Legal Status of Traditional Medicine and Complementary/Alternative Medicine: A Worldwide Review
(2001; 200 pages) View the PDF document
Table of Contents
View the documentAcknowledgements
View the documentForeword
Close this folderIntroduction
View the documentTerminology
View the documentWidespread systems of traditional and complementary/alternative medicine
View the documentThe situation in the use of traditional and complementary/alternative medicine
Open this folder and view contentsAfrica
Open this folder and view contentsThe Americas
Open this folder and view contentsEastern Mediterranean
Open this folder and view contentsEurope
Open this folder and view contentsSouth-East Asia
Open this folder and view contentsWestern Pacific
View the documentReferences
Open this folder and view contentsAnnex I. The European Union

Widespread systems of traditional and complementary/alternative medicine


Ayurveda originated in the 10th century BC, but its current form took shape between the 5th century BC and the 5th century AD. In Sanskrit, ayurveda means "science of life". Ayurvedic philosophy is attached to sacred texts, the Vedas, and based on the theory of Panchmahabhutas - all objects and living bodies are composed of the five basic elements: earth, water, fire, air, and sky (2). Similarly, there is a fundamental harmony between the environment and individuals, which is perceived as a macrocosm and microcosm relationship. As such, acting on one influences the other. Ayurveda is not only a system of medicine, but also a way of living. It is used to both prevent and cure diseases. Ayurvedic medicine includes herbal medicines and medicinal baths. It is widely practised in South Asia, especially in Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.

Chinese traditional medicine

The earliest records of traditional Chinese medicine date back to the 8th century BC (3). Diagnosis and treatment are based on a holistic view of the patient and the patient's symptoms, expressed in terms of the balance of yin and yang. Yin represents the earth, cold, and femininity. Yang represents the sky, heat, and masculinity. The actions of yin and yang influence the interactions of the five elements composing the universe: metal, wood, water, fire, and earth. Practitioners of Chinese traditional medicine seek to control the levels of yin and yang through 12 meridians, which bring energy to the body. Chinese traditional medicine can be used for promoting health as well as preventing and curing diseases. Chinese traditional medicine encompasses a range of practices, including acupuncture, moxibustion, herbal medicines, manual therapies, exercises, breathing techniques, and diets (4). Surgery is rarely used. Chinese medicine, particularly acupuncture, is the most widely used traditional medicine. It is practised in every region of the world.


Chiropractic was founded at the end of the 19th century by Daniel David Palmer, a magnetic therapist practising in Iowa, USA. Chiropractic is based on an association between the spine and the nervous system and on the self-healing properties of the human body. It is practised in every region of the world. Chiropractic training programmes are recognized by the World Federation of Chiropractic if they adopt international standards of education and require a minimum of four years of full-time university-level education following entrance requirements.


Homeopathy was first mentioned by Hippocrates (462-377 BC), but it was a German physician, Hahnemann (1755-1843), who established homeopathy's basic principles: law of similarity, direction of cure, principle of single remedy, the theory of minimum diluted dose, and the theory of chronic disease (2). In homeopathy, diseases are treated with remedies that in a healthy person would produce symptoms similar to those of the disease. Rather than fighting the disease directly, medicines are intended to stimulate the body to fight the disease. By the latter half of the 19th century, homeopathy was practised throughout Europe as well as in Asia and North America. Homeopathy has been integrated into the national health care systems of many countries, including India, Mexico, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and the United Kingdom.


Unani is based on Hippocrates' (462-377 BC) theory of the four bodily humours: blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile. Galen (131-210 AD), Rhazes (850-925 AD), and Avicenna (980-1037 AD) heavily influenced unani's foundation and formed its structure. Unani draws from the traditional systems of medicine of China, Egypt, India, Iraq, Persia, and the Syrian Arab Republic (5). It is also called Arabic medicine.

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