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Alternative Medicine & The Power of Names

If you can name something, you control its meaning

We often overlook the power of names and how they influence our very thoughts and feelings. This is why different cultures have differing names for same things, often hinting at their history or highlighting certain characteristics most important to them. Through Etymology, we can see the history and evolution of a name over the years.

Are new names, once chosen democratically through the public forum, now chosen and defined by dictionaries and encyclopaedias?

Fountain Pen close-up

Great and terrible deeds can be done and undone with the stroke of a pen. What are now Native Americans were once Savages, what was once a Rebellion becomes a Liberation, and what was once Medicine becomes Alternative. While many changes certainly happen organically, I suggest there are often deliberate attempts to influence public opinion and perception. Perhaps a desire to undermine the Medicines we have used for thousands of years in light of a new, highly profitable version...


In this article


What is Alternative Medicine?

Let’s start by asking the encyclopaedia of our current reality, Wikipedia, about Alternative Medicine.

wiki alternative medicine definition

As you can see, Alternative Medicine is the name given to the types of medicine used by humanity for 99.97% of its existence, Alternative… sure. As I said, there’s power in a name, so I’m going to stop calling it Alternative Medicine and refer to them as Natural Medicines from here on in. For the sake of clarity, I’ll also refer to the new pharmaceutical-based type of medicine as Modern Medicine.

I also don’t mean to pick on everyone’s favourite villainous source in Wikipedia, but I find the sentiments expressed here are echoed by most people I talk to about Natural Medicines; so, I feel they should really be addressed.

Humanity is Awesome

I would like to suggest we begin by taking hubris out of the question and stop assuming that humanity, as an entire species, for hundreds of thousands of years, failed to notice or even care whether their chosen healing methods were safe or effective. This kind of talk only furthers the god complex unflatteringly attributed to modern doctors, and belittles the abilities and achievements of our ancestors.

ancient healing nonsense cartoon

It makes it sound like we arrived at the 20th century through sheer dumb luck. Forget what you thought of human achievement, trial and error, adaptation, intuitive learning, and advanced development unique to our species.

The Birth of Modern Medicine

In the early 20th Century, John D. Rockefeller simultaneously attacked Natural Medicines and created modern pharmaceutical-based medicine as we know it today. Natural medicines were now expected to satisfy the criteria of the newly created system (the scientific method) in order to prove their efficacy and, unsurprisingly, they’re shown to be ‘lacking testability, repeatability, and effectiveness’.

The Age of Tests

Tests seem to be often misunderstood and underestimated in equal measure. When you run a test, you’re limited by what the test can show and you’ll only ever find what you’re testing for. A lot of us have this concept of simple lab tests or a single machine being able to determine everything under the sun. We tend to think of science as unerring and capable of pinpoint accuracy, which it may very well be some of the time, but certainly not all of the time.

In using tests designed for an entirely different field of medicine and applying modern testing methods to Natural Medicines, it seems rather like setting them up to fail. A great deal of harm can be done through a poorly designed test and so very much can be achieved with a cleverly designed one!

incompatible testing methods

There’s also the giant repeatability elephant in the room of Modern Medicine, as scientists are unable to recreate the results of studies in the majority of cases, thus making a mockery of the scientific method. Furthermore, these non-replicable studies are cited more frequently, leading to even more bad science down the line. So much for repeatability, scientific methods, and evidence-based medicine.

Obligatory Disclaimer Time

I'm not a doctor, this is not medical advice, and I must say I’m not 100% against Modern Medicine; I absolutely see its value. If I break my leg, I don’t want to see an acupuncturist. If I get a piece of glass in my eye, then I’m going to a hospital and not the local shaman. I see it as reactionary only, wildly effective at dealing with acute, traumatic injuries and illnesses. Modern medicine is great at keeping you from death’s door and it’s just as good at keeping you profitably close to it. Robert Mendelsohn sums it up pretty nicely.

robert mendelsohn quote

Alternative Names

Alternative Medicines also go by other names, such as Complimentary and Unconventional, implying they’re either secondary or unusual. This is, unfortunately, the truth of the matter as it currently stands. Organisations like Wikipedia wilfully disseminate sub-standard information on Natural Medicines, and both national and global bodies continue to impose ever-tighter restrictions and regulations. Thankfully, this is not always the case, with some countries coming to recognise the value these ‘alternative’ medicines offer.

