Complementary and Alternative Medicine Use Among Hispanics in the United States

Blanca I. Ortiz, PharmD; Kelly M. Shields, PharmD; Kevin A. Clauson, PharmD; Patrick G. Clay, PharmD


The Annals of Pharmacotherapy. 2007;41(6):994-1004. 

In This Article

Origins of Health Beliefs and CAM Use

To better understand why a population demonstrates a vast diversity within itself, historical influences must be appreciated. The unique health and healing philosophy shared by the Hispanic population is attributed to a fusion of cultures.[7,8,9,10] Ancient native indigenes from Central and South America believed that natural forces in the sea, earth, and moon played an important role in an individual's health. A healthy life could be achieved only by demonstrating respect for the power of these natural forces. With the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century, the Catholic religion and Hippocrates' humoral theory of health were introduced into the New World. According to this theory, health was dependent on the proper distribution of the body's 4 humors: blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile, which are classified based on their physical properties as hot, cold, moist (wet), or dry.[7,8] Illness was attributed to an imbalance of these humors, and treatment was targeted to restore balance.[7]

Religion and faith were also considered vital to the maintenance of health and well-being. Spiritual healing (curanderismo), magic (santería), and some herbal remedies were introduced by African slaves, particularly in Brazil and the Caribbean.[7,8,9,10,11] This blend of spiritual, humoral, and herbal health concepts was the base for the development of the hot/cold theory of health and disease and the Hispanic CAM practices of today.

In the Hispanic theory of disease, ailments are thought to develop as a result of an imbalance between 2 humors: hot and cold. Based on this principle, specific diseases and conditions are classified as hot (caliente) or cold (frio). Consequently, the medications, remedies, and foods that are used to treat them are assigned descriptors accordingly. Therefore, the treatment recommended for any condition will usually have the opposite classification or properties. For instance, cold diseases are treated with hot remedies, while hot diseases are treated with cool or cold remedies ( Table 1 ).[7,8]


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