5 Ancient Medicine Practices That Can Make You Healthier Today

Many ancient medicine practices are making a major comeback or enjoying widespread popularity for the first time.

These days, more than a third of Americans have utilized complementary or alternative medicines (CAM, or health care approaches created outside the mainstream, western medical system) at some point—to the tune of $30 billion a year. At the same time, many doctors are now advocating for an integrative approach to health that incorporates alternative methodologies such as acupuncture and meditation into more conventional practices.

Why the newfound fervor for old practices? Because modern science is confirming that many ancient approaches to health offer real benefits. What’s more, they do it without the nasty side effects of (and often cost less than) prescription drugs.  

Of course, that’s not to say all of the old techniques are created equal. You probably shouldn’t put a dead mouse in your mouth in an attempt to cure a toothache or rub moldy bread on open wounds. (Yes, ancient Egyptians did this.)

But there are a variety of ancient medicine practices that may still be useful to those seeking better physical and emotional wellbeing today. Here are five of them—along with practical tips for incorporating ancient practices into a modern lifestyle.

5 Ancient Medicine Practices that May be Worth Your Time and Money

Acupressure is sometimes referred to as “acupuncture without needles” because the two practices operate on similar principles. Acupressure is basically a style of massage that involves using the hands, elbows, feet, or fingers to apply pressure to certain points along the body (as opposed to sticking needles into them).

These points are thought to lie along the body’s “meridians,” or channels that purportedly carry life energy (“qi”) through the body and help organs communicate with each other. The theory goes that assisting energy flow through these channels helps restore balance to a variety of bodily systems.

That may sound kind of woo-woo, but acupressure has roots in Traditional Chinese Medicine and has been practiced for thousands of years—and people don’t keep the practice alive for no reason.

While more research is needed, studies suggest acupressure may be useful in a number of ways, from decreasing anxiety before surgery, to reducing post-surgery pain, minimizing post-surgery nausea, relieving anxiety, promoting relaxation, relieving chronic low back pain, supporting chronic pain management, and offering relief from the symptoms of a number of conditions including respiratory disease, insomnia, dysmenorrhea, and stress.

How to incorporate acupressure into your life
You can enjoy the benefits of acupressure with the help of a trained professional or simply during some down time at home. (Studies suggest self-administered acupressure is effective.) The first step is to familiarize yourself with the most common acupressure points, which you can find here. Next, set yourself up in a relaxing space. Then use deep strokes to massage the acupressure points of your choosing.    

Like acupressure, acupuncture has been a part of Traditional Chinese Medicine for thousands of years. The practice involves stimulating certain points along the body’s meridians. While the most well-known version of acupuncture involves inserting thin needles into the skin, the practice actually includes a variety of procedures designed to stimulate energy flow in the body. Acupuncture is one of the most popular ancient medicine techniques practiced in the U.S. today, and millions of Americans seek out acupuncturists each year.

These trendsetters may be onto something. While research is mixed, some studies have found acupuncture may be helpful in relieving anxiety before surgery, decreasing post-surgery nausea and pain, managing symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and polycystic ovary syndrome, and facilitating chronic pain management, among other potential benefits.

How to incorporate acupuncture into your life
If you want to give acupuncture a try, then it’s essential to seek out the assistance of a trained acupuncturist. (Whatever you do, don’t go jamming needles into yourself in the hopes of better health.) Many states require licensing, so confirming that a practitioner is licensed can be your first clue that they’re legit. If you’re not sure where to start, consult the practitioner directory at the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine.

Aromatherapy is hands down the best-smelling health strategy on this list. The practice has been around for at least 6,000 years, and the use of essential oils among ancient cultures was widespread: They were utilized by Chinese, Egyptian, Greek, Indian, and Roman cultures.

Then and now, aromatherapy involves using essential oils, which are concentrated extracts from different parts of a wide variety of plants. These oils are then put to use through inhalation, topical application, or ingestion. Different oils are thought to correspond to different physical and/or emotional effects, from alleviating psoriasis to relieving anxiety.

There’s at least some truth to these claims. Research suggests aromatherapy may be useful for pain treatment, reducing anxiety in people with chronic medical conditions, relieving depression in hospice and arthritis patients, and promoting quality sleep.

How to incorporate aromatherapy into your life
If you want to get deep into aromatherapy, then it’s a good idea to seek out the guidance of a trained aromatherapist. But you can also start enjoying the benefits of aromatherapy after a quick trip to the local grocery store or flower shop. For example, simply sniffing an orange (or essential orange oil) or a sprig of lavender (or essential lavender oil) may reduce anxiety and improve mood. If you choose to purchase essential oils, be sure to verify their quality by seeking out organic oils that don’t include any binders and are harvested in environmentally sustainable ways.

