Alternative Medicine – Avenue for Medical Tourism

The history of alternative medicine is a rather interesting one, and has its
origins in traditional methods of medicine. Alternative medicine has been
in existence since time immemorial. Being a primeval science, this medicinal
system has been known to man since the early days of his time on Earth. Using
natural ingredients to prevent and cure most illnesses has perhaps been man’s greatest foray into medical science. Traditional medical practitioners aimed at prevention of diseases associated with an increase in resistance of the human body. As an expert rightly pointed out, “The study of the history of alternative medicine is fascinating on a variety of levels, not just concerning other and often better ways of preserving and restoring health.”

Practised for thousands of years, alternative medicine includes systems like
Acupuncture, Ayurveda and traditional Asian medicine. Alternative medicine branches
out from the Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) treatments and
therapies. CAM is often combined with formal, conventional medicine, integrating
both medical practices, in order to give the best results to patients. It can be said that
the earlier methods of medicine were attempted at achieving a balance between bodily
and natural energy. Energies were sought as positive and negative energies, where
positive energies were to bring in happiness and health and negative energies an
incapacitation of resistance to face any ailments. Matters of utmost importance in
deciding therapies or treatments in these earlier medical systems were factors like
one’s lifestyle, one’s habits of eating and one’s occupational pressures.

The earliest use of traditional remedies dates back to 2800 BC in China.
Practised all over the world in more than a hundred disciplines, alternative medicine
has aided medical tourism in an unprecedented manner. Using alternative medicine
and following alternative medical practices not only removes any possible additional
affects of the illness but also increases the resilience of the body. It is generally
claimed that natural remedies are not only less inimical to human physiology
but they also help in retaining body pliancy. Systems of natural, traditional
medicines use a combination of ingredients to restore the bodily constituents. In
fact, natural remedies are considered more as food, given their natural constituents.
Since alternative medicine is based on completely natural methods and there is
no usage of any chemicals, there is no danger of any interference with the organic
system. A holistic approach as opposed to looking at a set of symptoms and a
treatment that delves into the root-cause of an illness are some of the distinct and
highly acknowledged features of alternative medicine. It is also opined that
widespread use of modern medicine has deteriorated the immune system in the
human physiology and has resulted in these modern medicines becoming less
effective. It is also often said that alternative medicine is the only way to cure
some incurable diseases.

A Brief History of Alternative Medicine

The history of alternative medicine can be traced back to some 5000 years, when the Chinese and Indians discovered traditional and Ayurvedic therapies to heal the body and the mind. The real objective was to identify the deterrents in the body system which caused ailments, and
strengthened the body’s immunity. The therapies mainly incorporated self-care, lifestyle
changes and various preventive measures. The normal practices that were followed in the early stages of the history of alternative medicine include the extractions of the bark of willow trees. Many kitchen ingredients were also used for treating patients. The treatments were considered as the blessings of God, as it brought immense relief to the writhing bodies and prayer was considered as one of the strongest weapons in waging war against ailments.
Source: “A Brief History of Alternative Medicine”,

Alternative Medicine and Medical Tourism

Today, alternative medicine holds out immense potential in attracting medical
tourists. For example, India is likely to become a major hub for medical tourism,
with revenues from the industry estimated to grow from US$333 million in 2007
to US$2.2 billion by 2012, says a study by the Confederation of Indian Industry
(CII) and McKinsey.3 The major competitive advantages that India faces are cost
effectiveness and traditional medical systems like Ayurveda and Naturopathy.
The world has witnessed the development of many traditional as well as modern
systems of medicine in the 20th century. Path-breaking discoveries like penicillin,
technological advancements in modern surgery, major research advancement in stem
cell research and genetic structure, and the development of traditional medical systems
like traditional Chinese system of medicine, Acupuncture, Osteopathy, Homeopathy,
Ayurveda, Yoga, Unani and others have all been a part of developments in the
omnipotent territory of global medicine. The major competitive advantages that India
has are cost effectiveness and traditional medical systems like Ayurveda and Naturopathy.
The last few years have seen countries with their own individual expertise attracting
tourists from all over the world and promoting medical tourism like never before.


