Traditional medicine has been the subject of a long-standing debate in scientific communities around the world. While some researchers are working to change preconceived notions about the effectiveness of ancient medical practices, others, like Dr. Paul A. Offit—author of Do You Believe In Magic?—offer up scathing criticisms regarding alternative medicines.
Although variations of traditional Vietnamese medicine date back more than 2,000 years—to the reign of the Hung Vuong dynasty—it is still widely practiced throughout Vietnam today. And as global scrutiny continues to question the benefits of traditional medical treatments, we thought it was time to explore some ancient practices with supporting scientific studies.
We reconnected with our friends at Jio Health for a healthy dose of their expert medical advice on the hotly-debated topic.
Jio health’s guide to three traditional Vietnamese remedies
Acupuncture has been around for thousands of years yet it seems to be gaining global traction as an influx of scientific studies, especially coming from the Western hemisphere, are beginning to understand more about its health benefits.
Although first developed in China, the treatment has since penetrated the international medical scene including across North America and much of Europe. In the States, celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow and Jim Carrey have publicly attested to its health benefits. In a testimonial about his treatment, Carrey went on to say that “undergoing acupuncture treatments and also following a strict nutritional guide led to a marked change in my physical vitality and general state of well-being.”
Perhaps acupuncture’s rise in popularity can be attributed to the 1996 ruling from the FDA which lifted acupuncture’s “experimental status.” “Since then, the FDA has been overseeing its usage in the United States and now most insurance policies even cover acupuncture treatment, particularly for pain management,” Jio Health explain.
Hundreds of clinical studies have proven acupuncture successfully treats musculoskeletal problems, migraines, depression, and insomnia, although the benefits extend much further. Jio Health also point to a report by the World Health Organization—Acupuncture: Review of Reports on Controlled Clinical Trials—which endorsed acupuncture applications for more than 200 symptoms. The World Health Organization also cited similar evidence for acupuncture-based treatment for depression, anxiety, and rhinitis, as well as its effectiveness in curbing the negative side effects of cancer treatment—a disease that is expected to affect 21.7 million people by the year 2030.
Additionally, acupuncture can stimulate many of the body’s vital systems positively affecting the nervous system, cardiovascular system, immune and endocrine systems, and even our digestive system. Besides that, recipients of treatment have reported improved sleep and a generally greater state of well-being. Other observed benefits of acupuncture include helping to manage essential and primary hypertension, stroke recovery, sprains, easing respiratory diseases, and renal colic. It’s also shown positive results in post-operative healing, and nausea.
How acupuncture is performed
Acupuncture is a catalyst for self-healing as it can stimulate over 2000 specific anatomical points on the body. This is achieved by inserting ultra-thin needles into the skin to stimulate the desired nerve—which nerve needs to be stimulated will depend on your symptoms. “Nowadays scientists refer to these ‘points of entry’ as neurohormonal pathways,” Jio Health explain. Once the nerve is stimulated it signals to your brain to release neural hormones like beta-Endorphins—a powerful pain suppressor produced in the pituitary gland.
And despite what you might think, it doesn’t actually hurt. The diameter of each stainless steel needle is equivalent to two human hairs—a convenient upgrade from the traditional bone and bamboo needles used in the past. Today, most patients only report zero to mild discomfort.
Where to find treatment in Vietnam
One of the oldest medical textbooks in the history of the Western world, The Ebers Papyrus, written in 1550 BC, documents the ancient Egyptians’ use of cupping—a method that even the great Hippocrates used to manage his own health problems. But despite its long and rich history, modern science is still struggling to convince skeptics of its benefits. “Unlike acupuncture, which has become a popular trend in many countries, cupping is still a relatively misunderstood practice in the Western world,” Jio Health explain.
For those paying attention at the 2016 Rio De Janeiro Olympics, you may remember controversial photos of the 28-time Olympic medal winner Michael Phelps with several circular-shaped bruises on his back—all caused by cupping. In fact, he believes in the positive health benefits so much that he was recently featured in a video in which he openly advocated its use.
The negative pressure caused by cupping is proven to loosen muscles, encourage blood flow, manage high blood pressure, and sedate the nervous system. “It’s also an effective treatment to relieve back and neck pains, stiff muscles, anxiety, fatigue, migraines, inflammation, rheumatism, and even cellulite,” Jio Health add.
Cupping therapy is a potent form of noninvasive treatment that strengthens the body and its immune system—which is perhaps the reason it’s becoming more popular with world-class athletes. Fully understanding exactly how it works on our immune system is key to understanding this unique but fascinating approach to healthcare.
Firstly, cupping therapy alleviates pressure on the skin. As a result, your cells produce more receptors which allow you to respond better to HO-1—an enzyme responsible for producing new cells, which also acts as an antioxidant to protect the liver, reduce inflammation and alleviate pain.
How cupping is performed
There are two primary kinds of cupping, wet and dry. In dry cupping, the therapist will light a flammable substance and place it in the cup to heat the air inside. The hot air cools, creating a vacuum that suctions the jar to the body causing the blood vessels to expand. The process usually takes between five and ten minutes. Once you have undergone treatment note that you will be left with circular bruises on your body which may feel unsightly although they aren’t painful.
Although wet cupping is similar to its dry counterpart, there is one major exception—you will bleed. Think of wet cupping as dry cuppings more intense, uglier little brother. Before the cups are applied the medical practitioner will sanitize the area to be treated before making small incisions on the skin with a device called a plum blossom to expel “bad blood.” Once the cups are in place they will be left on the skin for five to ten minutes longer than dry cupping.
Do take note that there are several other types of cupping procedures so make sure you choose the method that best aligns with your medical condition. Other options, besides dry and wet cupping, include massage cupping, needle cupping, fire cupping, and silicone cupping.
Where to find treatment in Vietnam
Edible bird’s nest
According to historical documentation taken from the Chinese Medical Book swallows’ nests were imported into China from Southeast Asia more than 500 years ago. The famous Admiral Cheng Ho is said to have brought back the precious nests for the royal family. Empress Dowager Tzu Hsi was another firm believer in the power of swallows’ nests. Legend has it she would consume seven different kinds of nest dishes every morning.
Today, edible bird’s nest is one of the most expensive gastronomical items on the planet. That’s because there are only a few places in the world where the nests can be found, which often necessitates dangerous foraging atop towering limestone karsts. Prices can go as high as US $5,000 for a single kilogram, although on average, the nest sells for about US $2,500 per kilogram.
Edible bird’s nest contains 18 amino acids and trace minerals like Manganese and Zinc, which fight chronic disease and increase energy. Together these elements serve as antioxidants, stimulating the growth of red blood cells, and helping to maintain normal nerve function. It’s also highly-prized as a supplement for pregnant women, and, according to Jio Health, it has been proven to enhance the skin because of its high levels of galactose and threonine.
How does it work
The nest is taken from a swiftlet—a bird which makes its nest by expelling saliva. The saliva dries and hardens upon contact with air to form the edible nest. The raw form of the nest will then be added into a savory soup or a gelatinous dessert. And these days, many prefer to ingest its modern extract form, which is most often consumed with rock sugar to enhance its flavor.
What most people don’t know is that unlike cupping and acupuncture, whose results can be felt immediately after a session, bird’s nest must be regularly consumed over extended periods of time in order for you to see results. So don’t think that drinking a small bottle of extract is going to magically rid you of any health issues you might be having.