The trendy cousin of traditional medicine keeps your mind buzzing and body glowing.

If the key to ageing well is choosing our parents wisely, there's little we can do to improve our chances once we're born. Luckily, it's not so simple as experts advise that while good genes help, the real key to a long and healthy life is a combination of diet, exercise, mental stimulation and self-efficacy.

Medical practitioners believe good choices can make a huge difference in the way we age, no matter how late in life they are made.

Your lifestyle and attitude are significantly more important than your genes in determining whether or not your twilight years are healthy ones - even if you have a genetic predisposition for developing Alzheimer's, arthritis, cancer, or other serious health problems.

Man has always harnessed nature's unlimited bounty to produce good health. No longer for the 'hippe' generation, the trendy cousin of traditional medicine is being embraced like never before.

History books tell us that throughout the ages mankind has used a variety of plants for the prevention and treatment of diseases. Well-known examples are India's ancient medical system, Ayurveda, and the traditional medicine developed by Native American, Aboriginal, African, Chinese, Japanese, Middle Eastern, Tibetan, South American and Central American cultures.

It's estimated that about 25 per cent of all prescription modern medicine (i.e. morphine, codeine, emetine, digitalis) is directly or indirectly derived from plants, and that at least 60 per cent of over-the-counter medicines still contain one or more natural products as ingredients. About 60 per cent of the cancer medicines on the market are derived from plants. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), because of poverty and lack of access to modern medicine, about 65 to 80 per cent of the world's population depends on plants for primary health care.

Millions of people are still suffering and succumbing to cancer after decades of research into curbing the disease. Despite a huge bank of new treatments and technologies, physicians are sometimes unable to cure their patients or offer them relief from their symptoms.

At the same time, confronted with soaring research and development expenses for prescription drugs, healthcare systems worldwide face intense pressure to lower costs and to improve service. This, in turn, has triggered reactions ranging from strenuous efforts to improve productivity of drug companies to the emergence of complementary and alternative medicine. In 1997, Americans spent more on alternative medicine than they did on hospitalisation and physician services.

Many people mistakenly assume that when patients turn to alternative healing methods, they are dissatisfied with conventional means. More and more people are turning to naturopathy as a complement to traditional medicine in a bid to adopt a more holistic approach to wellbeing.

Naturopathy believes health and disease are conditions of the whole organism, a whole involving a complex interaction of physical, spiritual, mental, emotional, genetic, environmental, social, and other factors. The physician must treat the whole person by taking all of these factors into account. The harmonious functioning of all aspects of the individual is essential to recovery from and prevention of disease, and requires a personalised and comprehensive approach to diagnosis and treatment. And that can never be a bad thing.

Take homeopathy for instance. An important basic difference exists between conventional medical therapy and homeopathy. In conventional therapy, the aim often is to control the illness through regular use of medical substances. If the medication is withdrawn, however, the person returns to illness. There has been no cure. A person who takes a pill for high blood pressure every day is not undergoing a cure but is only controlling the symptoms, whereas homeopathy's aim is the cure.

According to Dr. Riyaz Badami, a practicing homeopath, homeopathy is a science based on individualisation. Hence every individual is treated based on symptoms, causative factors, etc, which differ from patient to patient, so the doctor has to first garner a detailed history to get to the bottom of the case. The medicine is then selected on that basis.

"The medicine used in homeopathy is natural in origin, its sources being plants, minerals, salts, etc. that are non-toxic, non-habit forming and have no side effects, therefore safe for children and pregnant women," says Badami, who has practised homeopathy for seven years in Mumbai before joining Dr. Ray's Medical Centre in Dubai.

Having a doctor as a father meant it was a natural progression for the young boy to get into conventional medicine. But when his mother fell ill with an enlarged heart and conventional medicine offered no cure, the family turned to homeopathy. The result? "Her heart size came down to normal and I began to realise the limitations of conventional medicine. I knew then I had to follow this alternative path.

"Homeopathy, being a complete science, treats and cures most ailments from simple colds and fever, allergic asthma to chronic arthritis, bronchitis, bowel disorders, menstrual disorders, stress, insomnia, etc. Local cases that come to me on a regular basis are cases of eczema, chronic tonsillitis, migraine, hypertension, arthritis, etc. And the results with homeopathy have been fantastic."

Clinical nutrition is another cornerstone of alternative/complementary medicine. That food is the best medicine is an established tenet of naturopathic practice. Many medical conditions can be treated more effectively with foods and nutritional supplements than they can by other means, with fewer complications and side effects. Naturopathic physicians use dietetics, natural hygiene, fasting, and nutritional supplementation in practice.

Physical medicine is another branch of naturopathic medicine where doctors concerned have their own methods of therapeutic manipulation of muscles, bones, and spine. Naturopathic doctors also use ultrasound, diathermy, exercise, massage, water, heat and cold, air and gentle electrical pulses.

Oriental medicine is a complementary healing philosophy to naturopathic medicine. Meridian theory offers an important understanding of the unity of the body and mind, and augments the Western understanding of physiology.

Acupuncture provides a method of treatment, which can unify and harmonise the imbalances present in disease conditions, which, if untreated, can result in illness.

"Acupuncture originated from China and it is said that seven out of 10 doctors in China are in this field of complementary medicine," says Dr. Sadiq G. Badami, who is attached to Dr. Ray's Medical Centre. "The human body is controlled by energy by 14 meridians. A perfect balance in them is health. During disease there is an imbalance in these energy levels, which can be restored by acupuncture. During acupuncture the body releases natural endorphins thus working wonders in all painful conditions."

He has been a practicing physician for the last 33 years and specialist acupuncturist for 23. What made Badami choose acupuncture? "Having practiced medicine for 10 years, people began to know and trust me. The number of patients increased considerably but there were many that kept coming back with the same ailments. As long as they were on painkillers, they were fine but these lost their efficacy in time," he says.

"This thought of not doing justice to my patients bothered me and hence I was on the lookout for an alternative method, which is when I discovered this ancient but fantastic science where there are no medicines used. It has no side effects and works miracles."

Badami learned this science 23 years ago in Sri Lanka and, since then, has been able to help thousands of patients and continues to do so. "Acupuncture is a complete science recognised by WHO. Its best results are seen in arthritis, backache, sciatica, spondylitis, migraine and all conditions where pain is the main complaint. It also works wonders in uncontrolled hypertension, stress, insomnia, paralysis and other neurological conditions."

There are so many complementary and alternative methods on the market that it is difficult to list them all. Acupressure, reflexology, aromatherapy are the more mainstream ones while the slightly more offbeat paths include art therapy in which people express their inner feelings and release emotional blocks through drawing, painting and craftwork, and music therapy in which music is used to bring about positive changes in people with health or educational problems. Then there is humour therapy, hypnosis, guided imagery, yoga, reiki, transcendental meditation, hydro therapy, flower remedy and prayer therapy, just to name a few.

One of the more off-the-wall entrants in the field is autonomic response testing where a beam is transmitted to you that signals either a disease or a remedy and your body responds. This is said to be based on the body's energy fields. In this therapy, aqua detox machines, among other things, are used to encourage the body to release toxins through the feet, a sort of high-tech foot spa.

Whatever your preference, remember you will be joining a select band of A-list celebrities who have embraced these alternative paths to keep their minds buzzing and their bodies taut and glowing.