Are youths into alternative med?

Many unregistered traditional and complementary medicines are sold widely in Malaysia

The utilisation of traditional and complementary medicines in Malaysia is still questionable and experts have raised questions regarding the quality, efficacy, contents and safety of its usage. 

Based on an article written by the Health Ministry Director General Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah, in The Star on Jan 14 this year, the World Health Organization acknowledged there was significant and increased demand for T&CM practices and practitioners worldwide. 

The Health Ministry has always been aware of the importance of T&CM in Malaysia from the healthcare, economic and socio-cultural perspectives. Interestingly Malaysia is one of the very few countries to regulate diverse practices and practitioners of T&CM. 

Known for its multicultural population, Malaysia has rich traditional practice modalities and among these modalities is the use of herbal medicine for treatment of various ailments and even for beauty purposes. 

There are many unregistered traditional and complementary medicines sold widely in Malaysia. At the same time, the problem becomes more serious because the society including the young generation or youth is using traditional medicines consisting of either those that are produced locally or those that are imported. 

Traditional medicine is defined as non-prescription drugs bought over the counter or by direct selling. It contains herbal/natural products, which are consumed orally either as powder, tablet, capsule, caplet, emulsion, suspension, mixtures or boiled preparations. On the other hand, modern medicines are defined as prescription drugs obtained from physicians or over the counter that do not contain herbal/natural ingredients in them (Zabidah Ismail et. al., 2005). 

Moreover, data on the sociological and behavioural aspects related to T&CM consumption in the youth population, is lacking in Malaysia. The trend of T&CM in the youth population has to be taken into serious consideration and helping them by providing such information is important and may help them to understand the benefits and dangers of T&CM (registered/approved) consumption.

T&CM therapies are generally available, affordable and commonly used in low and middle-income countries. Many of T&CM therapies are supported by empirical evidence on safety and effectiveness. 

For example, the effectiveness of acupuncture, artemisinin, cupping, tiger milk mushroom and many others. There are benefits and risks of T&CM and modern medicines too. In view of the benefits and risks of T&CM therapies, efforts to ensure its proper use need to involve a wide range of stakeholders including consumers, government, health authorities, NGOs, professionals and consumer organisations, and researchers. 

Proper use of T&CM by consumers is a relative term that is influenced by local culture and context, and primarily dependent on the individual’s knowledge and ability to minimize the risks and maximize its use (WHO, 2004).

Much research has been carried out by local and international researchers to look into this matter especially when it comes to the youth as the future leaders in Malaysia. 

Among others, research done by Malina et. al., (2017) on the attitudes towards complementary alternative medicine among Malaysian adults found that the high prevalence of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) usage by Malaysian adults was significantly associated with a positive attitude towards it. 

The respondents (417 individuals age of 18 years old and above) personal attitudes influence their likelihood of using CAM. Those with a positive attitude towards CAM were more likely to use it. 

These findings are important because knowledge of the predictors of CAM usage may help healthcare providers identify patients at increased risk of CAM use. These patients would be candidates for receiving guidance on safe use of CAM.

To justify the likely or unlikely trends among the young generation on whether they prefer to adopt T&CM instead of modern medicines, more research has to be carried out in the future to see the current trend among the young population in Malaysia. 

The most important thing is that education and awareness on healthcare should be given since childhood and it starts from home. Parents, siblings, teachers, friends, advertisements, promotions are among the significant factors to influence in trying or buying these products.

Why they buy these products? Cheap? Easy to purchase? Sold openly in the market? Beauty conscious? Influenced by the celebrities? Fast results? And the reason will go on and on. 

Who will benefit most from this purchase trend among the young generation and Malaysians in general? Every Malaysian has to play their roles in educating and seeking more information when it comes to health matters. Whatever we consume or insert in our body with or without seeking the advice of doctors/health professionals might cause danger and risk to our health. 

There is no shortcut to be healthy, beautiful, smart, energetic and young. Believe in yourself and appreciate yourself. Don’t be someone else and suffer to be beautiful just because someone else looks better than you. Be smart and save your money for your rainy days! Happiness is the secret to all beauty – physical, mind, spiritual and you name it, I am sure you know better.

Prof. Madya Dr Noor Sulastry Yurni Dato’ Ahmad 

Othman Yeop Abdullah Graduate School of Business

Universiti Utara Malaysia Kuala Lumpur