Options for Healing and Wellness

The alternatives to orthodox Western medicine mentioned here share several common features: They were established long before our current scientific approaches to explaining and dealing with wellness and illness; rather than being disease-oriented therapies, they are methods for restoring and maintaining health; and all work with respect to the body's natural ability to heal. None offer quick-fix solutions but require participation in a process in which patient and practitioner work together to articulate and achieve goals. Some methods necessitate major life changes, others may become a catalyst for new approaches to living.


Herbal Therapy

Until the beginning of modern science and chemistry, almost all medicines were herbs. Herbal remedies were first systematized in ancient Rome, Greece, Egypt and China. Herbs are natural medicines that contain a variety of biologically active ingredients and are used to successfully treat allergies, bacterial and viral infections, chronic fatigue, immune disorders, fever, cuts, burns, rashes, and reproductive problems. They can also be used as relaxants and stimulants. About 25% of conventional pharmaceuticals include synthetic forms of herbs.

Herbs are generally safer and gentler than prescription drugs, and often more effective. In many instances, they work in areas where Western medical treatments fail. Herbal remedies can be used for prevention of illness, as complementary substances with drugs, or in place of pharmaceuticals. Because certain herbs can be toxic, following the advice of a health professional or a detailed guidebook is recommended.

Herbs are used fresh or dried, can be prepared in capsules, pills, powders, concentrated liquids, extracts and teas. They can also be applied topically in creams or ointments, and used as compresses or poultices.


Nutritional Medicine

Nutritional healing is a natural method of overcoming illness and maintaining wellness without the use of toxic drugs. Nutritional medicine recognizes the body as a complex biochemical system that has specific requirements for optimal function. In addition to proteins, fats, carbohydrates, and water, there are over 40 different vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, amino acids and other components, including oxygen and sunlight, that are necessary for maintaining wellness. A deficiency in any of these essential nutrients will result in some form of ill-health ranging from a barely perceptible or subclinical problem to serious and even life-threatening disease. While single deficiencies are rare, multiple subclinical deficiencies are common among people with a typical Western diet which is characterized by an excess of processed foods that are high in fat and sugar, and lacking in whole, fresh foods that provide vital nutrients.


Options for Healing and Wellness

Nutritional medicine uses dietary changes, vitamins, minerals, herbs, and other supplements to encourage the entire body to heal itself. In this manner, the cause of disease or illness, not just the symptoms, are alleviated. Although there are general rules for proper nutrition, each person has a unique body chemistry that affects how they respond to nutrients. What works quickly and well for some may not work at all for others. In cases of serious or chronic illness, it is important to seek individualized care that can identify digestive malfunctions and toxic buildup. Also, vitamins and minerals interact in complex ways and are absorbed differently by each person.


Naturopathic Medicine

Naturopathy is a system of medicine that promotes health by stimulating and supporting the body's inherent power to heal. Although the term naturopathy was first adopted in the early 1900s, its philosophical basis dates back as far as 400 BC. A naturopathic doctor, or ND, seeks to discover and alleviate the root causes of disease rather than eliminating or suppressing symptoms, works with a patient to create conditions that enhance healing, and avoids drugs and surgery whenever possible. Since physical and psychological elements are recognized to contribute to disease, NDs generally pay considerable attention to a patient's lifestyle.

Treatments include dietary changes and nutritional therapy, herbs, vitamins and other supplements, and forms of physical exercise. Naturopaths may use a number of alternative therapies including homeopathy and traditional Oriental Medicine. The naturopathic approach emphasizes education and endeavors to provide the patient with information on what they can do independently to maintain or improve health.



Founded in 1790, homeopathy comes from two words, homeo meaning similar, and pathy designating disease. Homeopathy is commonly practiced in many countries including France, India, Mexico, Russia, and England, where one in three people, including the royal family, use homeopathy as their primary form of medical care. Introduced to the US in 1825, by 1890 there were 14,000 homeopathic physicians, 22 homeopathic medical schools and 100 homeopathic hospitals nationwide. Fifty years later, regulation by and reliance on Western medicine had driven homeopathy to near extinction. But today, more than 2.5 million Americans seek homeopathic care each year.

According to the principles of homeopathy, disease represents an imbalance in the immune system, and a small stimulus can restore the balance of the body's natural defenses. Homeopathy operates on the Law of Similars, the principle that "like cures like." For example, a person suffering with diarrhea would be given a highly diluted amount of a substance that induces diarrhea, thus stimulating natural healing mechanisms. Homeopathy has proved particularly helpful in resolving chronic and transient conditions such as asthma, allergies, arthritis, colds and flu.

