It seems the more mankind evolves and moves forward rapidly, the more it is slows down and finds merit in the teachings of the past. This is especially true when it comes to matters of holistic health, owing to the relatively recent backlash over the effect that the chemicals we consume in our food, medications and even the air that we breathe have on our overall wellbeing. While this may remain a topic of heated debate, we cannot ignore the increasing voices calling for a return to a slower and more natural way of life.
Globally, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Traditional Medicine Strategy 2014-2023 sees that traditional and complementary medicine (TCM) is growing, as more and more countries are including aspects of it in their national healthcare plans. WHO sees its goals as twofold: to support member states in harnessing the potential contribution of TCM to health and wellness, and to promote its safe and effective use through regulation.
Lebanon has always been receptive to the more holistic approaches to healthcare, but the focus was usually more on the local and traditional ones — involving herbal remedies or folk wisdom shared by the elderly.
In the past three years alone there has been a significant rise in the number of wellness centers offering meditation and yoga sessions
In recent years, Lebanon has also joined the West in embracing the traditions and alternative practices originating in the East. In the past three years alone there has been a significant rise in the number of wellness centers offering meditation and yoga sessions, along with courses on homeopathy and Reiki healing.
Edde Sands Resorts has recently begun organizing two Wellness Week sessions per year, which focus on healthy eating, meditation and yoga, as well as courses on alternative medicine. Another sign that interest in alternative healthcare has spread in the country is Zenotel, a boutique hotel project by the Gemmayel sisters set to open in May, which will be the first traditional medicine platform in the country combining different approaches under one roof. The sisters hope it will be an alternative healthcare center in the long run.
Regardless of whether one sees these options as an elaborate scam to make money or has an open mind and is willing to learn about different practices, Executive went on a hunt to discover what options are available in Lebanon.
Traditional Chinese Medicine
Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is a 5,000 year old form of natural medicine derived from Taoism. It has four aspects: acupuncture, herbal medicines, Qigong energy healing and Tui na massage (a form of Chinese manipulative therapy, often used in conjunction with acupuncture). Each aspect can stand on its own or in conjunction with the others, depending on the specific case.
Acupuncture is defined as “a form of ancient Chinese medicine in which fine needles are inserted into the skin at certain points in the body,” and has become widely practiced globally. It is now recognized by the WHO and TCM herbs have recently been gaining the approval of the US Food and Drug Administration.
There are 30,000 acupuncturists in Britain alone with TCM syndicates or associations in many European countries. Acupuncture in these countries is covered by insurance, though it is still met with opposition from those who believe that there is not enough research to prove its effectiveness, believing it might be a placebo.
Acupuncture is used mainly for the treatment of chronic cases such as aches or digestive problems. “Acupuncture can be used for acute diseases as well, so long as it is not an emergency or an operation is needed,” explains Edmond Ibrahim, founder of the Chinese Medical Center in Lebanon and a trained doctor of Chinese medicine. The number of sessions needed for effective acupuncture treatment varies but no less than ten sessions are recommended for the patient to benefit, explains Rasmig Azezian, a physiotherapist and representative of the Pranic Healing Middle East and Africa Association (PHMEA) in Lebanon — who also has a diploma to practice acupuncture. A session with Azezian costs $40.
In Lebanon, acupuncture is the most practiced aspect of TCM, since herbal medicine requires a lot of paperwork from the Ministry of Health due to prior incidents that gave Chinese herbal medicine a bad name. In 2011, the health ministry revoked the license of Zain al-Atat’s herbal medicine manufacturing company after a series of scandals. “Here we insist that if a doctor is not certified and trained in Chinese medicine, he has no right to prescribe Chinese herbal medicine as it should be prescribed according to the TCM method,” explains Ibrahim.
“We insist that if a doctor is not certified and trained in Chinese medicine, he has no right to prescribe Chinese herbal medicine.”
Acupuncture is prevalent in Lebanon and Ibrahim explains that while there are only three doctors — himself included — in the country who have completed eight years of Chinese medical schools and are therefore fully trained and certified, there are many other conventional medicine doctors who have taken acupuncture courses and have a diploma in the practice which they use to compliment their main practice. He estimates that this number is close to 100.
