“Natural health” is a broad term that refers to a wide variety of healing methodologies, modalities, principles, and paradigms. While there are indeed different forms of natural medicine, which we will discuss in this article, there are several commonalities amongst most forms that make up the core tenets of natural health and healing.
Naturopathic medicine, which is a form of primary healthcare that makes up a large sector of the natural health arts and sciences, is based upon six primary principles which I believe encapsulate some of the core tenets of natural health in general and help to answer the question “what is natural health?” quite nicely.
Most forms of natural health and healing that you will come across will be based on these principles to some degree.
The Core Tenets of Natural Health and Healing/6 Principles of Naturopathic Medicine
1. First do no harm: investigate all options for treatment at the onset and utilize as many non-invasive, gentle, natural treatment options as possible before resorting to the use of drugs or surgical procedures. The least toxic, invasive, and potentially risky options are always employed first.
2. Doctor as teacher/partner in healing: the practitioner educates and guides the client/patient, however it is very much a working partnership. The patient takes responsibility for their role in healing and takes the initiative in implementing all necessary steps in healing.
3. The healing power of nature: due to the fact that our natural world is absolutely filled with a plethora of agents that are comprised of extremely powerful healing qualities, natural treatments are always utilized first and foremost. The concept of “food as medicine” is also a way of utilizing the healing power of nature, in that whole food nutrition is one of the most important and influential areas to consider when achieving and maintaining a state of health.
4. Identify and treat the underlying cause: this is one of the most significant and fundamental principles of natural health and healing in general. Instead of examining the surface symptoms of illness and imbalance, the core underlying cause is investigated and treated, which ultimately alleviates the surface symptoms and achieves thorough healing instead of masking symptoms and leaving the root cause undetected and untreated.
For example, instead of diagnosing someone with “high blood pressure/hypertension,” the root cause of why that person has high blood pressure is assessed, determined, and subsequently treated, which alleviates the symptom of high blood pressure.
5. Treat the Whole Person in mind, body, and spirit: the physical body is only one part of the picture, as our mind/intellect, emotions, and spirit/soul are all also equally as influential in the total conglomeration that makes up the Whole Person.
The term “Whole Person” is capitalized mainly as a way of emphasizing this point. Because we are an interconnected Whole as people, each of these facets must be taken into consideration and attended to when working to achieve total health and healing. Furthermore, the obligatory understanding that the mind and body are intimately connected is also honored throughout all stages of the healing process.
6. Prevention: an emphasis on the prevention of illness instead of treatment of illness after it has developed or progressed is key. Facilitating a healthy lifestyle, optimal nutrition, healthy environment, and positive relationships are all key areas that are addressed within a preventative approach to healthcare.
The Main Forms of Natural Medicine
While there are indeed a number of varying forms of natural healthcare, the main modalities include the following:
The six principles outlined above cover most of the primary components of naturopathic medicine overall. Another very important tenet of naturopathic medicine is the concept of homeostasis. This refers to the human body’s innate, consistent, and organic effort to achieve and maintain balance, under all circumstances. Therefore, the human body can be seen as a self-righting vessel so to speak.
Instead of removing organs that are temporarily operating inadequately, or introducing a new load of toxic debris for the body to metabolize in the form of copious medications, this perspective employs gentle, natural supports that will encourage the body to heal on its own, as it was designed to do.
Aggravating factors such as environmental toxins, unhealthy relationships, poor eating habits, chronic stress etc are improved upon and ideally, removed from one’s life in order to encourage a more optimal self-healing process.
This concept also involves the awareness that presenting illness may actually be a mechanism that the body is using to try to achieve a degree of balance under the circumstances that it is currently operating under. Symptoms are part of the body’s attempt to correct various imbalances. Treatment approaches will honor this in order to facilitate optimal healing.
Naturopathic medicine investigates the full “terrain” of the human body, environment, and unique, Whole Person thoroughly in order to get to the absolute root of presenting illness and imbalance.
Naturopathic Doctors are primary care doctors whom are thoroughly trained in pharmacology and are able to prescribe almost all forms of pharmaceutical drugs if necessary, if they practice in a state that licenses and regulates NDs.
They are also able to perform minor in-office surgeries as well as gynecological care (again, in states that license and regulate NDs). Scope of practice details will vary by state so it is important to research your particular state’s statutes for the most up-to-date information.
The term “functional” medicine is more of a recently coined term. Functional medicine is extremely similar to naturopathic medicine overall. The main difference would be that it doesn’t rest as heavily on the principle that the human body is self-healing, which is a key component of the naturopathic medical perspective, however this element is still considered in functional medicine practice.
Functional medicine is often said to be “systems-oriented,” as it takes the interconnected nature of our physiology into full consideration. “Promotion of organ reserve” is also a key tenet, which is your body’s degree of resilience following injury and/or illness.
Integrative medicine combines the principles and methodologies of both conventional and natural/functional medicine to provide the most comprehensive and all-inclusive form of care.
