Traditional medicine dates back thousands of years. It has benefitted and proven by our ancestors. Nowadays, it has been a significant option to those who cannot afford conventional medicine or those who live in far-flung areas and have no easy access to a hospital or health care center.
A paper on by the World Health Organization Western Pacific Region in the year 2000 defines traditional medicine “as the knowledge, skills and practice of holistic health care, recognized and accepted for its role in the maintenance of health and the treatment of diseases. It is based in indigenous theories, beliefs and experiences that are handed down from generation to generation. It is practiced in many countries, but it is not always included as part of the health system recognized by the government."
Today, we are reaping the rewards of our ancestors' passed on knowledge. In the Philippine experience, many do not just limit themselves to conventional medicine. Instead, they go alternative while others do both. Meanwhile, traditional medicine advocates continue to search, discover and develop ways to cure illnesses.
In an interview with Dr. Jaime Galvez-Tan, former Secretary of the Department of Health, a well-known and prominent expert on alternative medicine and now Head of the University of the Philippines-PGH Traditional and Integrative Medicine Clinic, shares some common alternative ways to relieve our illnesses and discomforts.
Therapeutic massage (Hilot)
“Hilot” is the cornerstone of Filipino traditional medicine. It integrates influences from Chinese, Indian, Persian, European and American therapeutic practices that have been handed down since pre-Hispanic times. Since it is the most popular healing practice in the Philippines, it is done in approximately 42,000 places in the country daily approximately one “manghihilot” practitioner for every barangay nationwide.
“Based on my research, “hilot” is more than 1,000 years already. Even before the Spaniards came, we were already practicing it. There are many therapeutic massages in other countries but I consider ours unique,” shares Dr. Galvez Tan.
While some people believe in its power to drive out spell and possessions from bad spirits, traditional medicine has been proven for the relief of minor discomforts of the veins, bones and muscles. It cures fever, sprains, muscle weakness, stress, body pains, dislocated uterus and many more. It uses home-made coconut oil infused with different herbs which is then massaged onto the patient’s affected body part.
This unique Filipino therapeutic massage also makes use of banana leaf. The home made coconut oil is spread on the leaf, then the leaf is heated on a candle and while it is hot, it is rubbed onto the aching muscles and other affected body parts.
Experts say the Pinoy therapeutic massage is a hit because there is no risk of overdose or side effects not to mention it does not cost much. In fact, other hilot practitioners just ask for a token, nominal amount for their services.
“Among the most common misconception of people about “hilot” is that they believe it cures all disease. It does not. Even North American, European and Chinese medicines don’t. There are many illnesses which still need medical doctors’ attention,” explains Dr. Galvez-Tan.
Hilot or Pinoy therapeutic massage has no side effect but how about those who commit mistakes? Dr. Galvez-Tan explains, “Those who are complained by patients or clients have poor training. Since people want for this popular way of healing, others grab the opportunity to call themselves manghihilot even if they are not yet full-fledged therapists. One needs to reach a certain level of education and training before they get a client.”
With the emergence Spa Centers, apart from European and Asian therapeutic massage therapies, some include “hilot” with their services. In other parts of the country, manghihilots even provide herbal medicines before or after the treatment as an added value. Even some schools offer therapeutic massage lessons. So those interested to make a living out of relieving the discomfort of others may want take a short course? They say it pays.
Indian Ayurvedic Medicine (Ayurveda)
Ayurveda has different ways of therapies.
• Pranayama uses breathing exercises;
• Abhyanga applies herbal oils for good blood circulation and for the removal of toxins in the body;
• Rasayana makes use mantras (repetitive words) and herbs while doing the meditation;
• Yoga promotes good blood circulation, digestion, lowers blood pressure and cholesterol level; and
• Pancha Karma helps cleanse the body of bad cholesterol.
“Ayurveda studies life – how to enhance and develop it. We are surrounded with many imbalances in our environment – our own emotion, the food we eat, relationship with the Supreme Being. That’s all part of it! Ayurveda has a very holistic approach,” stresses Dr. Galvez Tan. Most often than not, we all feel tired at the end of the day. Well, Dr. Galvez Tan said he’s not! He practices Pranayama every day. It energizes and gives him a good feeling. Here’s how to do it:
- Breath very slowly
- Fill your lungs with air until you feel the final very deep air sac are filled with air
- Stop for 1-2 seconds so that the oxygen flows though the blood
- Then exhale very, very, slowly with your eyes open
- You can do this 1 minute every hour of the day or twice a day – one in the morning and 1 at night -- for 20 minutes non-stop
Acupuncture comes from the Latin word “acus” which means needle and “pungere” or to prick. It is an alternative treatment that uses thin needles to be inserted or pierced in various parts of the body. This old Chinese technique is an effective treatment for body pains and for the relief of many illnesses -- headache due to migraine and tension, nausea, insomnia, stress, pulmonary concerns -- sinusitis, rhinitis, tonsilitis, cough, bronchitis and asthma, diarrhea, constipation, irregular menstruation, dysmenorrhea, premenstrual syndrome, hypertension, irregular heartbeat, obesity, diabetes, and yes even cancer!
