Health Promotion: Complementary Alternative Medicine (CAM) Across the World

(4-week series)


By: Lori Hudson Bertrand DC, RN

Unhealthy habits equals an unhealthy you, right?  Relaxing the body and the mind can have tremendous benefits for any fitness goals.  Taking the time to stop and listen to what your body is telling you is instrumental to maintaining optimal health.  Regular mind-body communication can improve function, provide balance and reduce the chances of illness from entering the body. The next two therapies we are exploring will maintain this mind-body balance to release tension, detoxify, prevent illness, and treat disease.


First Stop- Egypt

 Biologically Based Practices: Nutritional Supplements, Plants and Herbs

Biologically based practices herbs, minerals, nutritional supplements, and other compounds are consumed in order to prevent and treat illnesses in the body.

Ancient Egyptian writings contain some of the most concise and oldest documents of about the use of herbs and supplements.  Over 700 plants and herbs have been found in these documents, some dating back to 1500 B.C.  China, Greece, Rome, and India all have a long history of using this therapy, which is still widely used today.  The basis of this practice stems from the idea that naturally occurring substances are more compatible and easier for the body to breakdown than chemically produced products.  For example, according to ancient Egyptian manuscripts, garlic was the most commonly used agent.  It was used to treat an array of illness from respiratory disorders to fatigue.  Onions were often used to alleviate gastric irregularities.   To read more on the history of Ancient Egypt and remedies used check out this link from the Journal of Medicinal Plants Research:

Remedies utilized today are:

  • Cherries and pineapple– arthritis
  • Raw potato slice–heartburn
  • Gingerroot–nausea
  • Choline or sage daily–improve memory
  • Dandelion herb – lower blood pressure and cholesterol (and many other uses)
  • Goldenseal and/or Echinacea– reduce respiratory infections
  • Ginkgo biloba– improve cerebral blood flow


The list of remedies goes on and on.  Biologically based practices have been utilized for centuries, using enzymes, amino acids, vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids to promote health.  Many of today’s medications derived from these same plants, minerals, and herbs.


Final destination of the day- Greece

 Body-Based and Manipulative Therapies: Rolfing, Shiatsu, Myofascial Release, and Reflexology

The first historical reference, dated sometime before 400 BCE, to manipulative therapies is in Greece.  There is no question that this practice has been around for many centuries with practices spanning across the globe.  With so many techniques of healing falling under the umbrella of body-based and manipulative therapies, only a few will be covered.  One common goal is shared between all of them – bring balance to the body while treating it as a whole, which allows self-healing to take place.  Tension is released within the muscles and surrounding structures by manipulating soft tissues while applying varying degrees of pressures so that function improves, detoxification is promoted, and communication takes place between the mind and body.  Some therapies work to reduce adhesions, break up lymphatic congestion, oxygenate tissues, and promote circulation.


  • Rolfing– based on the concept that fascia (fibrous structures covering the muscles) shorten and tighten causing imbalances in the body. The fascia is lengthened and stretched to improve posture, decrease pain, improve digestion, increase respiration, and balance the nervous system.
  • Shiatsu– this technique utilizes the meridian system (energy pathways).  Founded on the concept that illnesses within the body stem from a hyperactive sympathetic nervous system.  When imbalances are found within the body, pressure points are applied by fingers, thumbs, and palms to promote flexibility, circulation, and digestion; to reduce stress, tension, blood pressure, PMS symptoms, and anxiety; and to release toxins.
  • Myofascial Release–constant direct pressure is applied by using knuckles, forearms, tools, or hands to release tension off the muscle’s fascia. Stretching the fascia, either actively or passively, along with mobilizing the surrounding structures is used to bring balance to the body. Changes within the muscles occur when the deepest layers of the tissue are reached.  Studies have shown that myofascial release helps to improve sleep, flexibility, circulation, and digestion, as well as to reduce stress, tension, pain and muscle imbalances.
  • Reflexology– pressure is applied to the feet, hands, or even sometimes ears.  Pressure is applied to different points, which is believed to be connected to specific organs, body systems, and overall health.  Zones (maps) of the body are represented on the bottom of each foot.  The left foot corresponds vertically to the left side of the body and vise versa.   Reflexology is often combined with other types of alternative medicines can help relieve symptoms of multiple sclerosis, arthritis, digestive disorders, pain, stress, and headaches, even migraines. This technique is used to balance the nervous system and release energy within the body.


The old saying, “medicine is always changing” is true to some extent.  While many of the basic concepts and practices mentioned have been around for thousands of years, it’s still progressing.  Above all, medicine encompasses so many tools all aimed to prevent, restore, balance, and bring a since of well-being to the body!



DEFINE’s senior instructor and anatomy specialist, Lori Hudson Bertrand D.C., R.N. is a doctor in chiropractic and registered nurse. Her love for helping people through education about anatomy and physiology drives her to continue to share her experiences and knowledge with others as they pursue their journey towards health and restoration!


Information about Complementary Alternative Medicine used in this post is found in Giordano, PH.D., Introduction To Complementary and Alternative Medicine, (Ann Arbor, MI: ProQuest, 2005), 20-23; Taylor, Lillis, LeMone, Lynn, Fundamentals of Nursing, (Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer, 2008), 747-763.