In India, medical tourism in alternative medicine has its ancestry in South India
and some places in North-Eastern India. Internationally famed for its natural remedies and therapies, Kerala’s schools of medicine have embraced Siddha,
Naturopathy and Ayurveda in treating their patients. These traditional medical
practices are estimated to attract high-end medical tourists from Europe and
Middle Eastern countries. The vital advantages that a country like India faces
with regard to medical tourism are its traditional therapies like yoga and Ayurveda
combined with tourist attractions in states like Kerala and north-eastern states.
Naturopathy, a therapeutic system based on natural remedies, trusts natural
elements like air, water and sunlight, combined with therapeutic massages and
conditioning and toning of the human body. Naturopathy believes that the human
body has the capacity to heal on its own, provided it is in a healthy environment.
With a holistic approach to well-being, Naturopathy believes that the three
physical entities – the physical body, the supernatural soul and the mind – must
be integrated through natural energies. “A recent survey shows that 76% of global
drugs are consumed by USA and European countries. We believe that freedom
from diseases and drugs can only be achieved by living a natural life style.”4
Ayurveda, the most ancient health care system, takes its ingredients from nature.
The use of herbs, materials like gold and mercury and many household ingredients
make this science easily accessible to common man. Ayurveda claims to cure diseases
like diabetes with the aid of nature. The Siddha medical system, which is a part of
Ayurveda, employs herbs, minerals and advanced scientific techniques under ancient
principles of medical science to cure many chronic diseases. It is named as one of
the most complicated and intricate forms of medicine. Siddha considers nature
and man as one essential entity. It claims that physiological characteristics like
human aging can itself be arrested with natural remedies.

Naturopathy has evolved medical tourism in India in more than one ways.
With its systems of medication using all natural ingredients to restore the holistic
disease-fighting nature of the human body, the medicine has created increased
chances of its own survival through tourists from all parts of the world visiting
India to reap its benefits. As Vitthal Kamat of the Kamat Group of Hotels says,
“With Naturopathy and Ayurveda along with the world renowned tourist attractions
and heritage places, the tourism sector can grow in leaps and bounds.”5 Naturopathy
in “KayaKalp”, a naturopathy centre in Himachal Pradesh, run by the Vivekananda Medical Research Trust in India has served medical tourists in detoxifying, immunizing and rejuvenating through Yoga, Pranayama, Panchkarma, Meditation and Naturopathy. Its therapies are claimed to be drug-less and extremely natural. Naturopathy takes the help of Ayurvedic preparations for healing processes like Panchkarma and improvement of blood circulation.

India’s pioneer in alternative therapy – medical tourism, Kerala, has visitors
from all over the world in the months of June, July and August. These months are
looked upon as the best period for cure of bodily ailments through Ayurveda.
High quality medical facilities provided at low prices are the main tourist attraction
in Kerala. Mr. M Narayanan, head of Poovar Island Resort says that there are
tourists from countries like Australia, Europe and Germany. The packages offered
in these Ayurvedic spas include services like Ayurvedic oil massages, powder
massages, vegetarian diets, detoxification programs and a lifestyle change. In fact
it is little known that Ayurveda includes not just massages, but a whole gamut of
services like herbal and natural diet plans, natural healing therapies, and therefore
a full-fledged medical system.

Ayurveda Gram, a unique Ayurvedic Institution in Bangalore offers Ayurveda
in its wellness form to medical tourists. It offers services like Customized Yoga,
Pranayama, Meditation, and a vegetarian diet to boost metabolism. Its sprawling
campus full of medicinal herbs and natural surrounds helps in the processes of
cure for specific ailments like Arthiritis, Spondilytis, Cholesterol, Sinusitis, Peptic
Ulcer and Obesity. Other therapies by Ayurveda Gram include Stress Management
therapies, Panchkarma and rejuvenation therapies.

AYUSH, the department of Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha
and Homeopathy was formed under the Indian Medicine Central Council Act,
1970. One of the most recent awareness activities undertaken by AYUSH was a
health fair organized in parts of Hyderabad, Chennai, Indore and New Delhi.
AYUSH ensured that the major Ayurvedic, Unani and Siddha manufacturers in
India participated in this health fair.

