In part I of this series we talked about what the word natural means to the products industry.
Now let’s talk about what natural medicine is.
The Cliff’s notes version of natural medicine
Natural medicine is:
What most people think natural medicine is
A lot of people use the word natural medicine without a clear understanding of what it really is. The most common definition I see people using is prescribing nutrients, herbs or other non-drug substances in place of drugs.
For example if you have a cold and take vitamin C instead of Nyquil, most people would say you are using natural medicine.
As you can see, that’s only partly right, the common definition of natural medicine only takes in point two.
Working with the body’s processes whenever possible
The first, and most important, criteria for natural medicine is the treatment philosophy. In natural medicine we attempt to work WITH the body whenever possible.
We try to understand what the body is trying to accomplish, why it’s doing what it’s doing, and then whenever possible to work with those processes. We look for roadblocks preventing people from getting better and try to remove them to allow bodily processes to correct themselves.
One of the reasons natural medicine tries to avoid pharmaceutical drugs is that often they block or work against natural bodily processes. If a drug has the word anti- in it’s name, you know that it is blocking a bodily process. IMPORTANT: Drugs have their place. They are necessary at times, and they SHOULD be used when needed.
An easy example of this way of thinking is a stuffy nose. Let’s say you’ve got a cold and have a snotty, stuffy nose.
Conventional treatment would be take a decongestant, clearing the stuffy nose.
But let’s dig deeper for a minute and understand what is going on. Why do you have a stuffy nose? Because the cells of your nose and sinuses are responding to the presence of viruses or bacteria and making a protective layer of mucus (snot) to protect and flush out your nose. So, snot is part of your immune system. By taking a decongestant we work against the body’s natural processes and hamper the immune system.
In natural medicine we would try to avoid the use of decongestants if possible because we recognize that doing so hampers the body’s immune system and makes it harder to recover from the cold. Instead we would use therapies to enhance the immune reaction and help to keep the mucus liquid so that it drains easily. Working with the body’s natural processes.
Using therapies derived from natural sources whenever possible
IMPORTANT: Again drugs have their place. I do use them, and so should you, if they’re necessary.
The second reason that we use medicines and treatments that come from natural sources is because they are much more complex and nuanced than synthetic medicines. Try as we might, nothing humans have been able to produce comes near the complexity of what nature makes.
One example of this are the class of herbs known as adaptogens – such as Ginseng, Rhodiola, and Ashwagandha. Adaptogens help restore balance to the body. For example if your cortisol is low they will help to bring it back up, but if it’s high they will help to bring it back down. They work with the body in a way that no prescription drug is currently capable of.
Similarly pills can’t replace food. The nutrients in food are far more complex than what we can make in pill form or fortify in food-like items. So natural medicine will always involve what you eat (and how you live your life).
If you see a practitioner of natural medicine and over the course of your treatment they don’t talk about food, as well as sleep, exercise, and stress management (all things that the body needs to function well and be healthy), I would seriously consider getting a second opinion.
Natural medicine is more than just switching drugs for natural compounds. It is first and foremost a philosophy of trying to work with the body whenever possible, and natural substances do that much better than prescription drugs which often block or derange bodily processes.
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