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The History Of Alternative Medicine In America


Book Review

One clue might be that alternative medicine has always been very popular in the United States. Although many aspects may appear to be of recent vintage, the truth of the matter is that there is very little that doesnt have old roots. This background of alternative medicine, and especially its rocky relationship with orthodox, mainstream medicine, is the topic of the book Nature Cures by James C. Whorton, Professor of the History of Medicine in the University of Washington School of Medicine.

One factor in the popularity of alternative medicine may be found in its very religious nature. There are a number of characteristics of just about all forms of alternative medicine which are similar to those found in most religions:

    The importance of this philosophical foundation shared by all systems of alternative medicine can hardly be overstated. When the leaders of naturopathy today aver that their medicine is more than simply a health care system; it is a way of life, they are stating that they think of human beings, their relation to the environment, and their responses to environment and therapy in fundamentally different ways than mainstream physicians do.

    Nature has been worshipped not just as the strongest therapy but also as the most effective prevention. Indeed, all alternative systems have subscribed to the philosophy that natural physiological integrity, maintained through proper diet, adequate rest, and other correct habits of life, is the only sure resistance to disease agents. This position was advanced with particular ardor in the late nineteenth century, in response to [mainstream doctors] emphasis on microoganisms as the cause of most illness. In the terse summation of a physio-medical doctor, the best antiseptic was not the chemical drugs prescribed so exuberantly by MDs but vital force.

    Identification of the bodys resisting power as vital force points to another essential component of [alternative medicine]: vitalism, or the belief that the human body is activated and directed by a life force that is unique to living organisms and that transcends the laws of physics and chemistry used to account for the phenomena of the inorganic world. has been embraced as a repudiation of the trend within orthodox medicine to reduce the body to physical and chemical mechanisms.

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Tags: America, medicine, History, Alternative, scientific