Another famous Ayurvedic centre in India is the C V N Kalari Centre for
Ayurveda. Kalari is one of the approved Ayurvedic centres recognized by the
Kerala Tourism Department.6 Kalari has its customers from many foreign countries. The centre specializes in Marma Chikitsa (the application of pressure on specific
nerve points) and other special practices of healing. Having both therapeutic and
rejuvenative aspects in them, these specialized healing procedures take extensive help
of Ayurveda to treat the ailing.
Some Ayurvedic resorts have formulated Ayurvedic kitchens that help improve
the effectiveness of oil treatments. Diet regimens, detoxification programs and other
processes that give a glowing skin to the customer are very popular. Some of these
Ayurvedic resorts also arrange for cooking classes to help their customers acquire
and maintain the lifestyle that they are introduced to in these spas and resorts.
Ananda, an Ayurvedic Spa in the Himalayas is one of the most famous destination
resorts in India. It offers specialty Ayurvedic packages like Aroma therapy massages,
reflexology programs for rejuvenation, stress release programs, personalized Yoga
sessions, body composition analysis and weight reduction programs through Yoga
and Ayurveda. Ananda claims that its packages and therapies cure many ailments
like headaches, nausea, climatic disorders, facial paralysis, insomnia, asthma, neuralgia
and does general improvement of metabolism.


The 3000 year-old method of traditional medicine in China has gained popularity
as the world’s most popular medicine, being used by more than a quarter of the
world in treating even chronic diseases like cancer, AIDS, allergies and heart diseases.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) uses medicinal herbs, therapeutic exercises
and acupuncture to cure ailments. TCM diagnoses illnesses based on the five elements
theory and the yin-yang theory. The five elements theory base their evaluation on the
five elements – wood, fire, earth, metal and water to establish a connection between
human physiology and pathology and the natural environment.7 The movement of
these five elements constantly rules the functioning of the human body and thus
establishes the interdependence of both.

The yin-yang theory calls for comprehending the bright and dark sides of
the universe, in other words, the opposite properties of the universe.8 The relative
nature of yin and yang represents the interrelationship between substance and function. As traditional chinese medical practitioners say “Only with ample
substance can the human body function in a healthy way; and only when the
functional processes are in good condition, can the essential substances be
appropriately refreshed.”

Chinese herbal medicine is more known as Chinese materia medica. This includes
Chinese crude medicine, prepared drugs in pieces, traditional Chinese patented
medicines and simplified Chinese medicinal preparations. Chinese herbology, a major
aspect of TCM addresses the art of combining medicinal herbs.10 It visualizes the
entire human body’s balance of energies and spirit to treat a medical condition.
Herbs are combined into different potions of various characteristics for the sake of
different individuals being treated by TCM practitioners. Herbs like Astragalus,
Ginkgo, Ginger, Green Tea, Siberian Ginseng and Garlic are used to treat several
ailments. Around 300 mineral and animal extracts and 400 formulae are used to
cure diseases, in Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Acupuncture, as part of TCM is used to unblock the flow of vital energy through
the human body.11 One of the oldest healing techniques in the world, this traditional
method aims at “restoring health through simulation of specific points on the body.”12
Ailments like nausea, addictions and some kinds of pains are claimed to be treated
with the help of acupuncture.

Taking advantage of its abundant human resources, China is luring medical tourists
into its web of alternative medical therapies. Wellness packages in China come at
low costs and without any side-effects, thanks to proliferated Traditional Chinese
Medicine. Several massages and spas have been set up in recent times that provide
mental health and physical well-being to medical tourists with the help of Chinese
medicinal herbs. Wellness apartments are established for the purpose of serving
senior medical tourists. These wellness apartments facilitate these tourists in
practising their own hobbies and also conducting medical activities like Taiji.


Germany’s alternative medical practices have their origins in Homeopathy, a
medical system that was developed by Samuel Hahnemann, a German physician.
Homeopathy considers symptoms as disturbances of vital forces that have
connection with the human body. Homeopathic advocators believe that this
medical system has the ability to cure acute diseases like flu, cold, pains, depression
and fatigue, constipation, irritability other than chronic diseases. It is claimed to
cure allergies and allergic disorders like Eczema and Asthma. Moreover, this
medical system is child friendly, in the sense, that the medication given by
homeopaths is sweet to the tooth and therefore acceptable. Homeopaths are known
for debonair and their hands free treatment of patients. They concentrate more
on the patient’s state of mind and attitude towards life. The preparation of different
potions in Homeopathy is done mostly with the help of herbs, minerals and
animal extracts. Also, it is often reasoned that since the dosage that homeopaths
prescribe is in such minute constitutions and because they come in dilutions of
substances like water and alcohol there is no chance of any side-effects.
Germany also stands famous for its herbal remedies. Regulated by Commission
E14 on the purity and pharmaceutical activity, these herbal medicines in Germany
have come a long way in preventing and curing many diseases like cancer, AIDS and
other serious ailments. Most physicians in Germany are required to be educated in
Alternative therapies, so that it serves complimentary to modern medical treatments.
As Mark Blumenthal, chairman of the American Botanical Council points out, “Most
of the clinical research that’s conducted on the leading herbal medicines in the United
States comes from Germany.”15

