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User's Guide to the Top 10 Natural Therapies

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Introduces readers to the top ten natural therapies so they can decide what's best for them.

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1. Healing Diets and Superfoods

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The basic foundation of any healthy lifestyle is a good diet made up primarily of nutrient-dense vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, beneficial fats, and lean protein, and goes easy on saturated fat and sugar. There are many variations on the theme of healthy eatingspecific diets that come and go with much hullabaloo and are promoted as the newest and best dietary revolutionuntil the next fad comes along, that is. Beyond these over-hyped diets are those designed to heal the body in a more aggressive wayto reverse disease or slow the aging process.

We will avoid the fad diets altogether, and focus instead on those diets and individual foodsthe superfoodsthat are forms of natural medicine. These dietary approaches to healing are tried and true over the course of history, a testament to Hippocrates oft-quoted wisdom: Let your food be your medicine, and your medicine your food.

If your health is generally good, and your diet is nutritious and well-balanced, and includes a few superfoods on a regular basis, theres no need for you to follow the more extreme diets in this chapter. If you have eaten a poor diet for yearsand you know who you areand/or are suffering from chronic disease, such as allergies, arthritis, asthma, an autoimmune disease, cancer, diabetes, or heart disease, a more extreme approach may suit you better.

 

2. Nutritional Supplements

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Most Americans regularly use at least one nutritional supplementthe daily multivitamin. Its a form of health insurance, watching your back when there isnt time or energy to eat nutritious food. There is convincing evidence that even the healthiest foods are less nourishing than they once were because soils are depleted and foods are raised and grown in unnatural ways. In a world filled with toxic chemicals and equally toxic stress, it makes sense to boost your defenses against disease with a daily multivitamin/mineral combination.

Some supplements go beyond the basic day-today requirements and target biochemical processes that need balancing, boosting, or other kinds of support. Integrative physicians and other natural healthcare practitioners can skillfully use individual nutrients to help people who are ill move back toward balanced health. In this chapter, youll learn how to create your own basic supplement program.

In developing nations, millions of people dont get enough to eat, resulting in severe nutrient deficiencies and taking a toll beyond the comprehension of the average person. On the other side of the spectrum are Westerners who are definitely not lacking, at least not in macronutrients. With the prevalence of overweight and obesity at about 65 percent in the United States, Americans are getting plenty of calories from too much refined sugar and fat.

 

3. Herbal Medicine

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Herbal medicine has a tradition that goes back a lot farther than you might thinkto before the dawn of humankind. Many animals, including bears, chimpanzees, elephants, and monkeys, use specific plants for medicinal purposes. Mankind has long observed this in the animal kingdom and has used some of the same plants for similar purposes. Since before written history, plant-based medicines have been a mainstay of medical care all over the world.

Herbs were phased out of American medicine after the 1940s, as vaccines, antibiotics, and modern surgical techniques took the wind out of herbal medicines sails. The timeless tradition of plant medicineand the connection it once helped us maintain with the natural worldall but disappeared in the United States.

Herbs Any of various, often aromatic, seed-producing plants used in medicine or seasoning that do not develop woody tissue and die down at the end of the growing season.

Still, theres hope. The World Health Organization estimates that some 4 billion people worldwide use some form of herbal medicine today. In China, Europe, India and Japan, herbal medicine is as highly respected as pharmaceutical-based medicine, and is often used alongside allopathic drugs.

 

4. Homeopathy

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Homeopathy was developed in the late 1700s by Samuel Hahnemann, a German physician, and was the subject of much investigation in the early part of the nineteenth century. Today, mainstream medicine is at odds with the theory behind homeopathy, claiming that it is based on junk science, and that any efficacy it might have is due to factors other than the remedies themselves. Alternative medical practitioners and millions of happy homeopathy users disagree.

The word homeopathy is derived from the Greek homoios (similar) and pathos (suffering). It is based on the principle of similars, where like cures like. Rather than suppressing disease, homeopathy uses substances that stimulate the natural process of healing. This isnt as far-fetched as it sounds at first. A fever is often best treated by bundling up so the fever breaks with a sweat. Vaccines stimulate natural immunity against diseases by exposing people (and animals) to killed viruses or bacteria (or pieces of them). Allergy shots work this way, too, putting small amounts of allergenic substances into the body to desensitize allergic reactions to them.

 

5. Manipulative Therapies—Chiropractic and Osteopathic

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M anipulative therapies, often called physical medicine, can refer to any of the many therapies that involve physical manipulation of the body. Manipulative therapies have been practiced since ancient times in Egypt, Greece, and China. In this chapter, well focus on two well-established fields: chiropractic and osteopathy.

Modern chiropractic was officially founded in North America by Daniel Palmer in 1895. Todays doctor of chiropractic is a primary-care physician who specializes in natural, non-surgical, and drugless therapies, with a focus on manual treatments. The term chiropractic is derived from the Greek for done with the handsspecifically, medical care through manipulation or adjusting, with a special emphasis on care and correction of the spine. Chiropractors receive extensive training at accredited chiropractic colleges, and are licensable in all fifty states.

Chiropractors diagnose and treat people whose health problems are associated mostly with the bodys musculoskeletal and nervous systems. The entire spine is of special importance; most of the connective interactions of our nerves and blood vessels start in the spine and extend from there to all other parts of the body.

