For thousands of years, what we now think of as Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) was the only medicine; now, traditional cures are being treated with a fresh respect. For BBC TWO, Kathy Sykes investigates why science is starting to respond to these centuries-old remedies.
Kathy begins her journey in China where she sees some incredible demonstrations of acupuncture. The most astonishing is a scene in a Chinese hospital in which doctors perform open heart surgery on a young woman - using a combination of acupuncture and conventional pain relief instead of a general anaesthetic. In China, she discovers, acupuncture is used alongside western medicine and, at times, as a replacement. So, what does western science make of these claims? Kathy meets the key scientists, both in the UK and in the US, who have put them to the test. She discovers that - although for most conditions and illnesses acupuncture cannot be shown to work - scientists have, intriguingly, uncovered a number of conditions relating to chronic pain in which they can be fairly certain acupuncture is having a powerful effect. Kathy recruits a team of top scientists and alternative practitioners to find out if acupuncture might be having an effect. Over several months they devise an experiment which they hope will find the answer and finally uncover the secrets of acupuncture. Kathy and her team scan the brains of volunteers undergoing acupuncture. The conclusions challenge current understandings of the workings of the brain and throws new light on this ancient practice.
Kathy discovers that although there is no evidence that healers have any special powers – some of their patients have made remarkable recoveries. It’s a mystery that Kathy only finally solves when she discovers that each of us has a powerful self-healing mechanism which may explain some of the apparent ‘cures’ people have experienced after healing. Kathy explores this extraordinary human capacity and finds the key to triggering it.
Kathy discovers that some herbs do indeed have powerful healing properties. Indeed, some may even offer answers to medical conditions that baffle modern science. Kathy travels through South Africa, Germany and Britain. Everywhere there are distinct herbal traditions, each with their unique practices and distinctive plants. But one claim underlies them all – herbs have remarkable properties that make them powerful medicines.