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Alternative Medicine through the Ages

Old and New Alternative medicine
Old and New
Alternative medicine
Originally published 8 July 2003

When was the last time that you went to the doctor's?

If you’re anything like me, then you don’t even consider going unless things get really bad. I will try almost any substitute, teas, herbal supplements, relaxation, aromatherapy, acupuncture, hypnotism you name it… I’m not advocating this as a general policy - but it seems that I am not alone.

According to the World Health Organisation, (WHO), usage, production and sales of Complementary or Alternative Medicine (CAM) and therapy are rising steadily worldwide.

Traditional, or CAM, treatments are defined by WHO as:

“health practices, approaches, knowledge and beliefs incorporating plant, animal and mineral based medicines, spiritual therapies, manual techniques and exercises, applied singularly or in combination to treat, diagnose and prevent illnesses or maintain well-being.”

Recent academic research seems to show that the increase in popularity of traditional and CAM treatments is accompanied by an increase in alternative spirituality.

Professor Paul Heelas, professor of religious studies at Lancaster University, has stated that a “spiritual revolution” is on the way.

Marion Bowman, senior lecturer in religious studies at the OU and organiser of the Alternative Spiritualities and New Age Studies (ASANAS) conference, explains:

“Big business is buying into the new-age approach, which is part of a subtle process whereby ideas lose their strangeness and move from flakiness to familiarity.”

But is this really a new phenomenen? The Centre for the History of Medicine has recently been awarded a £600,000 grant by the Wellcome Trust to study the Cultures and Practices of Health. The research will concentrate on the history of alternatives to formal medicine.

Dr Hilary Marland, from the Department of History, explained “This award will enable us to focus on the relationship and boundaries between so called ‘quacks’ and formal practitioners.”

What do you think – does alternative medicine provide a useful complement to formal treatment? Or is it new age nonsense?

Have your say on the insite news discussion forum at

£600,000 Award to Research Quacks and the History of ‘Alternative Therapies’ – Press Release