In fact, St. Joseph University (USJ) has been offering a 150-hour university diploma program in acupuncture for its medical and physiotherapy students since 2010. This is in collaboration with the Confucius Institute, a joint institute between Shenyang Normal University and USJ, which helps them bring doctors from China to Lebanon. Although this program was not offered this year due to security issues in the country that prevented Chinese professors from coming to Lebanon, the physiotherapy department says demand for courses was high and they regularly had more than 25 students enrolled.
The Lebanese University Medical School and the Antonine University are also interested in establishing ICM studies in their faculties — a sign that the Ministry of Education in Lebanon acknowledges acupuncture — but Ibrahim says there are regulations and procedures that need to be followed to be affiliated with a quality Chinese university.
While Ibrahim encourages this merging of acupuncture and conventional practices, he warns against doctors using it outside their professional expertise, which could lead to malpractice and a tarnished reputation for acupuncture in the country. “This diploma should be used to aid practitioners in their main major of choice. So, for example, physiotherapists should only use acupuncture to treat physical pains, not fertility or digestive issues, or a gynecologist can use it to treat polycystic ovaries.”
The number of patients who have had acupuncture in Lebanon is growing and Azezian, a physiotherapist, says more than 50 percent of his patients come to him for it. Ibrahim keeps a full schedule of patients who come to him for TCM and says that some have already tried the procedure abroad while others are looking for a more natural approach to their healthcare.
As acupuncture is spreading in Lebanon, it becomes even more important to have government regulation. “We ask that the Lebanese government helps us form an association or syndicate for TCM practitioners in Lebanon. This will encourage more control and patients will know which practitioners to trust,” says Ibrahim, adding that there should be coordination among professional Chinese doctors and conventional medical practitioners in Lebanon as they complement each other.
All energy healing is based on the belief that there is magnetic energy flowing all around us and through us at the same time, and that an energy healer can channel this energy and use it to clean the patient’s system, thereby enabling the system to self-heal.
Most well known is Reiki, a Japanese technique for stress reduction and relaxation, which also promotes healing. Gini Ghaziri, a Reiki master practicing in Lebanon, says the role of all energy healing is to try to bring mankind back to balance by finding the trauma in the body created by an external cause such as physical abuse. “It is about revitalizing your life force so that your body can heal itself.”
Ibrahim explains that while there are different styles of energy healing, they all have the ancient form of Qigong as a base, and he therefore insists one cannot call himself an energy healer master without having extensively studied Qigong for a number of years. “An eight hour course does not make you a master of a certain treatment; you have to study the meridians, acupuncture points, the body’s anatomy and diagnosis theory of Chinese medicine. With a course, you might learn a few exercises but you cannot be called a master or professor, this takes years of practice and training. It becomes more psychological, in a manner similar to meditation or yoga.”
While one can find Reiki masters and courses in Lebanon, the most prevalent form of energy healing in the Middle East appears to be Pranic healing, defined as “a form of no-touch energy healing developed by Chao Kok Sui, a doctor of chemical engineering, which utilizes prana or life-force to balance, harmonize and transform the body’s energy process.” Azezian explains that because Chao Kok Sui had a background in science, he made every effort to simplify ancient philosophies and quantify their healing techniques, thereby bringing energy healing closer to the masses. “To make the alternative complementary, we have to be simple in order to reach more people. We aim to have one pranic healer per family,” says Azezian.
Pranic healing can be taught in eighteen hours, after which, claims Azezian, one can cure oneself of almost any chronic illness, making it an economical practice as well. Azezian offers such courses, including a basic two day course for $200, in his Pranic Healing Institute center in Burj Hammoud. “This magnetic energy is already part of you but we need to train our skills in order to identify it and work with it,” he explains.
Azezian has a total of 100 students enrolled in his center and says there are around 150 Pranic healers in Lebanon. The Middle East headquarter of PHMEA is located in Dubai, and Azezian says there are around a 1,000 healers practicing it across the UAE. “They are much more open-minded and advanced than us there because the governor of Dubai made alternate medicine a priority.”
