Various traditional medicine ingredients

Alternative Medicine and Its Rise in Popularity in the U.S.

Alternative Medicine and Its Rise in Popularity in the U.S.

Various traditional medicine ingredients
credit: Johns Hopkins Medicine

As the warmer months creep forward and many look to improve their health, there has been a slow switch to natural practices across the United States.

For many decades, there has been a sort of understanding by many that to heal the human body, “modern medicine” is the way to go. However, after careful observation of various trends and tricks in the media, it seems individuals are looking to another form of healing: alternative medicine.

An occurrence causing the natural medicine boom as of late has been found in a certain exercise: pilates. A craze among those ranging from their teens to late 50s, Pilates is a holistic practice that improves the strength of the body, flexibility, and endurance. While doing such, this exercise works to bring self-awareness to the body and mind. Many have made the switch from other potentially harsh routines due to chronic pain or even simply a preference.

Although, yes, it is proven modern medicine is a wondrous gift to many in need, many have grown tired of medicinal drugs and pill use. Medical professionals’ observations have shown that many patients have increasingly become dissatisfied with “conventional care,” and look to non-obstructing practices to heal their mind, body, and spirit.


“Modern Medicine

According to IGI Global’s medical dictionary, modern medicine is “the most advanced, scientifically based, and statistically approved therapeutic system and diagnostic methodology.”  Also referred to as “Allopathic” or “western medicine” in some cases, the term was created more specifically in Western Europe. It is known by many professionals as a practice resulting in strictly evidence-based outcomes.

Inventions such as the x-ray, the cat scan, and even the scalpel, are known as medical marvels in the present day. Many look to modern medicine to solve issues of diverse types and forms. Whether it be in the form of a drug, surgery, or radiation, modern medicine has solved many-and-issues. 


The Modern Medicine Man

Hippocrates of Kos, Greek physician.
Credit to: HowStuffWorks

Pinpointing the exact time and place of modern medicine’s invention is nearly impossible. However, many give credit to the Greek physician Hippocrates of Kos. Given the title of the “Founding Father of Medicine,” Hippocrates paved the way for many modern practices and became known for setting the benchmark for what would be known as “mainstream medicine.” 

Although many of his innovations were basic in comparison to what we have in modern-day, it is stated many of his creations really began to take flight after the Industrial Revolution. During the 18th-century revolution, the average lifespan of a human being was the ripe age of 36 years old. However, due to the rapid economic increase in Western Europe, many individuals with medical interests, such as vaccine trailblazer, Edward Jenner, were beginning to explore research, observations, and science to counteract several centuries of unhealthy doubt. 


Pros and Cons

The core advantage of what’s known as modern medicine is the fact it has been scientifically researched, documented, and proven through intricate medical studies over many years. This, unlike alternative medicine, is why many choose to put their faith in something researched as opposed to something unknown to the public. Providing seemingly quick relief from symptoms of all sizes and forms, many individuals who can afford to do so rightfully trust modern medicine to help with their needs.

It is also well-documented that some medical issues can only be solved by modern medicine practices. Chemotherapy and radiation are some of the only known potential cures for cancerous diseases. Surgery and transplants can replace hearts, muscles, kidneys, etc. 

Although we as humans are all grateful for the modern inventions of medicinal practice, there can be some dauntingly dangerous qualities when dealing with them. A prime example is the fact that many medications can get recalled, something that could potentially harm or end an individual’s life. 

Not to mention the well-known concept of “side effects.”  Although many are familiar with this term, the Oxford Dictionary describes this as “a secondary, typically undesirable effect of a drug or medical treatment.” Ranging from the sniffles to (in some cases) death, many are wary of drugs prescribed to them by their primary care, no matter the benefits.

Another danger is the concept that medicine “focuses more on the cure rather than the prevention” of a disease. More specifically, medical professionals seem to focus on trying to cure someone’s chronic or terminal issues rather than find something to prevent others from getting them. Statistics show that focusing on prevention rather than a cure could save money over time.


What Is “Alternative Medicine”?

Alternative medicine
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The Oxford Dictionary describes this ancient form as “any of a range of medical therapies that are not regarded as orthodox by the medical profession.” Simply, this can refer to practices that don’t require a visit with your primary care physician, although many still discuss the switch with their doctor before doing so.

The term “alternative” is just one phrase used. This practice is also referred to as “integrative”, “oriental” or “complementary” medicine. (Ratini, 2021). It is hugely based on the concept that without doctoral drug interference, the body can naturally “balance itself out again” after help from natural practice, diet, herbs, and/or exercise.


The Origin

It is never certain when and where the exact first use of alternative medicine took place. However, the first recorded individual to do so dates back to over 5,000 years ago. The uncovering of natural and/or holistic medicine was credited to, once again, Hippocrates of Kos

Hippocrates, as mentioned above, was known to be the “Founding Father of Medicine.” Although he was known also as the innovator of modern medicine, the physician believed the key to human health was “the natural healing process of rest, a good diet, fresh air, and cleanliness.” (Pederson, 2018) and spent his career warning “modern” doctors against hindering the human body’s ability to heal on its own. This is a direct contrast to what MDs follow as guidelines in the present day.


Forms of Alternative Medicine

Participated in by millions all over the globe, alternative medicine can be found in many diverse practices. 

