When traditional western medicine fails to provide an acceptable answer, options available from alternative and complementary medicine can sometimes provide relief and even remarkable cures. Often these cures are based on lifestyle changes as an alternative to pills and procedures. In other cases, the alternatives may stretch your imagination and even give you pause to wonder if evidence could possibly exist.
In general, if a non-mainstream practice is used together with conventional medicine, it is considered “complementary medicine.” If a non-mainstream practice is used in place of conventional medicine, it is considered “alternative medicine.” Rather than use these terms, I will lump both alternative medicine, and complementary medicine under the term naturopathic medicine. In fairness, there are many ways of subdividing the practice of medicine including functional medicine, lifestyle medicine, integrative medicine, alternative medicine, complementary medicine, functional medicine, and holistic medicine to name a few. In most cases, these approaches overlap. While each approach to medicine has its proponents, for the discussion that follows, it will be adequate to divide the world of medicine into traditional medicine and naturopathic medicine. While this certainly isn’t the only way to view the big picture, it will serve for what follows.
Naturopathic medicine, or naturopathy as it is more often called, is a system of medicine based on the theory that diseases can often be successfully treated or prevented without the use of drugs or invasive procedures by use of diet, exercise, fasting, yoga, Ayurveda, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), herbal medicine, meditation, mindfulness, stress reduction, etc. As a doctor that practices traditional western medicine along with evidence based elements from naturopathic medicine (lifestyle medicine), I often see amazing improvements from patients that are willing to use nontraditional alternatives.
For a primary care doctor, the challenge in using naturopathic medicine is in finding scientific evidence that supports a recommended treatment. Indeed, much of what’s offered in the world of naturopathic medicine should be critically questioned. In his book, “The Nature Cure”, Andreas Michalsen, MD, Ph.D. tackles this problem by identifying the situations in which naturopathy shows evidence for superior results to traditional medicine. Although the book’s title suggests that the book is intended as a guide for doctors, the book should be understandable by anyone searching for an alternative cure. In the forward to the book, Valter Long PhD, a highly acclaimed longevity researcher summarizes the dilemma many face when searching for legitimate alternatives to traditional western medicine. In the forward to the book, Dr. Longo explains,
“For hundreds of years, health has been managed on one hand, by official medicine, based on the teachings of medical schools at the most important universities, on the results of clinical studies, and on the decisions of government agencies. On the other hand, health has also been managed by complementary medicine – sometimes based on ancient traditions, sometimes of dubious origin. In “The Nature Cure,” Dr. Andreas Miehalsen combines the teachings of official medicine and science-based complementary medicine to help readers live healthier while minimizing the need for medication. Dr. Miehalsen starts with the story of his personal journey to naturopathic medicine and then comes to discuss a variety of naturopathic therapies ranging from the use of leeches, hydrotherapy, yoga, exercise, diet and fasting, and how they can prevent and even cure major diseases. Dr. Michalsen, head of the naturopathy department at the Immanuel Hospital and Charite Medical University in Berlin is one of the best doctors of natural medicine I have ever known. His therapies are based on solid scientiﬁc and clinical pillars. In the field of therapeutic fasting, his clinic in Berlin is among the most prestigious in the world and is at the forefront of experimentation and implementation of new scientiﬁc discoveries on patients with diseases ranging from hypertension, diabetes, and cancer to multiple sclerosis. This is a book that brings us toward a new approach to medicine, a book that is not to be missed.”
Now, more than ever, traditional medicine needs to be augmented by naturopathy. Each day, doctors like me see ever more chronic diseases that traditional medicine fails to provide adequate methods of treatment for. Often, the traditional treatment is an unnecessary surgery, an expensive medication, or an unaffordable technologized treatment with marginal value and unknown long term side effects.
Fortunately for Dr. Michalsen, he works in an environment where the focus is not on setting divisions between different medical practices, but on integration and combination based on a scientific basis. Employing this concept, he and his fellow physicians treat thousands of patients to great success every year.
