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Natural medicine, wellness and health

There is a global renaissance and renewed interest in natural medicine, wellness and health promotion. Natural medicine is ‘an idea whose time has come’ and the world’s acceptance of the importance and validity of natural medicine (both as an alternative to conventional medication and as a synergistic part of conventional treatments) could also be seen as a sign of our times! This is happening despite extensive growth and development in the technological advances taking place in physics, biogenetic engineering, physiology, genetics, pharmacology and the scientific advances in understanding disease processes. Smallpox has been eradicated. The risk of developing many previously serious childhood diseases has been diminished. Surgical procedures have been revolutionised, with intricate and life-saving procedures becoming run of the mill, daily occurrences. Lives are saved every day by the progresses made in modern medicine.

Yet there is a growing dissatisfaction with mainstream health care, or rather, disease management. One reason for this is the widespread, easily accessible availability of information on the Internet, in books, magazines, CDs and journals on every health and disease topic known to humankind. People are becoming more knowledgeable on health maintenance and disease management. It is in human nature to strive towards adapting to life in an evolutionary way by always searching for better solutions to problems and challenges. Gone are the days where the doctor’s dictum was accepted without qualm or question. People want to know more about their own health and wellbeing. They are not willing to adopt the role of victim any longer, but want to feel in control of their own bodies and minds. There is a tremendous shift towards self empowerment. The doctor-patient relationship has changed enormously over the past 2 decades. It is evolving into a teacher-learner, co-operative relationship where both strive to restore balance and health, and where the patient becomes actively involved in his or her own healing process.

Combined with this is an ever-increasing dissatisfaction with solely treating or suppressing disease symptoms solely through the use of potent drugs. The latter cause countless side-effects and are often withdrawn from the market (e.g. Vioxx), then the symptoms are treated with more drugs, creating a vicious circle, without ever looking below the surface at the real cause of the disease process. Problems such as antibiotic resistance have also helped us to look for solutions to our health problems elsewhere and to learn from the past, when a more natural approach to health was used in many cultures worldwide. In this regard think of traditional African and Chinese medicine, Ayurveda (India), naturopathy as practised in ancient Greece and modern Europe and America, homeopathy, and Native American medicine. Modern Western technology has helped us to analyse the active ingredients in plants, to manufacture excellent natural medicines and food supplements, and to prove their efficacy using modern scientific methodology to soothe our evidenced-based left brained mindsets.

The old paradigm in medicine and science, based on Newton’s and Descartes’ cause-and-effect views, have been replaced by quantum physics, Einstein’s relativity theory and the physics of Stephen Hawking. The new paradigm incorporates possibilities rather than certainties and recognises the interconnectedness of the universe.

Health care costs are also skyrocketing. Natural medicine is a natural solution to this problem. Natural medicine focuses on the prevention of disease, the maintenance of balanced wellness and the use of non-toxic, natural therapies to restore health where disease exists. Natural medicine has been practised by peoples of all ages and cultures throughout the history of the world. Its aim is to enhance key body systems (heart and cardiovascular health, detoxification processes, digestion and elimination, immune support and stress management for neurological and endocrine support).

This is done by correcting lifestyle habits based on establishing or restoring healthy eating patterns, practising moderate exercise, the use of botanical medicines (herbs) and food supplements, as well as stress management through lifestyle counselling, relaxation and coaching. Some naturopaths also make use of homeopathy, hydrotherapy, acupuncture, chiropractic and/or traditional Chinese and African medicine. It is an ideal healing system to combine with modern mainstream medicine.

As defined by the World Health Organisation, health is ‘a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing, not merely the absence of disease or infirmity’,.

The four cornerstones of balanced health and wellness are:

  1. A positive mental attitude
  2. A healthy lifestyle that includes moderate exercise, adequate sleep and rest, stress management and relaxation, work-life balance, contact with nature and the environment, and social/community interaction and responsibility
  3. A health-promoting diet
  4. Supplementary measures.
Natural medicine is based on 7 principles
  1. ‘First, do no harm’ (Hippocrates)
  2. Nature has healing powers
  3. Identify and treat the cause of disease
  4. Treat the whole person, integrating body, mind, emotions, soul and environment
  5. The physician is a teacher, and so is the illness
  6. Prevention is the best cure
  7. Establish balanced health and wellness.

