The Nature of Natural Health – Part I: Concepts,
Comparisons and Conventions
Michael Garko, Ph.D.
Host – Let’s Talk Nutrition
In his journal on August 23rd in 1853, Henry David Thoreau writing about Nature’s Panacea commented: “Nature is doing her best each moment to make us well. She exists for no other end. Do not resist ” (See Shepard, 1961). For Thoreau, “nature” was but another name for health and that which was natural or otherwise provided by nature represented the best pathway to health for the environment within and outside of the individual.
Perhaps the most remarkable ability of the human body is its innate and natured ability to heal itself, which evolved over millions of years. The ability of the body to heal itself implicates its inherent systems (e.g., immune system or channels of elimination such as the liver, lungs, lymphatic system, blood, colon, kidneys) to help bring about repair. It also involves an uncanny intelligence of sorts to know how to achieve the repair.
The innate ability of the body to heal itself is a fundamental principle which underpins the natural health philosophy and approach and its associated therapies. The May, 2010, issue of Healthful Hints focuses attention on the nature of natural health because the natural health paradigm provides a useful way for healthcare professionals and laypeople to help maintain health and wellness, while preventing illness and disease.
Definition of Natural Health
Natural health (sometimes referred to as natural medicine) is a philosophical and therapeutic paradigm of health based on and constituted of hundreds and even thousands of years of traditional use of various therapies across cultures designed to support and enhance the innate healing forces of the body endowed to it by nature and supported by science to either confirm or disconfirm the validity and reliability of natural health philosophies, principles, practices and products.
Natural Medicine, Conventional Medicine, Complimentary- Alternative Medicine and Integrative Medicine
It is important to understand the meaning and purpose of the natural health/medicine paradigm in relationship to conventional medicine and complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) (2007), “CAM is a group of diverse medical and health care systems, practices, and products that are not generally considered to be part of conventional medicine” (p. 1).
More specifically, complementary medicine is used in conjunction with conventional medicine (i.e., allopathic medicine) such as using acupuncture to help alleviate pain following surgery. Alternative medicine is used as a replacement for conventional medicine such as using naturopathic medicine or homeopathic medicine to help reclaim and maintain health instead of using pharmaceuticals. Integrative medicine is an approach which combines treatments from conventional medicine and CAM (see Institutes of Health, 2007).
In light of these definitions, natural health/medicine is an overarching paradigm which embraces CAM and integrative medicine. Therefore, the natural health model excludes conventional medicine and includes CAM health care systems, practices and products.
Natural Medicine Therapies
Given that natural health/medicine is an overarching paradigm which embraces CAM, it would include in its repertoire of therapies those derived from the CAM. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) organizes CAM into the following categories with examples of therapies representative of each classification:
Whole Medical Systems including homeopathic medicine, naturopathic medicine, traditional Chinese medicine & Ayruveda
Mind-Body Medicine including a variety of techniques to enhance the mind’s ability to affect functions and symptoms of the body such as patient support groups, cognitive-behavioral therapy, meditation, prayer, mental healing and therapies using creative activities such as art, music or dance.
Biologically Based Practices including the use of substances found in nature such as herbs, foods and vitamins in the form of dietary supplements and herbal products.
Manipulative and Body-Based Practices including chiropractic, osteopathic and massage which involve manipulation or movement of different parts of the body.
Energy Medicine including biofield therapies such as qi gong, Reiki and Therapeutic touch designed to affect energy fields located in the body and bioelectromagnetic-based therapies including the unconventional use of electromagnetic fields such as pulsed fields, magnetic fields or alternating-current or direct-current fields (see Institutes of Health, 2007).
Science, Nature and Natural Health
Some might be inclined erroneously to be believe that since it is in contrast to conventional medicine, the natural health approach is divorced from and unsupported by science. Nothing could be further from the facts. Dr. Michael Murray made the following observation about the relationship among natural medicine, nature and science:
“An evolution is occurring in health care as more natural medicines gain acceptance. Interestingly, this acceptance is largely a result of increased scientific investigation and the public’s awareness of this research. It appears that medical researchers now have in their possession the technology and understanding necessary to more fully appreciate the value of ‘natural’ therapies. In essence, many natural therapies are being improved or refined through scientific investigations. Science is paving the way for the medicine of the future – a medicine that recognizes the healing power of nature” (Murray, 1996, p.5).
Thus, the natural medicine paradigm is one in which science, nature and a natural approach are integrated in an effort to prevent and treat illnesses, while promoting health and wellness. Murray (2010) addressed the myth of natural medicines being nonscientific:
“One of the great myths about natural medicines is that they are not scientific. The fact of the matter is that for most common illnesses there is tremendous support in the medical literature for a more natural approach” (Murray, 2010, p. 1).
The natural health/medicine paradigm represents an approach to health and wellness which celebrates and capitalizes upon the ability of the body to heal itself. Contemporary practitioners and proponents of natural medicine believe that the innate healing properties, forces and energies of the body find their genesis in nature. Further, those who are less parochial and ideological about natural medicine, recognize the importance of science to test and validate the philosophy, principles, practices and products constituting the natural health paradigm. Consequently, science, nature and natural health are not viewed as incompatible with one another but integrated so as to prevent and treat illness, while promoting health and wellness.
Therapeutically speaking, the natural health paradigm draws upon CAM therapies derived from whole medical systems, mind-body medicine, biologically based practices, manipulative and body-based practices and energy medicine. Thus, it provides health consumers with an array of therapies to help create, sustain and reclaim a person’s health and wellbeing.
Murray, M.T. (1996). Encyclopedia of nutritional supplements. The essential guide for improving your health naturally. New York: Random House.
Murray, M.T. (2010). About Dr. Murray. Retrieved on April 22, 2010 from http://www.doctormurray.com/
National Institutes of Health (2007). CAM basics: What is CAM? Retrieved April 22, 2010 from http://nccam.nih.gov/health/whatiscam/D347.pdf
Shepard, O. (Ed.) (1961). The heart of Thoreau’s journals. New York: Dover Publications, Inc.
Updated and revised May 30, 2010