 

6. Massage Therapies and Bodywork

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Touch is as vital to human health as healthy food and pure water. Babies and children who are not adequately touched are stunted both physically and emotionally. During childhood, our nervous systems develop largely in response to touch. And few would argue that we do not need tender, loving touch in adulthood and later life.

A good bodyworkera practitioner of massage or other hands-on healing therapiescan reeducate a body that has lost its native intelligence from sitting too often and not exercising enough. She or he can move energy around in the body to help it heal, or free up areas of the body that have become constricted, stiff, or painful.

Bodywork can increase coordination, flexibility, and physical intelligencethe bodys accurate responsiveness to the needs of our lives. It can improve immunity and help lift depression. It can release us from postural or movement habits that are causing the body to degenerate and hurt. And, finally, most bodywork just feels good.

Bodywork has been found to effectively move fluidsblood and the lymph between organsaround in the body. By releasing constrictions in connective tissue and muscle, and by moving tissues around, bodywork promotes the circulation of fresh, oxygenated, nutrient-rich blood and immunecell-filled lymph. It can aid in balancing gland function.

 

7. Mind/Body Therapies

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The idea of the mind and body as separate entities is a new one in the broad scale of history. After roughly two centuries of belief in the separation of the emotional, spiritual, and psychological from the physical and biochemical, the world has come back home to the same beliefs put forth by the ancientsthat mind and body are integrated.

Mind/body medicine is a wonderfully integrative area of research that is bringing together the mainstream and natural medicine fields. Research abounds on the subject of how thoughts and feelings affect health and our responses to disease treatment. New scientific disciplines have emerged that show how genes and the inner workings of the body reflect the mind. And these, in turn, show how thoughts can be used to improve health and longevity, and how counseling, life coaching, meditation, prayer, qigong, spirituality, the arts, yoga, and regular doses of humor can help everyone live, not just healthier and longer, but also happier lives.

Being spiritual means you search for meaning and purpose in your day-to-day life, connecting with others, and moving beyond self-absorption. In the end, the spiritual quest is about finding a sense of inner peace and well-being that helps you appreciate each day, each moment, as a gifteven when things go wrong. Spirituality grounds you in the current moment and helps you see what is really important.

 

8. Ayurvedic Medicine

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The word Ayurveda is made up of two Sanskrit words: ayur, meaning life, and veda, which means science. Unlike most other forms of medicine, Ayurvedic medicine is inseparable from its spiritual roots in Buddhism, Hinduism, and yoga. It views health as a balanced interplay between body, mind, and soul.

In Ayurvedic medicine, optimism, positivity, and a relaxed, balanced attitude are believed to foster recovery from illness. Too-hot passions are thought to predispose people to illness, and these beliefs mirror current knowledge about the potent effects of attitude and emotions on physical health.

One of Ayurvedic medicines most basic tenets is that you are born with a constitutiona personality, a type, which was decided at the moment of your conception. This constitution, or prakruti, is fixed and unchangeablereflecting all the current research on the importance of an individuals genetic makeup (determined at the moment of conception) to the individual they end up becoming.

According to Ayurveda, each persons constitution is made up of three doshas, or body-mind types. All three, kapha, pitta, and vata, are contained within every person, but in varying combinations.

 

9. Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine

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T he texts upon which traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is based, including the Yellow Emperors Classic of Internal Medicine, were authored about 5,000 years ago. They contain detailed information about the circulatory system, including that the heart fills the pulse with blood . . . and the force of the pulse flows into the arteries and the force of the arteries ascends into the lungs. It took thousands of years, until the seventeenth century A.D., for this ancient knowledge to be discovered in Europe.

The ancient Chinese medical texts observe that the kidneys control the bodys fluid levels, bone growth, and reproductionduties that dont, at first glance, appear to be linked. Its common knowledge that the kidneys control fluid levels, but what many dont know is that these organs transform vitamin D into the form needed for proper bone growth. Modern embryology has shown that the kidneys develop from the very same fetal cells as the organs of reproduction (the ovaries and testicles). How did they know this? Impossible to say today.

 

10. Naturopathic Medicine

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Naturopathic medicine is a union and integration of natural healing modalities from around the world. It embraces ancient wisdom, traditional philosophies, and most of the natural healing practices that have shown benefit in healing or allaying suffering of humans and animals. These practices apply the forces of nature through foods, herbs, spices, hot and cold water (hydrotherapy), sunlight, and aspects of physical, biochemical, psychological, and spiritual medicine.

A doctor of naturopathic medicine will have graduated from a four-year postgraduate-level residential medical school, with extensive training in conventional medical practices, including minor surgery, pharmacy, injections, childbirthing, acupuncture, nutritional therapeutics, botanical medicine, homeopathy, physical therapy, and psychological counseling. A naturopathic doctor (N.D.) is a general family practitioner who may have areas of special interest or focus.

It is not whether a naturopathic doctor uses an herb or a homeopathic remedy or practices hydrotherapy that defines this type of health care, but rather the underlying philosophy that defines how and why a therapy is chosen and applied. Because the healing process is improved in a willing partnership, prescriptions of any kind are discussed with the patient and are written only if the patient agrees its the best course,

 

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