Person stretching
Image credit:

Traditional forms, such as acupuncture, in which a naturalist professional inserts “hair-like” needles into the body at various pressure points. It is an ancient oriental practice used in modern times all over the world. Other self-taught forms, such as meditation, Tai Chi, and yoga have risen in popularity over the years as well.

Then we have “new” forms studied most recently, found in self-expression such as art, dance, and poetry. Studies shown by Johns Hopkins Medicine have observed that participation in these forms has helped patients mentally for decades, even centuries!

A form of integrative medicine considered to be underrated by many is dietary and herbal practice. Sold in stores such as “Rebekkah’s Health,” or even in your local grocery stores, capsules, syrups, gummies, etc. are becoming increasingly available for the general public.

Over the years, a simple diet consisting of basic food groups such as meat and grain has been introduced to complex proteins and carbohydrates. Due to the potentially harmful nature of said complexities, many have decided to incorporate herbal and oil-based supplements into their diet. From elderberry syrups packed with antioxidants to ingesting 1-3 brazil nuts a day to improve heart health, the sky is the limit.


The Pandemic

Individuals working from home.
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I agree, this topic has been talked about so much it makes our heads spin. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a great boom in natural medicine and practices. When the globe shut down and everyone was confined to their homes, many new hobbies and routines resulted. Whether it was a new skincare routine, learning how to bake bread, etc., there was also a rise in at-home natural care.

Aside from workout channels where pilates and yoga became mainstream, there were also grand cures for COVID-19 symptoms. Recipes such as orange slices and cinnamon created quick help for deficits in senses such as taste or smell. Time spent on meditation and breathing techniques created an opportunity to heal the lungs.

The introduction of more downtime created benefits for one’s mental health as well. Time for family, for yourself. Time to sleep more than ever before, or to stay up all night binging your favorite TV show. The time to find passion again, whether it be an old friend or one undiscovered. To self-express through various art forms if you so please, just because there is time for it.

It was, and still is, a horrendous time in the world. However, it meant benefiting the collective mental health of those who made it through by creating a bit of self-discovery along the way.


The Pros 

The benefits of alternative medicine practices are long-standing and diverse in nature. The “core benefit” listed by many professionals lies in the concept of balance. Balance of the mind, body, and spirit is known to be the main goal of alternative medicine and is the prime reason many choose this practice. 

According to the Southeastern Spine Institute, which deals mainly with back pain and accompanying issues, alternative medicine is great practice, as it is a concept that firmly believes “the mind and body are interconnected.” (2022) Described by the institute as a practice in which your body “reharmonizes itself” on your own timeline, it is

A balances scale with rock and feather.
Credit to:

shown to be a gentler process on the human vessel, one which doesn’t include potentially annoying side-effects from modern drugs.

Mindfulness is another goal when participating in integrative medicine. Because there is a focus on the entire body, whether it be breathing patterns, posture, or even partaking in passions, many find that their mental awareness is improved when using natural effects. For centuries there have been many natural practices focusing on internal chakras, known as a system that “holds your body’s energy (or prana) and your actions can help keep it in balance.” (Shah, 2020) These can be improved through yoga, meditation, and even massage.

Lastly, a core benefit to alternative medicine is that of overall body health. The introduction of a natural (basic) diet can do such. As mentioned before, many look to herbal medicines, drinks, and supplements to help balance their body’s health. There are also several forms of physical activities to aid with physical strength, such as yoga, Tai Chi, and a recent form: pilates.


The Risks

Although there are few “cons” in regards to alternative medicine, there are always risks when turning away from modern medicinal practices.

Apparently, it is known that natural medicine is incapable of healing things in extreme nature and is most primarily used for “minor” medical difficulties. A prime example would be a broken bone. Although in many cases herbal supplements and exercise can give support in the healing process, there is a need for modern intervention to properly fix the issue. 

Surgeries are another process that needs modern obstruction to meet the end goal. Individuals with illnesses such as cancer or heart disease have been open to the idea of ancient medicine. However, it has never been known to completely heal these causes. Preventing radiation, chemotherapy, and other processes known to heal in most cases, to instead pave the way for natural medicine can cause more harm than help.

Considered less of a risk and more so a “con” is that of funds. Due to the fact that most insurance companies fail to cover natural medication needs, many have to pay for vitamins, supplements, herbs, or services via out-of-pocket costs. When comparing the costs of healthier alternatives to that of processed foods and prescribed drugs, it is shown that the alternatives cost a heap more. This makes it difficult for those with financial difficulties who wish to make a change in their everyday routine.


Conclusion: Why the Popularity?

Sillouette with heart in brain.
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So, what does this all mean? In regards to alternative medicine, individuals, young and old, are making small, yet mighty switches because of its gentler nature. This is considered to be a more viable option than “throwing a drug” at the problem. Taking breaks from strenuous work when their brain says stop, taking time for their passions, whether they lie in something or someone, even simply saying no when it’s right for you

Although there will always be beneficiary help and guidance in areas of modern medicine, the introduction of natural alternatives has taken the United States by storm. It seems alternative medicine has become as a standardized choice for many individuals. This is exactly why it’s being chosen: it gives an individual a choice to heal on their own terms. 


More articles on alternative medicine and practices:

A Brief Introduction to Traditional Chinese Medicine and Philosophies

Anthropology: Sociocultural Differences in Depression

Ancient Medicine: The Ancient World Influencing the Modern World

Anthropology: Alternative Foodways and Punk Cuisine Food Culture

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