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A number of medical treatments have been developed and include traditional and alternative treatments. These alternative treatments, most often known as natural remedies, are often less invasive and much more natural compared to their contemporary counterparts. They have evolved as a result of patients’ fears of putting foreign chemicals and invasive objects in their bodies, especially when outcomes are unknown. To retain control over their own bodies, patients often turn to alternative treatments; by using non-traditional remedies, they place control and power in their own knowledge of health. To a large extent, the use of home remedies can be attributed to a patient’s great desire to make his own decision, to exercise patient autonomy.  This desire is largely influenced by society’s  distrust of the healthcare system, given its highly invasive conventional medical treatments, and the astounding inadequacy of many biomedical treatments. 

Distrust of Healthcare System

Due to systemic racism and lack of personal relationships with medical personnel, individuals have grown increasingly more distrustful of the healthcare system, leading to an explosion in available home remedies. Distrust in the healthcare system is extremely harmful to the foundation of care and society in general. In a study conducted regarding health outcomes and patients’ perceptions of the healthcare system, a “significant association between trust in health care professionals and health outcomes” was observed (Birkhäuer et. al). Without trust, patient-centered care is not effective. Those with mistrust of healthcare organizations are less likely to take advice from doctors, take prescriptions, or follow up with appointments (Hostetter and Klein). As a result, when individuals face illnesses and refuse to take advice from medical practitioners, they are more likely to employ alternative medicines and home remedies. The frequency of distrust of the medical establishment varies across different races and results from systemic issues in the healthcare system. Black Americans are much less likely to trust the system because of health disparities between white and black patients. The level of distrust among Black medical professions is also elevated. Black Americans are consistently undertreated for pain. Black patients often feel as if their voices are not heard by doctors due to racial inequities in the healthcare system (Hostetter and Klein). They often feel it’s a waste of time to seek medical attention if the doctor is not going to listen. This is extremely harmful for Black patients and likely worsens disparities and health outcomes. For example, Black Americans died at a higher rate from COVID-19 but were also found to be less likely to have taken the COVID-19 vaccine. Over 50% of those individuals hospitalized with COVID-19 were  black or hispanic and out of a study of 1,447 patient deaths, over 53.1% of deaths were persons of black and hispanic descent (Ramírez). This is the case for many diseases. Distrust of the healthcare system, although warranted at times, can have a harmful effect on patients as they may turn to natural remedies or no treatments at all. 

Invasiveness of Treatments

Furthermore, highly invasive treatments have led patients to seek more natural treatments. Conventional treatments can often have side effects that patients may be unwilling to experience. Treatments involving chemicals, drugs, or radiation understandably elicits fear in patients. For example, in a study regarding reasons why patients avoided seeing a doctor, responses included “fear of needles”, “fear of pain”, and “fear of specific procedures” as reasons (Taber). These fears were also documented in a survey by the American Psychological Association that questioned Indonesian women with breast cancer. Many of these women delayed their cancer treatments and attributed this to the fact that they “perceived surgery as a painful treatment causing the loss of an essential organ” and were scared of treatment (Iskandarsyah et. al). As a result, they took a more natural approach and turned to spiritual healers. Moreover, in the oral history of Janet Sasser Ross, she details how her grandmother and aunt used home remedies to attempt to cure their cancers (Efird). Her grandmother used hydrogen peroxide and apple cider vinegar in a poultice to rid herself of skin cancer while her Aunt Judy attempted to use similar methods to cure her uterine cancer. They were ultimately unsuccessful (Efird). Although both of her family members went to the doctor, they refused to take the recommended treatment because they feared that chemotherapy would have an overall harmful effect on their bodies (Efird). As seen in this oral history, more individuals are turning to alternative treatments due to fear of conventional treatments. 

Inadequacy of Treatments

In addition, the lack of satisfaction with conventional treatments due to ineffective outcomes leads patients to turn to alternative treatments. Surprisingly, there is a lack of evidence supporting the efficacy of many medical procedures. For example, in 2002, it was found that a widely used knee surgery for osteoarthritis was a “sham” (Kiley). In addition, there is evidence of some highly invasive treatments turning out to be less effective than safer alternatives (Kiley). This also occurs in conjunction with the fact that less than half of all American medical treatments actually have good evidence supporting positive outcomes.  The FDA is at fault as studies only need to demonstrate evidence that a drug is superior to placebo and not superior to current treatments that have already demonstrated superiority to placebo. This is upsetting to individuals as they are forced to undergo new treatments that may not be superior to less risky pre-existing therapies. The benefits of these therapies does not always outweigh the risks, leading individuals to turn to more natural, ‘less risky’ treatment. For example, in the oral history of Nancy Holt, listeners learn about her husband Bruce who was a shaman who would often cure “incurable diseases”(Allen). He did so in many unconventional ways, such as giving a patient a dime for each wart she had (Allen). This is an unconventional treatment, yet a successful one. Because of Bruce’s success as a shaman, many community members seek help from him, instead of medical practitioners. This happens in many communities across the world; as individuals view medical treatments as less effective or equal in effectiveness to less risky alternative therapy.


The use of alternative and herbal medical treatments can be attributed to a lack of distrust of the healthcare system by individuals, a fear of traditional treatments that may be highly invasive, and the lack of evidence that supports cutting edge medical treatment. It is clear that the rise of non-traditional treatments has been driven by a distrust in the medical establishment that is worsened by health inequity and a complex disjointed healthcare system. If we are to make progress, it must begin with a system that reduces health inequity and gains the trust of patients by truly placing them at the center of the healthcare system.


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