A Return to Natural Ways

This is reflected by the growing number of people turning to Natural Medicines for treatment, many of them having been failed by the modern medical establishment and now seek a solution elsewhere. It’s not hard to see why - over the past 100 years, we’ve invested trillions in research, alongside major advances in technology, science, and Pharmaceutical Medicine, only to watch a constant and worsening increase in cancers, cardiovascular disease, neurological disease, autoimmune disease etc.

risk worse than cure

It's no wonder people are becoming disillusioned with the pill-for-everything culture of Modern Medicine and seek a more wholistic approach. We harnessed nature by isolating ‘active’ compounds, which we’ve then used to create the vast majority of our drugs, but we’ve failed to notice what is lost in the isolation process. Now we’ve finally advanced to the level of our ancestors and are slowly adopting a systems approach to our work, daily life, and our health.

Nature Knows Best

With not a day going by without a new deadly disease spreading through the media, you could be forgiven for thinking it’s a miracle we’re all still alive and still somehow growing in number.

flowers thriving

One thing is for sure - Nature hasn’t been deceived by the Alternative name, with the same natural remedies continuing to work as well now as they did 10,000 years ago. What nature does seem to find Unconventional is the Pharmaceutical Medicine alternatives, which it promptly responds to by adapting and developing resistances. We’re seeing the same happen with our bodies - the more we try to ‘hack’ them, the more we seemingly suffer from autoimmune diseases; our natural bodies appear to be rejecting our attempts to artificially influence them.

There’s much insistence these days of being progressive and forward-thinking, and this can be highly transformative, or unintentionally limiting. To be where we are now, we stand on the shoulders of giants, not idiots. History must be learned from, not just so we don’t repeat the same mistakes, but to grant us the option of repeating what worked before.

The power of names has tarnished our perception of History and Tradition. The way forward is not always clear, and sometimes we must go back in order to make progress.

Michael Jackson Stage Moonwalk




8 Frequently Asked Questions

1. What are the best Alternative Medicines?

This depends on what type of treatment you require. In general, I would say food is the best Alternative Medicine, as silly as that may sound. The sooner we realise the potential in what, why, and how we consume, the sooner we

2. What does CAM stand for?

Complimentary & Alternative Medicine. Find out more about these types of medicines on the Natural Healing page

3. Are Alternative Medicines safe?

There are simply too many to answer this with a simple yes or no. It could be argued they are generally safer than Modern Medicines and their laundry lists of side-effects. It really is a case-by-case basis, however, and due diligence and personal research is always advised

4. Why do people use Alternative Medicines?

They are often disillusioned with Modern Medicine and seek more natural and holistic alternatives. People may believe Alternative Medicines, having been practiced for thousands of years, have something to offer them. Alternative Medicines are often viewed as safer and more natural options, as opposed to the harsh nature of Modern drugs and chemical cocktails

5.  Is Alternative Medicine effective?

This depends entirely on the type of medicine and the situation. Someone without asthma wouldn't benefit from an inhaler, but does that mean the inhaler isn't effective? An effective practitioner of Alternative Medicine will find the most effective treatment for the specific person and circumstance

6. Do doctors use Alternative Medicines?

Less so in the West than the East, but there is an increase in doctors prescribing what are considered to be Alternative Medicines. Some of the more common include accupuncture and thermal baths

7. What are the benefits of Alternative Medicines?

Improved health and lower risks of side-effects. To find out more, visit the natural healing page or the holistic healing advice page

8. Examples of Alternative Medicines?

Reiki, Herbalism, Ayurveda and TCM, there are many types from all over the world using different methods. Find out more by visiting the Natural Healing page

Adam Pike - Holistic Healer

Looking for nutrition and dietary advice?

Get in touch with Adam Pike

Holistic Healer & Health Consultant | Director of Spiritual England


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