As Dr. Michalsen explains, a properly trained naturopath will never suggest avoiding traditional medicine when traditional medicine offers an advantage. To avoid the problem of specialty bias, countries like Germany require that doctors to be certified in a traditional medical discipline before being certified in naturopathy. In Germany, about 20% of physicians have this dual certification. In the United States, very few doctors have dual training and certification in both a traditional medical specialty and naturopathy.
In “The Nature Cure,” hundreds of useful recommendations are made. Some could be tried at home without assistance. However, most recommendations should be discussed with your physician to determine if they will be the best course of action and to ensure they are not contraindicated in your situation. For most Americans, this creates a dilemma. Given that few doctors specializing in traditional medicine are cross-trained in naturopathy, how can they be expected to provide useful advice?
If wondering what some of these possibilities might be, below are a few ideas you will find in “The Nature Cure.” Don’t be surprised if some of these methods are ones your grandmother knew.
- Sleeping in a room at 66 degrees is healthier than at 76 degrees.
- Cold and warm therapy have both been successful in treating fibromyalgia – so have meditative exercises (yoga, tai chi), and fasting.
- Endurance training heightens the body’s adaptability and strengthens its health. This is why exercise is an effective therapy for almost all illnesses. In contrast, a state of stagnation is rarely healthy.
- Leach therapy is often better than other therapies for osteoarthritis of the knee.
- Patients that routinely donate blood have significantly lower blood pressure and rates of cancer. Although the reason is not known, it is known that letting blood stimulates stem cell growth and reduces excess iron. Interestingly, bloodletting as a medical therapy is no longer practiced in traditional medicine.
- With regard to nutrition, what harms the body most is excess food. As exceptional as the body is at handling hunger, it has yet to adapt to excess food.
- The body fights bacteria more efficiently during periods of fasting. For viruses, the body fights better when it has ample energy.
- Intermittent fasting is favorable because it is something most people can do and provides many benefits. The positive effects of fasting happen after 14-16 hours without eating. This can be overnight, one full day, or a medically supervised fast of 3-14 days. By reducing our feeding time, we stimulate cell growth and give cells time to cleanse themselves.
- Therapeutic fasting has shown value for patients with rheumatism, diabetes, hypertension, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome, and food allergies.
- If we supply our bodies with excess of antioxidants from vitamins C, E, or beta-carotene supplements, we are likely to suppress our body’s production of antioxidants.
- Having to eat healthy may at first seem like an attack on your soul. Fortunately, this feeling easily goes away in time since our taste preference can change naturally over time. Most preferences are the result of our culture and social environment.
- The Predimed study showed that fish did not play a part in the health value of the Mediterranean diet. The beneficial effects were mostly from vegetables and nuts.
- About one-third of the global population is sensitive to excess salt and responds with higher blood pressure. To find out if you are sensitive to excess salt, just go without added salt for four weeks and observe whether blood pressure decreases. This will usually mean avoiding bread and most packaged foods.
- A massive positive change can be detected in the intestinal microflora after only four days after a change to a predominantly plant-based diet.
- Acid forming foods do not necessarily have an acidic taste. For example, lemons have an alkaline effect. Their acids dissolve in the stomach and never reach the bloodstream. In contrast, animal products, soft drinks, bread, and grains have an acidic effect. When excess quantities of acidic foods are eaten, the body draws on its calcium reserves to counteract the acid. This can lead to bone loss. This is why milk is not a dependable source of calcium. By themselves, dairy products produce a net negative effect on stored calcium. For this reason, people that depend on milk for calcium have a higher rate of fractures.
- Testosterone levels are lowered by meat consumption.
- About 15-25 percent of breast cancer cases can be avoided by regular exercises. For intestinal cancer, it’s 30-40 percent, and for prostate cancer 50-65 percent.
- Extreme athletics often produce unhealthy outcomes. Marathon runners often suffer from gastric ulcers and a heightened level of atherosclerosis in the coronary vessels. In contrast, moderate exercise of as little as thirty minutes twice a week produces better health outcomes.
- The blue light emitted by screens suppresses the sleep hormone melatonin.
