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Indigenous Knowledge and Traditional Medicine

Indigenous knowledge is passed down from one generation to another and covers areas such as resource management, medicine, education, child rearing practices, animal husbandry and agriculture, and a lot more. Traditional medicine also builds on indigenous knowledge and practices and is based on the experience and beliefs of traditional cultures.

Understanding Indigenous Knowledge

Indigenous knowledge is unique in view of the fact that practices, beliefs, and values are local and characteristic of a particular culture. Researchers study traditional cultures in search of answers to serious problems like ethnic conflict and war, poverty, famine, and disease. Indigenous knowledge is a treasure and helps scientists to find working solutions to complex problems – environmental pollution, depletion of non-renewable resources, and health hazards.

Traditional Medicine

Traditional cultures use different practices and plants to prevent, diagnose, and treat mental and physical illnesses. Folk or traditional medicine includes systems and practices such as:poppy

  • African medicine
  • Muti
  • Acupuncture
  • Traditional Korean and Chinese medicine
  • Islamic medicine
  • Ayurveda

Plants with medicinal properties are used to treat different ailments and conditions, for example, common cold, fevers, headaches, lacerations, sprains, and others. Many plants have medicinal properties and have been shown to effectively prevent and treat ailments. There are powerful medicinal plants with healing properties such as California poppy, lady ferns, tansy, blood flower, and others. Some are used as warm expellants, anxiety relievers, and cleansers while others help treat burns, stings, and minor cuts. Traditional cultures also use medicinal plants to treat kidney pain and stones, nausea, and morning sickness. Some systems like ayurveda, for example, focus on food preparation and proper nutrition, prevention and treatment, diagnosis, and cleansing practices to eliminate toxic substances from the body. Minerals, gems, and metals such as arsenic, mercury, and lead are added to certain herbal preparations and elixirs. Some materials actually have toxic properties and may cause poisoning. Traditional medicine also uses rare and endangered species to make preparations and remedies. Other systems treat food as a medication and add food to their healing repertoires. Chinese medicine, for example, uses soups, herbs, and other foods and ingredients.

Other systems that use traditional practices, herbs, medicinal plants, and minerals include the Georgian, Aboriginal Bush, Japanese Kampo, and Celtic traditional medicine. In some countries, traditional practices have become, in fact, institutionalized healing systems.

Aboriginal Peoples Health, Inequalities and Proble...

Healthy inequality can be explained by factors such as income disparities, sub-standard living conditions, unemployment, lack of access to healthcare, educational levels, and lack of social support.

Aboriginal Health Issues

Aboriginal peoples in Canada are the Metis, Inuit, and First Nations and represent slightly over 4 percent of the total population. While there are some data limitations, research shows that social and economic inequalities are associated with health inequalities, shorter life expectancy, and problems such as chronic renal disease, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, and obesity. Drug and alcohol abuse are also a source of concern. A report titled The State of Knowledge of Aboriginal Health offers a glimpse to child, infant, and maternal health and non-communicable and communicable diseases such as sexually transmitted diseases, tuberculosis, diabetes, and cancer. Diabetes is a major health concern for Aboriginal communities and increases the risk for a number of health problems such as diabetic retinopathy and nephropathy, limb amputation, and cardiovascular problems. Type 2 diabetes in particular is a key public health issue due to its high prevalence among Aboriginal people and the associated complications. Members of First Nations communities have more complications than non-Aboriginal people. According to researchers, diabetes rates will continue to climb because of factors such as aging, hereditary factors, and overweight. This problem can be explained in part with the traditional diet and lifestyle of Aboriginal peoples which was centered around gathering and hunting. Traditional lifestyle explains why obesity and overweight were uncommon. During the last decades, there is a gradual shift toward sedentary lifestyle and consumption of processed and other market foods. The problem is that Aboriginal peoples face many barriers to the treatment andab-art control of diabetes, including geographical, economic, and social.

Cardiovascular problems are also more prevalent among indigenous populations compared to other Canadians (11.5 percent for Aboriginals and 5.5 percent for non-indigenous). This means that the risk of stroke and other heart problems such as myocardial infarction is also higher. In fact, the risk for stroke among indigenous populations is twice as high compared to other Canadians. Aboriginal communities face a higher risk for cervical cancer but lower for other types, including breast, colorectal, and lung cancer.

Non-Health Related Issues

In addition to health-related issues, indigenous communities are faced with other pressing problems such as disabilities, unintentional injuries, smoking, family violence, and suicide. Mental health issues have been linked to the erosion of traditional culture and values.

Promoting Healthy Eating Habits

Healthy eating habits are very important and reduce the risk for chronic and severe health problems such as diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. Cutting down on sugar, for example, helps avoid liver problems such as fatty liver. Products high in sugar are loaded with empty calories and are empty of nutritional value. Foods that are low in carbs are also healthy because they contribute to reduction of triglycerides and lower the risk for hypertension. A balanced low carb menu  combines healthy fats, lean protein, foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, and seasonal, fresh vegetables. This is one way to fight obesity and lose weight in a healthy way. The diet emphasizes healthy foods and recipes such as poultry, fish, shellfish, dairies, whole grain bread, and low carb vegetables and recommends avoiding starchy vegetables and foods high in simple carbohydrates.

Research shows that the current dietary practices of First Nations communities pose major health risks. Traditionally Aboriginal peoples in Canada subsisted on foods from agriculture, gathering, trapping, and hunting in various combinations. This means that they had a diverse and healthy diet consisting of foods from land and water. Today many of them consume foods that contain key micronutrients provided by low carb foods ( Many health-related problems that plague Aboriginal peoples are related to their dietary practices. These include heart disease, dental caries, anemia, and others. The problem is aggravated by the fact that many people are reluctant to accept suggestions and recommendations from non-Aboriginal healthcare professionals. In some communities in Quebec, for example, overweight is considered a sign of wellbeing, strength, and robustness. At the same time, access to nutritious, healthy, and affordable food is the key to good health. Poor quality food and shortages contribute to serious diseases in low-income communities. Food insecurity is also a serious problem and is commonplace in some communities. Given the reluctance of some community members to follow advice by non-indigenous healthcare providers and the current dietary patterns, cooperating with Aboriginal healthcare providers and explaining the benefits of healthy, non-processed, low-carb foods, may be of help.