadvantages of Eastern medicine include concerns about efficacy: peer-reviewed, double-blind, standardized, reliable, and valid measures that make the benefits and risks evident are not always available. Advantages include the curative aspects of the relationship between the practitioner and the person in pain. That tie can add enormous strength to one who is weakened by distress.
During Covid, a challenge brought forward by some proponents of herbal medicine, but not all, not by far, were claims of its greater efficacy compared to vaccinations. That’s one of the chief drawbacks of healthcare that operates outside of established research norms: avoiding or even disparaging traditional and life-saving care that is backed up by scientific research.
What Does the Research Show?
To address this challenge, physicians such as Robert Saper, MD MPH Chair of the Department of Wellness and Preventive Medicine at Cleveland Clinic, are conducting research to provide the necessary knowledge. Prior to his work in Cleveland, Saper was Director of Integrative Medicine for the Boston Medical Center Department of Family Medicine and a professor at the Boston University School of Medicine. While at BU, with NIH funding, Saper studied the use of yoga, “for chronic low back pain in predominantly low-income minorities,” and “the safety and efficacy of traditional Indian herbal medicines.”
His research found, for example, that, “There’s a wealth of evidence in the West that Ayurvedic metals have a variety of toxic effects. Until they can prove beyond a shadow of a doubt the lack of toxicity, these metal bhasma compounds that contain lead , mercury, or arsenic should be stopped immediately.”
According to National Public Radio, “From 2000 to 2003, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported cases of extreme lead poisoning in New Hampshire, California, Massachusetts, Texas, and New York. In 2004 and 2008, researchers found about 20 percent of Ayurvedic products sold in the Boston area and on the Internet had dangerous levels of lead, mercury, or arsenic. A group of pregnant women got severe lead poisoning from taking Ayurvedic medicines in 2011 and 2012 in New York City, and two small children there got lead poisoning in 2012.”
That is bad news.
However, numerous approaches, that do not involve ingestion, and make no grand claims, may be potentially useful in treatment. Robert Saper’s study, “Yoga versus education for veterans with chronic low back pain: study protocol for a randomized controlled trial,” was published in Trials in April 2016. Saper said this trial will help determine if yoga can become “a safe, clinically effective, cost-effective, and scalable nonpharmacologic approach to address the physical and psychosocial dimensions of chronic low back pain in veterans.”
In another study, this one appearing in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, The practice of yoga may increase the level of gamma-aminobutyric acid, a chemical in the brain that helps to improve mood and decrease anxiety.
We are still learning about techniques and remedies to bring about happiness. One hopes that ongoing research will yield clearer data on the risks and benefits of adding components of care to traditional approaches and lead to greater integration of these traditions with Western medicine.
Integrative medicine combines well-established traditions with training that typically takes place in Western medical schools and residencies to create well-being. Yoga, meditation, and acupuncture are among the best-known traditions that came to great fruition in making people happy when seeking care outside of Western approaches that include drugs and surgery. Through the integration of the best practices, happiness is more attainable.
The philosophy these approaches have in common is the desire and ability to make people better. Where they diverge, in addition to different techniques, is in how well-being is understood.
The Western approach is often pathology-driven, while the approaches independent of the West generally focus on acceptance of the disorder and an unwillingness to see the person in pain as defined by their discomfort. Yet, practitioners use empathy, compassion, and deep respect and appreciation for the individual to move beyond models that focus on the illness as defining character.
Numerous centers of integrative medicine can be found in the US doing clinical research on Ayurvedic medicine, meditation, and yoga. These approaches, far removed from invasive procedures, show great efficacy in treating pain, depression, anxiety, and preoccupation that disrupt cognitive functioning, mood regulation, appetite, and sleep. The potential for transforming traditional medical care with more integration of independent practices is of value: increased patient participation, fewer invasive procedures, and lower costs for care.
Traditional Western approaches have enormous value
Existing forms of psychotherapy and Western medicine, as the foundation for happiness, provide a basis for well-being. Insight-oriented approaches, preventive care, adherence to treatment, and participatory models all have enormous value in bringing about personal happiness in the US
What questions are helpful as you consider treatment?
Which approaches are most effective? And while waiting on a long list to see someone for help, what can you do to prepare? What questions might you ask?
And in making use of products and techniques that are not validated by clinical research, see what the CDC and FDA have to say. Hey, call me old-fashioned: Ask your doctor.