- Yoga is beneficial for treating headaches, hypertension, soft tissue rheumatism, atrial fibrillation, and chronic IBS. About 90 min. of yoga a week is adequate. Yoga is also beneficial as a supplementary therapy for cancer.
- Studies have shown that meditation is superior to relaxation techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation.
- Acupuncture relieves pain: chronic lumbar back pains, neck pain, shoulder pain, arthritis pain, headaches, migraines, neuropathy pains, and as a supplementary cancer therapy.
- Cranberry juice is helpful for preventing bladder problems but not for curing them once the problem has progressed. Unfortunately, many news reports have misreported this difference.
- Even at sleep, a person does not relax as much as a person meditating.
- The chemical sulforaphane is activated when cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts, collars, etc.) are cut and left to air for about 30 minutes. This is why frozen vegetables are less healthy since they are often blanched before being cut. Still, frozen vegetables are much better than no vegetables.
- A coronary stent is a great help to a patient with myocardial infarction but it doesn’t change the underlying disease of atherosclerosis. Read more in “Are Stents the Answer?”
In the “The Nature Cure,” expect to find many more useful ideas along with references to evidence in peer reviewed articles.
Naturopathy works by teasing out our self-healing powers. It aims to stimulate the human body so that we regain our health on our own. As you might expect, in naturopathy, the best results come from a focus on the patient rather than on the illness. For example, a person with a fever might be encouraged to not suppress the fever beyond a point since the fever is part of the body’s natural healing strategy. For an otherwise healthy person, a fever is an important part of training the immune system. In contrast, for an elderly person suffering from a heart condition, a fever could be dangerous. This differs from a more traditional recommendation that often focusing on reducing the temperature for comfort regardless of the situation.
There are three roadblocks to using naturopathy. First, finding a qualified practitioner can be challenging. This can be especially challenging in America where licensing rules vary by locality. Secondly, most naturopathy prescriptions require active participation by the patient. Given that a high percentage of patients are non compliant with taking a pill, even more tend to be non compliant with a treatment that requires their time and attention. Lastly, insurance rarely pays for more than a very limited set of naturopathy treatments.
For most people, the first line of treatment, when indicated, should involve lifestyle change. Then, if traditional medicine is indicated and fails, it’s time to consider a naturopathic approach with a doctor trained in the appropriate specialty.
Nancy Neighbors, MD
Creamy Curried Kabocha Squash Soup
Something Old, Something New
Harvard professor David Sinclair, Ph.D. shares findings from recent research about health and longevity in the book, “Lifespan – Why we age and why we don’t have to.” Sinclair’s hope is that encouraging results from animal studies will carry over to humans. If he’s right, he will have discovered how to put the benefits of a lifestyle change into a pill.
Until human trials prove that a longevity pill works in humans, Sinclair is personally hedging his bets with lifestyle changes that include taking a lot of steps each day – especially the stairs, working out at the gym, jogging, and water therapy. He also plans to eat lots of plants, avoid smoking, avoiding excessive UV and X-Rays, avoid food cooked in plastic, and keep his BMI in the range of 23 to 25.
There is quite a bit of hope riding on Sinclair’s research. In a future post, I’ll offer more thoughts about Sinclair’s discoveries. For now, I’m hedging my bets on healthspan and lifespan the same way Sinclair does. I suggest you consider the same.
Kellie Auld’s Story
In an interesting story by Kellie Auld, she shares her experience with plant-based foods and how they helped her resolve problems with arthritis, blood pressure, and insomnia. What follows is her story, in her own words.
“About nine years ago, I was hit with polymyalgia rheumatica (PMR), an inflammatory disease that causes intense muscle aches and stiffness. I was a marathon runner and had always been physically fit up until then. At the time of my diagnosis, I was in such pain that I could not even brush my hair, because raising my arms that high was excruciating. My husband had to lift me out of bed every morning.” Click here to continue.
Points to Ponder
Quotes to Ponder
True healthcare reform starts in your kitchen, not in Washington.
The greatest wealth is health.
If you can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it”