Rather than treating specific diseases or problems, homeopaths treat the whole person based on an assessment of all physical and emotional symptoms, and do not necessarily employ the same remedies for different people with the same problem. However, over-the-counter homeopathic combinations are safely and successfully used for fever, swelling, muscle aches, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, food poisoning, insect bites, headaches, earaches, colds and flu, and many other problems.


Detoxification and Cleansing

The role of cleansing in recovery, wellness and immune system fortification is commonly underestimated despite the fact that most all health professionals will agree that a sick body is a toxic body. Cleansing rids the body of toxins, allowing the organs and body systems to rejuvenate themselves naturally.

Toxic acids are by-products of normal metabolic changes in cells known as cell catabolism. We also take in varying amounts of toxic materials from air, water and other environmental sources, from the herbicides, pesticides and chemical additives in food, as well as from prescription and street drugs. The body's ability to clear away the toxic materials created and assimilated each day is vital to health and immune response. Problems occur when these poisons accumulate faster than they are eliminated or when one or more of the systems designed to rid the body of toxins is underactive. Health and recovery programs that use detoxification and cleansing aid the body's natural systems that eliminate poisons, and facilitate the rebuilding of body tissues.

Colon hydrotherapy, juice fasting and diets, herbs, vitamins, minerals, and enzymes are used for detoxification and cleansing purposes. Some of these methods can be employed without professional supervision, but in the case of serious illness, it is important to regulate the amount of toxins released into the bloodstream during cleansing.


Ayurvedic Medicine

Ayurveda is a unique approach to physical health, mental clarity, and even spiritual fulfillment that began in India more than 5,000 years ago. The term Ayurveda derives from the Sanskrit roots ayur which means life, and veda meaning knowledge. The three doshas or body types, vata, pitta and kapha, are the cornerstone of Ayurvedic diagnosis and treatment. Determining a dosha involves gathering specific information on physical and psychological history and tendencies in order to create a detailed portrait of a type of individual.

Every person has a different mixture of doshas; usually one is most prominent and another is secondary. According to Ayurveda, keeping the doshas in balance can facilitate healing and lead to a healthier and longer life. Specific health problems may also be alleviated through Ayurvedic medicine.

Ayuverdic practitioners generally prescribe a variety of foods, herbs, exercises, breathing techniques, massages and dosha-specific diets with the goal of detoxifying and balancing the system.


Acupuncture and Chinese Herbology

A major component of Oriental Medicine, acupuncture works by altering the internal flow of vital life energy or chi. This life energy moves along established pathways or meridians in the body that relate to the organs and the tendo-muscular system. When the balance of chi is disturbed due to physical or emotional trauma, poor diet, pharmaceuticals, stress, genetic or environmental factors, pain or illness result. Inserting hair-thin needles at specific meridian points restores the balance of chi by calming, strengthening or removing a blockage of the flow. An average acupuncture treatment involves five to 15 needles in a procedure that usually causes little discomfort. In addition to, or sometimes instead of inserting needles, an acupuncturist may use a treatment called moxibustion in which heat is applied directly above acupuncture points.

Acupuncture is generally used in conjunction with Chinese Herbology. Both are safe medical procedures that are known for their efficacy and lack of adverse side effects. Doctors of Oriental Medicine, or OMDs, prescribe herbal combinations according to a complex system of diagnosis. These herbal formulas are intended to help the body correct imbalances of energy while stimulating the natural healing process. A number of clinical and laboratory studies have generated scientific evidence that herbs can effectively treat many diseases. Herb formulas may be prepared in pills, capsules, granules, tinctures or teas, and are an important part of the traditional system of Oriental Medicine.



The concept that imagination has the ability to cure illness is not new. Ancient Greeks and Egyptians believed that images release spirits in the brain that stimulate various organs and functions, and that a mental picture of disease is enough to cause its symptoms. In the 1600s, imagery was thought to wield such power that it could even affect embryos in pregnant women. One hundred years later, doctors and healers changed their minds and agreed with French philosopher René Descartes who asserted that the mind and body were separate and had no influence on each other.

Imagery came back into practice in the 1970s as a method for helping cancer patients. In one landmark study, cancer patients who used imagery in conjunction with standard medical care lived twice as long as those receiving medical care alone.

Several studies suggest that imagery can boost immune response. Imagery has been used to increase activity of natural killer cells that recognize and destroy virus-infected cells, other microbes, and tumor cells. Other studies have shown that imagery can lower blood pressure, slow heart rate, alleviate insomnia, relieve stress and anxiety, treat phobias and obesity, and help regulate menstrual cycles. PET scans (positron-emission-tomography tests that highlight areas of brain activity) have demonstrated that the brain can react the same way to an imagined sensation as a real one.

forward to The Bigger Picture