As the pharmaceutical industry rakes in billion-dollar profits and lawmakers tinker with healthcare reform, disease such as cancer and obesity continue to rise at alarming rates. Threatened by a plunging economy, unaffordable insurance and holding steadfast to strong cultural and religious roots, people across the ethnic communities of Los Angeles turn to traditional medicine practiced by healers and shamans, developed eons before the advent of modern medicine.

While the debate of traditional vs. modern medicine sporadically rears its head in health forums, some patients use them in tandem to compliment each other to improve their overall well-being and prognosis. From Indian Ayurvedic rituals to healing practices used by the Hmong, many are seeking to marry generation-tested techniques with technological advances within hospitals, especially when it comes to the management of chronic diseases.

In some Asian and African countries, 80 percent of the population depends on traditional medicine for primary health care, according to the World Health Organization, which also highlights new anti-malarial drugs developed from a plant used in China for almost 2,000 years. And traditional medicine, like that of ancient Iran, honored for thousands of years has in some cases contributed profoundly to the development of modern medicine.

This generally unexplored intersection is happening deep within LA's ethnic neighborhoods, where one day, men and women call on healers one could never find in the Yellow Pages to alleviate their pain, and then the next day go to their chemotherapy appointments. This dependency seems to be gaining speed – with the advent of integrated pharmacies like Pharmaca which offers “traditional pharmacy services alongside holistic remedies” and employs pharmacists alongside naturopathic doctors and herbalists.

How does the intersection of ancient remedies and modern medical advancement aid patients? How do healers and board-certified doctors work to weave a common thread where well-being is the top priority? Is the use of traditional medicine spreading beyond the cultural communities it evolved from? Does it have the potential to become a more affordable, mainstream model of healthcare? Does the exposure and continued use of traditional medicine have the power to lessen future medical problems, thus reducing costs?

Photo: Creative Commons/by Wonderland

How will it help?

At a time when healthcare is a hot button topic for lawmakers and the public alike, the exploration of this medical intersection will bring a different perspective to the issue as well as unearth and expose ethnic and cultural practices that often go ignored and give them a place at the medial podium. It also has the potential to showcase the importance of how mental and emotional well-being compliment and aid physical health and vice versa.

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