Scientific testing of traditional therapies

Another reason why there are so many therapies is that there is no scientific model for the way in which life energies work. Indeed, science has not yet found an instrument that can measure their effectiveness. An experiment performed in 1975 by two British researchers, Maxwell Cade and Geoffrey Blundell, which aimed to show the effect of the energies was the closest science has ever come to explaining the principle behind traditional medicine. Cade and Blundell designed a ‘Mind Mirror’ which showed the changes of the electrical signals from the left and right cortex of the brain under certain conditions. The effect of the placing of a healer’s hands on the patient resulted in a change of signal, and for the first time the importance of meditative techniques, such as the laying on of hands and silent prayer, were shown to affect the patient in a way that could be measured and repeated. Acupuncture is one of the most ancient forms of medicine dating back over thousands of years. Several hundred points, along what are known as meridian lines, have been mapped on the body. It is believed that each illness is characterized by the ‘disturbance’ of a particular combination of a number of these points. To remove the disturbance and therefore the illness the treatment involves inserting needles at these points to influence the flow of energy to various areas of the body.

Research into acupuncture has shown that it has a usefulness in pain control and this has been adopted in some Western hospitals. In China, needles inserted at the correct points are routinely used as a general anaesthetic. Because pain control constitutes but a tiny part of acupuncture therapy, a much wider-based programme of tests are needed to confirm what so many practitioners already appear to know. The real enigma is still homoeopathy and its cousins, Bach flower remedies and anthroposophical medicine. Research has been carried out on homoeopathic remedies but using investigative procedures -blind, and double-blind trials – that are normally associated with testing drugs for orthodox medicine. This requires that patients, in blind trials, and both patients and investigators in double-blind trials, are unaware of the type of treatment they are receiving or administering until after the end of the trials. The results from this type of research have been inconclusive. This, however, is not surprising because to con- sider a homoeopathic remedy as a drug and to test it in the same way is, some would say, doomed to failure.

The homoeopathic system of treatment, devised in the late 1700s, treats disorders by giving the sick person a small dose of one of various substances that, if given in a large dose to a healthy person-, would produce the symptoms of that disorder. The type of substance chosen depends on the patient’s physical and mental state as revealed by a preliminary examination. It is difficult to test the effectiveness of such remedies without considering the psychological aspects involved in their administration. The Bach flower remedies, for example, are prescribed as treatment for what Dr. Edward Bach (their inventor) believed to be the underlying cause of any physical disorder – a negative emotional state. He worked on the theory that if you attempt to eliminate a patient’s anxiety, depression, bitterness or resentment, the physical symptoms associated with the problem should disappear.

In the light of the above comments, what is needed is a dramatic and imaginative step forward in thinking on the part of science. One could pose the question whether these therapies would have endured over the centuries if they were totally without effect. Indeed, much of orthodox medicine is based on the same principles or ingredients as old herbal remedies but refined by the pharmaceutical industry. For example, the bark of the willow tree, once used as a mild painkiller, was found to contain salicylic acid, the starting material for making aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid). Aspirin is, however, now manufactured artificially. Research projects are now being undertaken that may show that traditional therapies are effective. The theraputic effects of light and sound, which are still not fully understood, and the reasons why the body becomes sensitive to certain products (allergic reaction) are areas deserving investigation. Cancer and other degenerative diseases will continue to be the subject of research that will examine the way in which the natural therapies can best be used. The future of health care is not likely to see dramatic and sudden changes but rather a gradual increase in the use of natural therapies when appropriate. As soon as more research is completed, the therapies may be considered not as alternatives to orthodox medicine, but rather as complementary, with one specific treatment being clearly shown as the most appropriate at any given time. The acquisition of skills designed to enhance health and improve the quality of life, methods of prevention of disease, the removal of stress and ways to maintain interpersonal relationships, are all provided for in traditional therapies. Their healing methods exist for anyone who wants to take responsibility for his or her own life. The only condition should be that they are used correctly and by a practitioner who is trained in the philosophy and technique.