The Chinese believe that cancer is a product of body’s imbalance that results to blockage in the blood vessels. Other oncologists admit that acupuncture helps in pain management of cancer and side effects of chemotherapy. “These needles awaken the sleeping blood vessels. It enlivens the body. Acupuncture has no side effect. It can even beat drugs as medication. The World Health Organization believes it can treat cancer,” says Dr. Galvez Tan.
This is getting interesting! Those who haven’t experienced acupuncture may be wondering how it feels to be lying on bed pierced with needles. Our host, Bernadette Sembrano-Aguinaldo, visited an acupuncture clinic and gave it a try. Let’s take a look!
Herbal medicine is defined as the use of natural herbs and plants for the treatment or prevention of diseases, disorders and for the promotion of good health. (Philippine Herbal Medicine)
“Herbal medicine has been practiced for more than a thousand years in the Philippines already. It won’t reach the present time if it were not effective. Medicinal herbs and plants have phytochemicals. Drug capsules and tablets have herbal component,” says Dr. Galvez Tan.
In fact, the number 1 cure for Malaria comes from medicinal herb, Quinine – a drug made from the bark of the Cinchona tree. These trees grow abundantly in Mindanao. “Quinine is the number 1 recommended drug for Malaria by the World Health Organization,” shares Dr. Galvez Tan.
Filipinos’ belief in medicinal plants and herbs are heavily influenced by Chinese medicine which has been in existence for 4000 years now. Knowledge of this famous healing alternative was passed on to us through word of mouth by our forefathers.
Today, there are around 1, 500 medicinal herbs being documented in the country. Ten of these are already approved by the Department of Health (DOH). Philippine Herbal Medicine enlisted the ten (10) medicinal plants endorsed by the DOH through its "Traditional Health Program". All ten (10) herbs have been thoroughly tested and have been clinically proven to have medicinal value in the relief and treatment of various ailments.
1. Akapulko (Cassia alata) - also known as "bayabas-bayabasan" and "ringworm bush" in English. This herbal medicine is used to treat ringworms and skin fungal infections.
2. Ampalaya (Momordica charantia) - known as "bitter gourd" or "bitter melon" in English, it most known as a treatment of diabetes (diabetes mellitus), for the non-insulin dependent patients.
3. Bawang (Allium sativum) - popularly known as "garlic", it mainly reduces cholesterol in the blood and as a result, helps control blood pressure.
4. Bayabas (Psidium guajava) - "guava" in English. It is primarily used as an antiseptic, to disinfect wounds. Also, it can be used as a mouth wash to treat tooth decay and gum infection.
5. Lagundi (Vitex negundo) - known in English as the "5-leaved chaste tree". It's main use is for the relief of coughs and asthma.
6. Niyog-niyogan (Quisqualis indica L.) - is a vine known as "Chinese honeysuckle". It is effective in the elimination of intestinal worms, particularly the Ascaris and Trichina. Only the dried matured seeds are medicinal. Crack and ingest the dried seeds two hours after eating (5 to 7 seeds for children & 8 to 10 seeds for adults). If one dose does not eliminate the worms, wait a week before repeating the dose.
7. Sambong (Blumea balsamifera) - English name: Blumea camphora. A diuretic that helps in the excretion of urinary stones. It can also be used as an edema.
8. Tsaang Gubat (Ehretia microphylla Lam.) - Prepared like tea, this herbal medicine is effective in treating intestinal motility and also used as a mouth wash since the leaves of this shrub has high fluoride content.
9. Ulasimang Bato | Pansit-Pansitan (Peperomia pellucida) - It is effective in fighting arthritis and gout. The leaves can be eaten fresh (about a cupful) as salad or like tea. For the decoction, boil a cup of clean chopped leaves in 2 cups of water. Boil for 15 to 20 minutes. Strain, let cool and drink a cup after meals (3 times day).
10. Yerba Buena (Clinopodium douglasii) - commonly known as Peppermint, this vine is used as an analgesic to relive body aches and pain. It can be taken internally as a decoction or externally by pounding the leaves and applied directly on the afflicted area.
Tips on Handling Medicinal Plants / Herbs:
• If possible, buy herbs that are grown organically - without pesticides.
• Medicinal parts of plants are best harvested on sunny mornings. Avoid picking leaves, fruits or nuts during and after heavy rainfall.
• Leaves, fruits, flowers or nuts must be mature before harvesting. Less medicinal substances are found on young parts.
• After harvesting, if drying is required, it is advisable to dry the plant parts either in the oven or air-dried on screens above ground and never on concrete floors.
• Store plant parts in sealed plastic bags or brown bottles in a cool dry place without sunlight preferably with a moisture absorbent material like charcoal. Leaves and other plant parts that are prepared properly, well-dried and stored can be used up to six months.
Tips on Preparation for Intake of Herbal Medicines:
• Use only half the dosage prescribed for fresh parts like leaves when using dried parts.
• Do not use stainless steel utensils when boiling decoctions. Only use earthen, enamelled, glass or similar utensils.
• As a rule of thumb, when boiling leaves and other plant parts, do not cover the pot, and boil in low flame.
• Decoctions loose potency after some time. Dispose of decoctions after one day. To keep fresh during the day, keep lukewarm in a flask or thermos.
• Always consult with a doctor if symptoms persist or if any sign of allergic reaction develops. (Philippine Herbal Medicine)