For all the world-class hospitals and highly skilled medical practitioners in the country, many Filipinos still swear by traditional healthcare practices from centuries past.
Rooted in nature, spirituality, and folklore, Philippine traditional healthcare practices have not only remained relevant in this day and age, they are also recognized in laws such as Republic Act No. 8423 (The Traditional and Alternative Medicine Act of 1997) and groups like The Philippine Institute of Traditional and Alternative Health Care (PITAHC), which “is mandated to encourage scientific research on and develop traditional and alternative healthcare systems.”
What do Western medicine-trained doctors think of traditional and alternative medical practices in the Philippines? Dr. Lori Rivera, a pediatrician at Asian Hospital and Medical Center, weighs in.
Also known as Ventosa, this centuries-old form of alternative medicine has a therapist lighting up alcohol, herbs, or paper in special cups. When the flame is extinguished, the therapist places the cups upside down on your skin, creating a vacuum. Cupping is said to encourage blood flow. (Watch: Filipino doctors give tips on how to navigate the ‘new normal’)
“This is an oriental therapy very similar to the Swedish massage that many of us indulge in at home or at the spa,” says Dr. Lori. “The resulting relaxation of muscles allows better ‘flow’ throughout the body, inducing an overall wellness that recharges you physically, mentally, even spiritually. If a patient is willing to work with the therapist, adopts the technique, and is open to the recommendations, the benefits can be realized through the process of interaction.”
Described as one of the oldest healing practices in the Philippines, hilot restores harmony and balance to your body through a deep massage administered by a manghihilot.
“Like Cupping or Ventosa, hilot restores the overall wellness of a person through touch,” says Dr. Lori. “When your body is on ‘vacation mode,’ such as after a two-hour spa session, healing is promoted through endorphins. Lactic acid formation is decreased, thereby improving circulation and muscle relaxation. The advantages of physical, mental, and spiritual balance have been proven to restore health, much like a restful slumber after a good and long massage.”
Philippine flora is rich in herbal plants with natural healing properties. Sambong (blumea balsamifera) is used to treat urinary tract infections and kidney stone, among other ailments. Alkapulko (cassia alata) addresses a host of conditions, including bronchitis, asthma, and intestinal parasite. Lagundi (vitex negundo) has been making headlines recently for its potential to reduce the symptoms of COVID-19. (Read: 4 Key Facts to Remember When Buying Health Supplements)
“Herbal medicine, as an alternative, has a scientific basis as supportive treatment for many ailments,” says Dr. Lori. “For example, Chrysoplenol D, the bioactive agent of Lagundi, is a muscle relaxant and works to relieve coughing.”
Cebuano for “steam inhalation,” the age-old practice recently got a bad rap from medical doctors who warned of its adverse effects in curing the novel coronavirus. In an interview, Dr. Magdalena Barcelon, president of the Community Medicine Practitioners and Advocates Association, said the steam being inhaled by a sick person could cause “aerosolization”—virus particles turning into fine spray or invisible molecules.
But steam inhalation has many adjunctive applications too, says Dr. Lori. “In pediatric patients diagnosed with croup, steam and humidity soothe inflamed airways and decrease mucus. Saltwater is also used as a nebulizing solution to loosen or liquefy mucus in asthmatics. Many doctors suggest it, although there has been little scientific study in this area to confirm that it cures respiratory illnesses.”
Faith healers are individuals who are given special powers to heal the sick, after overcoming a serious illness themselves. They use prayers, their own saliva, or their bare hands, in the case of psychic surgeons. (Read: Four reader stories that prove how prayers change us for the better)
“When someone does something that his/her family thinks will heal him/her within their framework of reality, the idea of removing the negative symptoms through that experience might happen,” says Dr. Lori. “There are many cultural variations of this practice and, if supported strongly, may work for those people quite like a placebo effect.”