Daily Bulletin

The Conversation

  • Written by Josephine Agu, PhD candidate, University of Technology Sydney

This article is the fifth part in a series, Where culture meets health.

Many people seek complementary treatments for various ailments. Perhaps herbal remedies to cure a cold, or acupuncture to ease lower back pain.

“Complementary medicine” refers to practices outside Western medicine, adopted from other cultures, and often used in high-income countries.

But “traditional medicine” covers a range of practices and therapies indigenous to their practising population. Based on historical and cultural foundations, it operates outside of mainstream health care.

So for example, traditional Chinese medicine is indigenous to the Chinese and is therefore classified as a traditional medicine. But when it’s used by non-Chinese ethnicities, we’d call it a complementary medicine.

Read more: Nearly 1 in 4 of us aren't native English speakers. In a health-care setting, interpreters are essential

While many people use complementary medicines, traditional medicines form a particularly important influence on the way migrants look after their health.

This can present a challenge in the delivery of Western medical care to diverse communities in their destination countries.

But even where there’s little consensus around their efficacy, as we strive to achieve better health outcomes for culturally and linguistically diverse people, we must recognise traditional and complementary medicines as an essential component of their health care.

A holistic approach

Traditional and complementary medicines used among culturally and linguistically diverse populations include herbal medicine, acupuncture, massage, traditional Chinese medicine, yoga, ayurveda, homeopathy, and tai chi. Different modalities are favoured in different communities.

Ayurveda is more than 5,000 years old and native to India. It combines lifestyle, diet, exercise and predominantly plant products as treatment options. Translating to “life science”, it aims to cleanse a person of disease-causing substances and restore balance in the body.

Ayurvedic practitioners believe this approach is effective in managing a number of acute and chronic conditions including diabetes, cancer, anxiety and rheumatoid arthritis.

Read more: Does traditional Chinese medicine have a place in the health system?

While some studies point to its efficacy – one found ayurvedic formulations were comparable to conventional medicines such as glucosamine to treat knee osteoarthritis – varied results and limited study designs make it difficult to draw firm conclusions.

Meanwhile, traditional Chinese medicine has evolved since it was first used more than 2,000 years ago. But it remains grounded in its aim to treat the whole body, rather than targeting the problem alone.

Traditional medicines must be integrated into health care for culturally diverse groups Traditional remedies often accompany migrants to their destination countries. From shutterstock.com

Encompassing practices including tai chi, acupuncture, and a variety of herbal remedies, Chinese medicine is today used to prevent and treat many conditions.

Patients with knee osteoarthritis who practised tai chi recorded significant improvements, while there have been positive results for acupuncture in relieving lower back pain and nausea associated with chemotherapy.

Traditional Chinese medicine has also been used for the prevention of heart disease and stroke, and to improve quality of life for people with chronic heart failure.

A recent review found certain Chinese medicines may control some risk factors for heart disease, like diabetes and high blood pressure. But several studies were limited by small sample sizes and flawed research designs.

Read more: Do you know what's in the herbal medicine you're taking?

Herbal remedies from Chinese medicine and beyond are employed to treat a range of conditions. St John’s wort has been used to treat mild depression, Ginkgo Biloba for memory loss, and ginseng for musculoskeletal conditions.

Despite some promising results, a substantial gap still exists between the strength of evidence supporting many of these practices and consumers’ use and acceptance of traditional and complementary medicines.

If the evidence is limited, why should we pay attention?

Some migrant communities experience poorer health than their host populations. For example, the rates of type 2 diabetes are higher among migrants than in the wider Australian population.

It’s important to recognise that for minority groups, feeling as though a doctor doesn’t understand their cultural needs can be a barrier to help-seeking.

For instance, if a person doesn’t believe their doctor will approve of their use of traditional medicines, they may not disclose it. We know non-disclosure of traditional and complementary medicine use is common among culturally diverse groups.

This can be dangerous, as some traditional and complementary medicines can negatively interact with other drugs.

Read more: Going to the naturopath or a yoga class? Your private health won't cover it

Where patients feel their practitioners are non-judgemental or even accepting of their traditional medicine use, they are more likely to disclose it.

So medical providers may benefit from education around different types of traditional and complementary medicines, including culturally sensitive methods to enquire about their use.

Traditional medicines must be integrated into health care for culturally diverse groups Acupuncture, a popular complementary therapy, has its roots in Chinese medicine. From shutterstock.com

What does Australia need to do?

The most mature integrative health care systems are evident in Asia. Countries like South Korea and India have regulated traditional and complementary medicines into their national health policies.

To effectively tackle health inequities, our health systems need to consider and address the impact of cultural influences on patients’ health-care decisions. This is vital even when the treatments they value may not be grounded in evidence.

Investigating and considering these practices will ultimately help us to design and facilitate safe, effective, culturally sensitive and coordinated care for all patients and communities across Australia.

Professor Jon Adams contributed to this article.

Authors: Josephine Agu, PhD candidate, University of Technology Sydney

Read more http://theconversation.com/traditional-medicines-must-be-integrated-into-health-care-for-culturally-diverse-groups-114980

Writers Wanted

Israel-Palestinian violence: why East Jerusalem has become a flashpoint in a decades-old conflict


How much can I spend on my home renovation? A personal finance expert explains


4 Top Reasons to Install Range Hoods


The Conversation


Prime Minister interview with Karl Stefanovic and Allison Langdon

Karl Stefanovic: PM, good morning to you. Do you have blood on your hands?   PRIME MINISTER: No, it's obviously absurd. What we're doing here is we've got a temporary pause in place because we'v...

Karl Stefanovic and Allison Langdon - avatar Karl Stefanovic and Allison Langdon

Prime Minister Scott Morrison delivered Keynote Address at AFR Business Summit

Well, thank you all for the opportunity to come and be with you here today. Can I also acknowledge the Gadigal people, the Eora Nation, the elders past and present and future. Can I also acknowled...

Scott Morrison - avatar Scott Morrison

Morrison Government commits record $9B to social security safety net

The Morrison Government is enhancing our social security safety net by increasing support for unemployed Australians while strengthening their obligations to search for work.   From March the ...

Scott Morrison - avatar Scott Morrison

Business News

The Age Of Advertising: The Importance of Online Business Advertisements

The language of advertising had long grown since its modern beginning in the 15th century when printing was all the jazz. Nowadays, it continues to flourish and adapt as new mediums are created, a...

NewsCo - avatar NewsCo

What is Hampering Your Good Sleep? 7 Things to Check

A good sleep is the pillar of a healthy body and a strong mind. Countless studies have proven how a good night’s sleep goes hand in hand with good health and a productive day ahead. Sleep has an i...

NewsCo - avatar NewsCo

Perks of Acquiring an Established Business

There is a growing trend of buying well-established businesses in Australia. It seems like budding entrepreneurs are finally understanding the perks of buying an established firm as opposed to start...

NewsCo - avatar NewsCo