Azezian was working toward having a legal association for Pranic healing in Lebanon, but, due to the political situation in the country, he is now just focusing on spreading awareness and understanding. “It is going to grow because people are actively seeking different ways to help themselves,” he says.
Homeopathy was founded in 1796 by the German physician Samuel Hahnemann, and is a holistic form of medicine based on the principle of “like cures like,” or the idea that a substance taken in a diluted form will trigger the body’s natural system of healing and thus cure the same symptoms it caused when it was taken in its crude form.
Homeopaths believe each person is unique, reacts to symptoms differently and so should be prescribed medication specific to the individual case. “It is a very tailored and individualized approach. We often prescribe different medications to people who have the same problem because they react to those symptoms differently,” explains Wafa Abed El Samad, a dentist who has a diploma in homeopathy from the London International College of Homeopathy (LICH), which offers courses in Lebanon.
An initial diagnostic session can take around two hours, explains Yvonne Siblini — also a graduate of the LICH who cured herself from a thyroid problem after taking conventional treatments for four years — as the homeopath goes through the history of the person, including past traumatic experiences, medical history and what position the patient sleeps in. “We scan the whole body through talking to the person and seeing how they respond to their symptoms,” explains Siblini.
The extensiveness and thoroughness of these sessions have led skeptics to say that homeopathy is no more than psychology with a placebo pill thrown in for good measure.
Reportedly used by the likes of Richard Branson and David Beckham, homeopathy has been growing in popularity over the past few years. Today, homeopathy has a strong presence in Europe and has been integrated into the healthcare systems of many countries including France, Germany and Switzerland, according to the British Homeopathic Association.
In total, $6.4 billion was spent on homeopathic and herbal remedies in the US in 2012, a 16 percent growth from 2007 according to Mintel, a global market research organization, which expects that figure to reach $7.5 billion in 2017 as availability of such medicines increases through mass retailers.
Homeopathy reached Lebanon in the year 2002 through a four-year part time course run in Lebanon by the LICH which lead to a diploma in homeopathy. Siblini and Samad were part of the second group who took the course in Beirut and estimate there is a total of 15 people practicing homeopathy in Lebanon.
Both practitioners agree there is a growing awareness regarding homeopathy among Lebanese, and attribute this to them being well travelled and therefore learning of homeopathy abroad and also to patients who have been successfully treated through this approach in Lebanon spreading the word.
Siblini says she has been practicing homeopathy for five years and has witnessed a steady increase in patient numbers. Abed El Samad says homeopathy is complementary to her dentistry practice as she often gives homeopathic pills to patients instead of antibiotics or painkillers. She proudly recounts a severe gum abscess case which she was able to cure by homeopathy alone. “The more cases I treat with homeopathy, the more I bear the responsibility to show how safe and economic this choice I have made is,” she says.
Perhaps most indicative of the practice’s growth in the country is that, four years ago, USJ began offering an elective course in homeopathy to students enrolled in pharmacy, medicine or dentistry. The administration at the university says enrolment for this course has been steady since its introduction, reaching up to 40 students. Homeopathy is touted as economical, and although homeopathy sessions in some countries can reach up to $800 per session — depending on the homeopath’s level of training — a typical two-hour diagnostic session in Lebanon will cost $75, with follow up sessions for $50. Following the diagnostic session, homeopathy continues to be economical in that medications are comparatively affordable and are taken for a short period of time — usually two or three times only — and few follow up sessions are typically needed.
Homeopathic medication has also risen in accessibility in Lebanon. Hotel Dieu Pharmacy, next to the Lebanese National Museum, manufactures low potencies of homeopathic medications, and say they sell an average of 50 prescriptions per month, usually for aches and pains. Mont Liban Pharmacy in the Furn El Shebek area provides such medications as well but imports them from Canada. Still, because homeopathy has no legal status in Lebanon, and is not regulated, not all homeopathic medications are available, and none is covered by insurance.
“Homeopathy is not recognized in Lebanon and is left up to the individual. We want to try to legalize our situation especially since it is being taught in USJ, and is prevalent in Europe,” says Abed El Samad. “The road is long and hard but I think we are moving in the right direction.”