Traditional medicine across the globe.

Kampo Medicine

Western medicine has been commonplace all across the world. However, there are other medicinal practices that have their roots in ancient times and are still being used in parts of the world today. In fact, the World Health Organization estimated that around 80 percent of the world’s population uses traditional medicine as their primary source of healthcare. Why are so many people sticking to age-old traditional herbal methods? In this article, find out more about the beliefs of different types of traditional medicines and the methods they use to treat certain ailments. 


Ayurveda is the traditional medical system of India, which focuses on natural healing and holistic approaches to bringing out the best in one’s health and wellness. Practitioners believe that one’s bodily existence, mental existence and personality are wholes in themselves, with each one being able to persuade the others. As such, it is important to keep to one’s natural cycles, by maintaining normal sleeping and waking, working and meditation to improve their health. Additionally, it is crucial for one to adhere to personal hygiene standards, particularly engaging in regular bathing, skin care, washing of teeth, tongue scraping and eye washing.

Medicine in Ayurveda can include components from plants, animals and minerals. One unusual practice of Ayurvedic medicine is the adding of heavy metals to the medications, coming from the belief that heavy metals are active ingredients serving to purify the body when the medications are taken. However, it was determined that some Ayurvedic medications contained toxic amounts of lead, mercury or arsenic, resulting in a generally higher level of mercury and lead in a person’s blood if they take Ayurvedic medications regularly. Due to this potential cause for concern, the Indian government made it mandatory for manufacturers of Ayurvedic medications to declare their metallic content. 

Alcohol and opium are also used in Ayurvedic preparations. In particular, an alcoholic beverage called Madya is used for the purpose of adjusting the bodily humors. Madya is believed to be non-viscid and fast-acting, able to permeate and clean minute pores of the body, and also able to improve one’s digestion or taste, loosen joints, cause purgation or create dryness. There are different types of Madya, according to its ingredients and fermentation process. Opium is specifically used for its sedative and ache-relieving effects, much like in other types of traditional medicine. Opium was first believed to have been used for Ayurvedic practice in the mid-second century BC, where it was applied as an aphrodisiac to heighten one’s pleasure. The substance is also used for a few other ailments, such as diarrhea, acute gastroenteritis and pain relief.

Tar and oils are commonly used to stop bleeding. If the patient has traumatic bleeding, the practitioner will facilitate clotting, constrict the blood vessels, ligate the blood vessels and cauterize through heat to attempt to stop the bleeding. 

Traditional Chinese Medicine

Traditional Chinese medicine has been used in China since three thousand years ago. It teaches that all of the body’s organs work as one, and the body’s vital energy is called qi, which circulates through channels connected to every organ and its function. Thus, the secret to attaining good health lay in maintaining healthy and working organs. 

As such, traditional Chinese medicine makes use of acupuncture to regulate the flow of qi. In acupuncture, needles are placed at acupuncture points to influence the flow of qi and aid in relieving pain and treating diseases. Moxibustion may be used in conjunction with acupuncture – the practice of burning mugwort near the skin at an acupuncture point. 

Aside from acupuncture, herbal remedies are also an integral part of traditional Chinese medicine. Most herbal medicine mixtures comprise 9 to 18 ingredients. Although it is called “herbal” medicine, the substances used are more than just herbs. While not inclusive of heavy metals like Ayurvedic medicine, some substances used include products from animals, humans and other minerals, even unusual items from scorpions, animal gallstones, bear bile, leeches and the dried human placenta. 

When diagnosing a patient, a traditional Chinese medicine practitioner usually examines a patient’s face and especially their tongue, as it is believed that different regions of the tongue correspond to different organs of the body. For example, redness on the sides of the tongue could mean heat in the liver, while redness on the tip of the tongue could mean heat in the heart. 

Kampo Medicine

Kampo medicine is the traditional herbal medicine of Japan, used for nearly two thousand years and adapted from Chinese traditional medicine. Although Western medicine has been integrated into Japan, the healthcare system still offers Kampo medicine. Approximately 148 Kampo formulas are officially recognized as prescription drugs and eligible for national health coverage. Most Kampo medications are made of complex mixtures of plant extracts, usually combining at least three to ten different plant extracts. 

There are two schools of Kampo medicine: Goseiha and Kohoha. The Goseiha school came about when Sanki Tashiro visited China for 12 years from 1486 to 1498. There, he learned about the Jin-Yuan medicine and its schools of thought pertaining to causes and treatments of disease. The Jin-Yuan physicians also promoted the five elements system and the yin and yang organs. This led to Tashiro coming up with the Goseiha school with some students, which later expanded into the 17th century. The Goseiha school taught that herbal drugs may contain some natural toxicity and should be used carefully. New herb formulas were developed from the teachings of Tashiro and his students. 

The Kohoha school came about later, opposing the Jin-Yuan teachings in favor of practical knowledge and the earlier Chinese teachings up to the Tang Dynasty. This school later replaced the Goseiha school rather than competing with it. The Kohoha taught confirmation theory, the practice of matching a symptom and sign complex of the patient to a particular ancient formula, without any intervening speculations. This technique is practiced by many modern Kampo physicians. Gonzan Goto, a practitioner of the Kohoha school, believed that a disease developed due to qi circulation becoming stagnant. This was derived from the observation that some people stayed healthy regardless of weather conditions or emotional extremes, but others easily fell ill when exposed to these influences. Thus, he made use of various techniques, not just herbs, to combat qi stagnation in treating and preventing illnesses. 


Although Western medicine has largely been integrated into most parts of the world, there are still a large number of people relying on traditional medicines as primary source of healthcare. This can be due to various reasons, from the price of Western drugs in certain countries to the history people are familiar with and choose to believe in. Additionally, some people living in Western countries have also started to adopt the practices of traditional medicine. Whether traditional medicine is pseudoscience or a proven remedy, one thing is for sure – traditional medicine has touched the lives of billions of people throughout all of history.