The benefits of alternative medicine
By Carly Sitzer
When I’m sick, you’ll hear very little talk of aspirin or antibiotics in my house. Instead, there’s one remedy, no matter what the ailment is: chicken noodle soup. My grandma’s soup, which no one can seem to duplicate—although many have tried and failed—has the perfect balance of spices and simplicity. The soft, spiral noodles soak up the flavor of the broth, which is enhanced by the small pieces of chicken. All I have to do is smell the soup when my grandma walks in the door and I’m immediately feeling better.
“I swear by it,” my grandmother said of her famous soup. “It makes everyone feel better, even if they aren’t sick!”
Research done at the University of Nebraska Medical center has found that it’s more than the love my grandma puts into her soup that makes me feel better—chicken soup is actually beneficial to the sick and helps the body fight the common cold. Chicken soup prohibits the movement of neutrophils released by viral infections, which are white blood cells that eat the bad bacteria. The movement of neutrophils to different areas of the body, such as the bronchial tubes, stimulates the release of mucous and causes congestion. Additionally, the hot soup can act as an anti-inflammatory that helps fight a sore throat, the flu or the common cold. While the biological benefits of chicken soup have been proven by research, work is still being done on whether an apple a day keeps the doctor away or if going out with your wet hair will make you catch pneumonia.
Although chicken soup may seem like a silly alternative to traditional medication, there are many things sick people can do today other than stop by the pharmacy. One popular alternative is herbalism, also known as herbology, which is defined as the use of plants for medicinal purposes. While it may sound like something from the world of Harry Potter, herbology has a huge presence beyond Hogwart’s classes with Professor Sprout—and you don’t even have to worry about the screaming Mandrakes!
The study of herbs and their use as medicine dates back further than recorded history. Herbalism crosses many cultures, and there is evidence of the medicinal use of plants by the ancient Chinese, Greeks and Romans. It’s widely believed that modern, chemical-medicinal practices are rooted in herbalism; additionally, there are still many people who use herbal medication today. The modern practices of herbalism have come a long way since Pliny was creating and prescribing concoctions to ancient Greeks.
According to research from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 38 percent of American adults use some kind of complementary or alternative medication regularly.
One of the appeals of herbal medication—according to CoreyPine Shane, a clinical herbalist and a ’92 alum of Ithaca College—are the long term effects herbs offer that mainstream, modern medicine does not. While he appreciates the immediate effects of conventional medicine, it’s the continuing effects that make herbal medicine an ideal choice.
“For example, arthritis. Modern medicine can give an anti-inflammatory and keep giving the anti-inflammatory to help reduce the pain, but it won’t do anything to really bring about a cure for the disease,” Shane said. “We have herbs that can help, for example, to increase circulation in the joints and therefore bring blood and nutrients in and take waste products out. So after taking herbs for a while, people would actually feel better rather than just the immediate reduction of pain. In other words, the joint will actually be healthier, rather than just temporarily not having as much pain.”
Shane first got into the field of herbology while attending Ithaca College, when he met with local herbalist 7Song, the director of the Ithaca’s Northeast School of Botanical Medicine. Shane now runs his own school, the Blue Ridge School of Herbal Medicine in Weaverville, N.C.
Allison Lopatkin, a freshman at the University of Rochester, sees both an herbalist and an acupuncturist for medical consultations. She has had several experiences where conventional remedies failed, but herbal medicines were able to provide solutions.
“In my experience, there are some cases where modern medicine can only do so much, and the only treatments that have actually worked are alternative herbal remedies with things such as pain and immune system response,” Lopatkin said. “Traditional medicine has countless strong chemicals and unknown interactions both with other medicines and the body. I feel much more comfortable relying on natural remedies that have been around for thousands of years.”
Of course, professional herbalists like Shane agree that even with the benefits of herbal medicine, modern medicine still has an important place in the medical world. “Conventional medicine does a great job at some stuff; if someone has appendicitis, a kidney infection—I’m not going to treat it with herbs,” he said.
“It’s unfortunate that alternative medicines aren’t recognized as legitimate treatments because they are much safer, more natural,” Lopatkin said.
In any case, in a world where chicken soup has been proven—by scientists and grandmothers—to have health benefits, it’s important to keep an open mind when it comes to medicinal strategies.
Carly Sitzer is a freshman journalism major who eats an apple a day. With peanut butter. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.