All appropriate measures are considered per each individual’s unique case. This can often involve utilizing both western medicine and natural medicine together to provide the most complete care.
- Traditional Chinese Medicine
Also referred to as “TCM,” Traditional Chinese Medicine is an ancient medical system that focuses on an energy system throughout the body that is connected via meridian points. This energy flow is called qi.
TCM is also based on the principle that health and wellness are dependent on a balance between yin and yang, which are opposing forces that are present in all things, including the human body.
There are various healing techniques used within TCM to restore qi and achieve yin/yang balance which can include acupuncture, cupping, acupressure, Chinese herbs and botanicals, nutrition, massage, and a practice called Qigong.
Ayurvedic medicine originates from India and involves a strong emphasis on prevention of illness by leading a balanced lifestyle. Each person houses their own “constitution” which embodies their unique physical, emotional, and mental characteristics. In addition, this form of medicine involves the balancing of three energetic/biological components of the body which are referred to as vata, pitta, and kapha.
Sometimes someone may use the term “homeopathic medicine” to refer to the natural health field in general, when it is in fact a specific and specialized form of natural medicine. This form of natural medicine, which originated in the 1700s, is based on a principle that “like heals like” which means that small doses of a substance that would produce similar symptoms in a healthy person can be used to treat such symptoms in someone whom is ill.
It is also based on the notion of “the law of the minimum dose” which refers to the philosophy that the lower the dose of something, the more effective it is.
Homeopathic treatments are extremely individualized in their formulation. This form of medicine is strongly based on the body’s self-healing capacity and symptoms as a presentation of the body’s attempt to achieve homeostasis. Homeopathic remedies are used to encourage this self-healing process.
Chiropractic care is largely based upon the nurturing of the musculoskeletal system of the body – which includes your bones, muscles, ligaments, and tendons. Spinal adjustment and manipulation is used to help balance overall physiology.
Chiropractic care is also heavily based upon the body’s self-healing ability and involves a strong emphasis on custom- tailored nutrition counseling as a core component of one’s healing protocol. Applied kinesiology is used frequently in chiropractic practice, which is a form of muscle testing that manually tests nervous system responses, which can indicate imbalances throughout the body.
- Biological/Holistic Dentistry
Biological/Holistic Dentistry is a field of dentistry that recognizes the significant connection between oral health and systemic health and utilizes natural treatments and non-toxic substances for oral care. This field considers the Whole Person throughout all facets of the healing and treatment process.
Biological dentists utilize a root cause focus instead of solely treating symptoms. This field emphasizes the importance of lifestyle and diet and their impact on oral health, and provides the “safe removal” technique for the removal and replacement of toxic mercury amalgam dental fillings.
There are also various terms that are used to refer to natural health and healing such as “alternative medicine,” “holistic healthcare,” and “integrative healthcare.”
Alternative medicine is usually referring to non-conventional medicine, ie an “alternative” to conventional medicine.
Holistic healthcare is usually referring to the emphasis of the mind, body, and spirit connection and how these foundational elements of the Whole Person must be focused on and addressed as an interconnected whole.
Integrative healthcare is often referring to an integration of multiple forms of healthcare which are applied simultaneously to treat the unique needs of each individual patient.
I choose to use the term “integrative health arts and sciences” as a sort of catchall term because this arena comprises such a plethora of components and approaches which can be considered both sciences and arts, in their nuanced application.
Additional Components of Natural Health and Healing
There are a wide variety of factors that have a notable influence on our health, of which most natural health modalities take into full consideration. In addition to the concepts discussed thus far, most forms of natural healing approaches will employ an emphasis on the following:
- “Patient-centered care” – this means that instead of treating a disease, you are treating the patient as the dynamic individual that they are. You are taking into consideration many factors that go into creating their whole picture, and not focusing solely on a diagnosis, which would limit your ability to truly understand their presenting illness and successfully develop an appropriate healing protocol.
Health is not solely considered to be the absence of illness, but the existence of balanced vitality.
- Very thorough examination of one’s entire health history – “new patient forms” are often very lengthy as the exploration of one’s history and consideration of many different factors is important as part of the assessment process. Your initial appointments with a natural health practitioner will also often be quite long, in part to allow the practitioner the ability to gain a very thorough understanding of your health history up until that point.
Root cause focused healing is dependent on taking one’s health history into full consideration as it plays a strong role in determining each unique and often multifactorial core underlying cause.
- The development of illness as a causal chain – this concept refers to the unique chain of events that occur and manifest into illness/symptoms. Understanding one’s various causal chains is essential to the root cause focused paradigm.
For example, someone could have a core underlying cause of Biotoxin Illness (a systemic inflammatory condition that develops when exposed to various forms of toxins such as mycotoxins from mold) which presents as many symptoms, including low thyroid function/hypothyroid function. This hypothyroid state causes fatigue, hair loss, and digestive impairment.
