Use of Traditional vs. Allopathic Medicine among Latino Immigrants

by Vins
Published: Updated:

In March 2017, The Conversation published an article by Courtney Parker about the troubles facing Latino immigrants in finding healthcare, and how the use of traditional, or indigenous, medicine can help. Many Latino immigrants in the US are disadvantaged when it comes to finding healthcare due to social, economic, and language barriers. Fortunately, Traditional Medicine, or TM, can help to break down these barriers. Because traditional medicine is deeply rooted in Mexican and Central American culture, immigrants may find it easier to turn to these familiar methods in times of need. Increasingly, many Latino Americans find themselves seeking treatment via both traditional and western medicines.

Botánicas, venues that provide TM services, often act as the primary source of healthcare for many Latino Americans. Botánicas and the traditional medicine they provide revolve around the philosophy of treating the body as a whole. Rather than prescribe a single medication, traditional healthcare looks holistically at the patient’s lifestyle to see what changes can be made to benefit the patient. As Parker wrote, a majority of immigrants use traditional methods in partnership with allopathic (i.e., “western) medicine. She cited research indicating that Latinos move “freely between [TM] and biomedicine based on what they can access, what they can relate to, and what they believe works.”

Patients are not the only ones who have rooted their beliefs around traditional methods: many biomedical professionals believe in these alternative methods. Dr. David Hayes-Bautista of the Center for the Study of Latino Health and Culture at the School of Medicine at UCLA backs the use of botánicas and traditional medicine. He also claims that many Latino immigrants “shop around” various botánicas before seeking allopathic healthcare. Dr. Hayes-Bautista is not alone in his support of integrating traditional medicine and allopathic healthcare; recently the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported on its Traditional Foods Project, a 6-year partnership with native communities that worked to use traditional healthcare and ecological approaches to counter the prevalence of Type 2 Diabetes. And, the World Health Organization’s December 2013 report, “Traditional Medicine Strategy: 2014-2043,” praised TM as a method of “proven quality, safety, and efficacy.”

Parker concludes, “Millions of people in the United States remain in limbo waiting to see if they lose health care access under the Trump administration. Indeed, these same individuals may have only recently gained access under Obama. In such insecure times, the need to experiment with new (or old, as it may be) health service paradigms is more crucial than ever.”

Source: Courtney Parker, “How Traditional Medicine Can Play a Key Role in Latino Health Care,” The Conversation, March 5, 2017, https://theconversation.com/how-traditional-medicine-can-play-a-key-role-in-latino-health-care-71863.

Student Researchers: Edward Shannon (Citrus College) and Kristen Lizarraga (Citrus College)

Faculty Evaluator: Andy Lee Roth (Citrus College)