History of alternative medicine

From Academic Kids

History of alternative medicine is a record of historical events that took place over many thousands of years throughout the history of mankind that can be related to the many different branches of alternative medicine.

History of alternative medicine
This article is part of the CAM series of articles.
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There is a historical narrative that can be told about the subject of alternative medicine (CAM) and this article tells that story.


History of alternative medicine in Eastern Culture

Chinese culture

Traditional Chinese medicine has more than 5,000 years of history as a system of medicine that is based on a philosophical concept of balance ( yin and yang, Qi, Blood, Jing, Bodily fluids, the Five Elements, the emotions, and the spirit) approach to health that is rooted in Taoist philosophy and Chinese culture. As such, the concept of it as an alternative form of therapeutic practise is only found in the Western world.

Vedic culture

Ayurveda or ayurvedic medicine has more than 6,000 years of history as a system of medicine based on a holistic approach to health that is rooted in Vedic culture. As with traditional Chinese medicine, the concept of it as an alternative form of therapeutic practise is only found in the Western world.

History of alternative medicine in Western culture

Western approaches to alternative medicine have more than 3,000 years of history behind them as systems of medicine based on natural philosophies that are rooted in all aspects of Western culture. This is a history of how Western natural philosophies developed over the ages.

European History

Throughout Western European history there were two major trends: the professionalism of physicians who belonged to the upper classes and the folk healers who lived among the peasant population. The professionals developed in order to enhance their status in life, while the folk healers developed out of the necessity to survive. Herbalism and the water cure, hydrotherapy, or naturopathy developed slowly over 2,000 years of history. Autocratic traditions developed over time that gave today's European physicians social status and acceptance.

The Greco-Roman Period

In Europe, interest in the hydrotherapy can be traced back to the ancient Roman spas and the hot mineral springs at Bath, England.

The Dark Ages

In Europe, the Church played a central role. At first, the Church suppressed all development. Later on, the Church supported the development of professional physicians. Eventually, the power of the Church literally exterminated much of the competition from folk healers during the witch-hunting period which spanned more than four centuries (from the 14th to the 17th century).

Healers throughout the medieval period could come in many varieties. Physicians who studied the works of the Greek masters at Universities, were the elite of the medical profession in the middle ages. However few people other than the well-off or the nobility had regular access to these. Folk Healers passed on their knowledge from master to apprentice, and were more accessible to the peasant or labourer than physicians. Unregulated, but knowledgeable on herbs and folk-remedies, they were gradually excluded from the medical system. Monastic Medicine monasteries played a big part in the provision of medieval medicine. Virtually every monastery had an infirmary for the monks or nuns, and this led to provision being made for the care of secular patients.

The 1200s

From the middle ages through the Reformation personal health in Europe was generally poor. It was a time of plague, pollution and quacksalver mercury poison.

The 1300s

The 1500s--the Renaissance

The 1600s--the Reformation

The 1700s--the Enlightenment

The Age of Heroic Medicine (1780-1850)

1st half of the 19th century--Age of Romanticism

A medical reform movement was started in Europe as a reaction against heroic medicine.

2nd half of the 19th century--The Birth of Modern Science

Germany became the world center of medical research, training, and pharmaceuticals drawing students from all over the world by the end of the 19th century.

Hygiene and public health became the central focus of emerging urbanization

The 20th century

In the first half of the 20th century a number of factors including internal conflict and the relative success of conventional medicine led to the decline of alternative medicine in the western world. In the second half Alternative medicine staged something of a recovery as conventional medicine failed to live up to the unrealistic expectations that many people had of it. This combine with the increasing cost of conventional medicine and greater awareness of alternative medicine brought alternative medicine to the position it now has.

American History

Western healing practices developed differently in the New World than they did in the Old World.

In Europe, physicians already had a centuries old monopoly over the right to treat patients. But in America, medical practice was literally open to anyone who called themselves a doctor.

The 1700s--the Colonies

The American public, newly liberated from England, was hostile to professionalism and foreign elitism of any kind. And, the educated physicians who emigrated to the New World from Europe were nothing more than Quacks practicing heroic medicine.

The Popular Health Movement (1830-1850)

In America, the Popular Health Movement played a central role in the development of alternative therapy practices. Herbalism, Homeopathy, Eclecticism and Natural Hygiene developed during the Health Reform Movement.

Only homeopathy, natural hygiene and eclecticism managed to last from the 1830s through the rest of the 19th century.

Antebellum America

Postbellum America

Progressive ERA of Health Care Reform (1890-1920)

Osteopathy, Chiropractic, and Naturopathy developed at the turn of the century.

The 20th century

The high-technology of medicine becomes firmly housed in the hospital. Hospitals are transformed from institutions designed for long-term care of the sick into facilities designed to test, treat and release patients as fast as possible.


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