This was proclaimed more than 2 000 years ago by the Greek philosopher and physician, Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine. The Western form of naturopathy actually originated with his philosophy of healing. Modern medicine would do well to return to its father’s principles!

Our natural inclination is towards health or balanced wellness (homeostasis). We often only need some natural support and tender loving care to assist us in looking at disease as a teacher that is trying to show us that something is wrong below the surface of our lives. Disease can be compared with the tip of an iceberg – most of the turmoil is happening underneath the physical manifestation of the disease in the mental, emotional or spiritual realms. Herbs and other food supplements can gently help us through the process of healing by providing support. Natural medicine should not be regarded as a cure-all or quick fix, albeit natural! Such an attitude would defeat the whole purpose of it.

Research has proved that 80 – 90% of today’s diseases are stress-related. In the USA the cost of job-related stress amounts to $200 billion per annum, often disguised in the form of increased absenteeism, reduced productivity, increased staff turnover, accidents, compensation claims, health insurance (medical aid) claims and medical costs.

Emotional stress may be transformed (somatised) into and expressed or manifested in any number of specific and non-specific physical symptoms such as neurodermatitis, heart palpitations, backache, chronic fatigue, headaches, sleep disturbances, abdominal pain, gastrointestinal distress, hyperventilation, low blood sugar, high blood pressure, urination problems, fatigue, weight gain or weight loss, unusual allergies, frequent irritating infections such as colds, leaky gut syndrome, candida and cold sores, depressed mood and so on.

Doctors are trained to find a diagnosable disease as a physical cause. However some of these symptoms of somatisation cannot be identified as a specific disease. Evaluations such as expensive lab tests, X-rays, CAT scans and MRIs are being used with increasing frequency. Highly skilled physicians consistently fail to recognise patients with the ‘worried well’ syndrome, because they are trained to look for the organic causes of illnesses. The Kaiser Permanente Health Plan in America found that 70% of all visits to a physician by its 2 million enrollees in California involved no diagnosable physical disease. Thirty subsequent studies have since confirmed these data regarding the somatisation of stress.

Summarising 20 years of research over a 5-year period, there is an astonishing 75% reduction in the use of medical resources in patients with stress-associated symptoms after they start implementing stress-management techniques. The decrease in symptoms becomes noticeable within 2 – 8 sessions.

Supporting the above data, a World Health Organisation International Study lists the following six diseases as the most common reasons for visits to primary care facilities: depression, anxiety/stress/tension, alcohol/substance abuse, sleep disorders, chronic tiredness/fatigue, and unexplained psychosomatic complaints. Wellness programmes have been proven to be most effective for precisely these ‘dis-eases’.

The top 10 South African medical aid claims (in other words cost of claims to medical aids) in order of appearance are hypertension (high blood pressure), hyperlipidaemia (high blood fats or lipids, e.g. high cholesterol), asthma, depression, type 1 diabetes, epilepsy, cancer, osteoporosis, arthritis, and type-2 diabetes. Stress is implicated in ALL of these, either as a direct cause, exacerbating factor, or both.

There is a worldwide move to wellness leading to a perception shift from ‘sick care’ to ‘well care’. As trendsetter Faith Popcorn said in The Popcorn Report written more than 15 years ago: ‘Wellness programs are becoming increasingly recognised as crucial to the future of corporations, not only because of runaway health-care costs, but also because of employee entitlement. Medical knowledge and alternatives will cross cultures in a way we have never seen before.’ Wellness and natural medicine are also the areas of the biggest business growth explosion predicted for the next 5-10 years.

Research has proved that wellness interventions based on the philosophy, principles and key system approach of natural medicine, are implemented with great success in US and European countries. There is a dire need for more of these programmes in South Africa to contain rising health care costs, stress-related diseases and to increase productivity, vitality and creativity.

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