So the causal chain here would be Biotoxin Illness —> hypothyroid —> fatigue, hair loss, digestive impairment. The hypothyroid state isn’t seen as the condition in and of itself, nor are the presenting symptoms, but the deeper cause, and its accompanying causal chain are all taken into consideration so that the true cause of symptoms may be addressed.
- The body as an interconnected whole – the body is comprised of a series of organs and systems that are all related to one another in a large variety of key ways. This understanding is required to be able to truly understand the core underlying cause of illness and imbalance.
- Lifestyle – eating habits, water quality, sleeping habits, exercise, relationships, stress levels, self-care, and other components of one’s lifestyle are all taken into thorough consideration.
- Environment – this can refer to a wide range of components such as the quality of the air you breathe, your geographical location, climate, home environment, work environment, etc. Environment is of absolute paramount importance to one’s health. Assessing various environmental factors can be one of the most informative routes when determining the root cause of illness.
- Genetics/epigenetics – each of us house a unique genetic blueprint. The expression of this blueprint can be heavily influenced by many environmental and behavioral factors. Epigenetics is the study of these shifts in gene expression and involves an examination of one’s unique gene variants and their clinical significance to our health status.
Approaches such as “nutrigenomics” are utilized to encourage optimal gene expression, which is the support of one’s phenotype through custom-tailored nutritional means.
More on genetics can be found here.
- Bioindividuality – this means that every body is different biochemically and this must be considered in full throughout the entirety of the healing process.
- Completely individualized healing protocols – these may include the use of botanicals/herbs, nutritional supplements, therapeutic custom tailored eating plans, detoxification methods, mineral balancing, lifestyle adjustments, psychotherapy, massage, acupuncture, oxygen therapies, hydrotherapy, physical therapies, and many other techniques that all come together to tailor to each person’s individual needs throughout healing.
- Clinical Nutrition – as mentioned previously, nutrition is one of the most important elements of achieving and maintaining health and it is a huge part of natural health and healing. Vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and nutrients are the fundamental backbone to the optimal functioning of our body and its interconnected systems. Using individualized “food as medicine” eating plans in order to nurture and balance the body is one of the most powerful and effective treatment strategies available.
- Psychology and mindset – mental and emotional health is of huge importance in the natural health arena, as a considerable degree of attention is given to this highly salient component of the human condition.
- Stress management – as has been widely recognized within both natural and conventional medicine, stress has a significant impact on our health. Relaxation techniques, neuroplasticity exercises, emotional freedom techniques, and other tools are practiced so as to encourage the occupation of the parasympathetic nervous system. When the body is in this state, it is best equipped to heal.
Integrative and Natural Health is Comprehensive + An Important Component to Understand
Natural medicine and healthcare is very much based on factual scientific data, evidence based medical research, and peer reviewed studies. These modalities utilize ancient philosophies and knowledge combined with cutting edge scientific developments of today in order to provide the most effective patient care.
Most forms of natural health and medicine are not completely exclusionary of western/conventional/allopathic medicine and it’s techniques such as medications and surgery – they take into consideration all appropriate measures per each individual’s very unique case.
This is a very important component to understand about natural healthcare.
When considering all appropriate measures, often, a combination of both natural and conventional medicine will be utilized so as to provide the most comprehensive care.
It is an integration of all appropriate treatments and methodologies.
If a medication is required as part of treatment, natural healthcare modalities often utilize compounded medications, which are specialized medications that can be specifically formulated to the individual. Compounding often enables the excess fillers, additives, and other ingredients to be removed which will greatly reduce the likelihood of side effects.
Natural health practitioners will also often refer a patient to a fellow practitioner if needed, so as to provide the most appropriate care.
Laboratory analysis is also a large part of natural medicine and is a large part of the development of custom-tailored protocols that are treating one’s core underlying cause.
While standard conventional labs such as blood testing, urinalysis, xrays, ultrasounds, etc are indeed used, the natural health field also utilizes a wide array of labs that aren’t often used in conventional medicine.
These tests reflect the core underlying cause paradigm, as they are measuring a wide scope of determinants in the examination of one’s current physiological state.
Some tests may include:
- Genetic testing
- Gut/gastrointestinal health testing via comprehensive stool analysis
- Specialized hormone testing
- Amino acids testing
- Organic acids testing
- Breath tests
- Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis
- Many more
It can be confusing to try to make sense of all of the many terms used and specific subsets of natural health overall. Most forms of natural healthcare share the core tenets of natural health which have been outlined above, as we’ve explored all of the primary elements that are found under the natural health umbrella.
While many natural health practitioners certainly have a specialty or focus, most will draw from a variety of the elements discussed above in order to provide the most appropriate and comprehensive patient care. For example, one naturopathic doctor may practice naturopathic, homeopathic, and Traditional Chinese Medicine simultaneously as part of their approach in practice.
Much more on the practice of natural healthcare, including the specific professions and various forms of natural health practitioners can be found here.