Functional Mushrooms
Like the other entries on this list, functional mushrooms have been utilized in medicinal practices for thousands of years. Everyone from ancient Egyptians and Romans (who called mushrooms “food for the Gods”) to traditional Eastern medical practitioners hopped on the functional mushroom bandwagon a long time ago, and many cultures never jumped off. The French helped introduce these helpful fungi to more contemporary western cultures in the 17th century, and they’ve been growing in popularity ever since.

There’s good reason for the centuries-long fungi boom: Research suggests mushrooms may be helpful in the treatment of over 200 health conditions and may offer more than 130 medicinal functions in the body.

The potential benefits of mushrooms range from helping your immune functions to keeping your brain healthy. Other research suggests support for stress, as well as your gut, skin, and much more. The value of these ’shrooms is well-documented enough that they’re used either directly or indirectly in over 40 percent of pharmaceuticals. (If you want to learn more about the benefits of mushrooms, check out Healing Mushrooms: A Practical and Culinary Guide to Using Mushrooms for Whole Body Health.)

How to incorporate functional mushrooms into your life
If you’re so inclined, you could strike out and forage for functional mushrooms (provided you know how to identify them)—but there’s no need to make it that hard on yourself. As more and more people get turned on to the benefits of functional mushrooms, a variety of products have entered the market to meet this demand.

For example, at Four Sigmatic, we make consuming mushrooms easy (and delicious) thanks to a range of products, which include mushrooms coffees, mushroom superfood blends, and mushroom elixirs. We also feature plenty of tips for cooking with mushrooms, including our delectable mushroom recipes.

No matter where you choose to purchase your ’shrooms, quality matters. At a minimum, make sure any product you purchase features the following:

  • The fruiting body. This is the part of the mushroom that packs the most nutritional punch, so opt for products that are derived from the fruiting body in order to get the most bang for your buck.  
  • Dual extraction. This process ensures that both the water-soluble and fat-soluble compounds in functional mushrooms are made available to human bodies.
  • Quality control. No matter whether you’re purchasing cultivated or wildcrafted mushrooms, it’s important that the supplier has strict quality control measurements in place. Their tests should screen mushrooms for pesticides, heavy metals, irradiation, and mycotoxins prior to putting them up for sale.
  • High polysaccharide content. This helps ensure the product provides you with adequate amounts of active ingredients. A good rule of thumb is to look for mushroom extracts with at least 20 percent polysaccharide content.

Herbal Medicine
One of the oldest medicinal practices in existence, herbal medicine has been in use since before recorded history. From indigenous cultures across Africa and North America to the progenitors of Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine, people have utilized plant bark, berries, flowers, leaves, roots, and seeds in their remedies for centuries. These remedies may be prepared in a number of different ways, from decoctions to tinctures, creams, infusions, and ointments.

Today, a whopping 80 percent of people around the globe still incorporate herbal medicine into their primary health care. They pick and choose between a huge variety of herbs thought to assist in the treatment of an equally huge variety of conditions (especially chronic ones) ranging from allergies to fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, arthritis, migraines, eczema, PMS. You’re probably already familiar with some of the most common herbal remedies in the west, which include Echinacea, ginkgo, St. John’s wort, valerian, chamomile, garlic, and ginger.

There’s quite a bit of evidence to back up the benefits of a number of different herbal remedies. Lab studies confirm that a variety of plants possess anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, anticonvulsant, fever-reducing, antioxidant, and relaxing effects. Research into a variety of specific herbal remedies has also proved promising. For example, ginger has been shown to treat nausea and vomiting; feverfew may help relieve migraines and menstrual cramps; ginkgo may offer some protection from dementia; evening primrose may reduce symptoms of arthritis; garlic may facilitate the management of cardiovascular conditions; and St. John’s wort may help treat mild to moderate depression.

How to incorporate herbal medicine into your life
Herbal supplements are available over the counter, but (as with synthetic supplements) they aren’t regulated—which means it’s important to do your research before buying. A good rule of thumb? Look for supplements that are sourced exclusively from whole foods. If you can’t recognize ingredients on the label, that may be a sign to steer clear.

You might also consult a doctor, naturopathic physician, pharmacist, or an herbalist (preferably one registered with the American Herbalists Guild) for their recommendations. This is especially important if you’re taking prescription medications, because herbal remedies may interact with some medicines.

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