With more than 300 spa towns, Germany has become the premier destination
for health and wellness in Europe.16 One of the most famous resorts in Germany
is the Baltic Spa Resort in Warnemunde. Situated on the shore of the Baltic Sea,
it idealizes the sea as a “homeopathic pharmacy” and claims that “it contains all
important trace elements and has a similar composition to human blood”17 Sea water is said to have revitalizing effects in treating bodily ailments like respiratory
illnesses, sleep disorders and obesity. Other than these, mental disorders like
depression, anxiety and agony are claimed to be cured with the help of the sea.
Sea breeze is said to be specifically effective in treating cardio-vascular as well as
dermatological conditions. Major advantages that Germany faces are in terms of
both cost and quality. As Axel Steller, the CEO of the Arab German Health
Foundation points out, “In the US, operations are four to five times more expensive
as they are in Germany”.


Japanese medicine is known as Kanpo or Kampo, a herbal medicine that forms part
of well-researched modern clinical methods and also traditional methods of
medicine. A Japanese variant of the traditional Chinese medicine or the Oriental
medicine, Kanpo adheres to the body’s natural instincts and natural mechanism
of healing. For this purpose, medical treatment involves diagnosis of the tongue,
abdomen and pulse. At each stage of the treatment, different formulae that are
necessary to bring the body back to normalcy, are prepared by the physician.
These herbal medicines are regulated by the Japanese Government. Kanpo
medicine is used to cure many acute and chronic ailments like cardio-vascular,
respiratory, digestive, reproductive and dermatological conditions and immune
system corrections and even disorders like bedwetting, high cholesterol and
hepatitis. Though Kanpo therapies take longer than usual to work, this medical
system uses some very natural diagnosis and treatment methods and concepts
like water, blood and air to identify bodily symptoms. Also, it is claimed that
these herbal medicines produce no side-effects because of their natural
compositions. Japanese therapists of Anma visit countries like India and Singapore
to help in promotion of health tourism. Anma, a traditional Japanese massage, is
said to be a complete form of Shiastu19 that treats the body to release blood flow
in a proper manner to rejuvenate the body.

Apart from attracting tourists for its natural herbal medical treatments, Medical
tourism in Japan has become popular thanks to its volcanic areas that have allowed
the formation of some hot mineral water springs called Onsen. Japanese Onsen serve as places where the ailing can get alternative treatments to modern medical
practices. These have medicinal properties that heal wounds, alleviate pains and
replenish energy levels. Senior tourists and people suffering from many kinds of
aches and pains come flocking to these mineral water springs. The healing
properties of these springs are accentuated by the surrounding volcanic soil that
is composed of many minerals and curative elements.

Outlook of Medical Tourism in Alternative Medicine

Alternative medicine is here to stay, claim some traditional medical practitioners.
Given its perceived advantages over the modern medical techniques and the expensive
western medicines, alternative medical therapy is gaining ground in many developing
as well as developed countries. Practices like Ayurveda and Homeopathy claim that
surgery may always be the last option in case of treatment of an ailment. Natural
medicines like herbs and minerals can all be partaken as food and not medicines as
such, since their composition is all natural. Alternative medicine is used in conjunction
with modern medicine to treat many chronic ailments like diabetes and AIDS. This
helps modern medical practitioners to evolve a closer relationship with the patient
and cure him to a greater extent, thus giving him a new perspective to life. It follows
that one should never overlook the disposition of the traditional cures suggested by
our ancestors. These provide a standpoint from where one can comprehend the
profundity of traditional and alternative medicine, and gauge the tremendous potential
of alternative medicine in medical tourism.

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2. “Kerala”,
3. “Prospects of Medical Tourism in India”,
4. “Medical Tourism push for Penang and Langkawi”,

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