What Is Natural Health? A Comprehensive Guide to Living Healthy

Dr. Group
by Dr. Edward Group DC, NP, DACBN, DCBCN, DABFM
Published on
Practicing yoga is part of the natural health lifestyle.
“The natural healing force within each of us is the greatest force in getting well.” ― Hippocrates

If you don’t know where to start when it comes to taking your first steps towards natural health, this comprehensive guide can help. This article is full of health tips, trends and natural health wellness information. I’ll explain how your daily lifestyle choices can create optimal health – or take away from it. These include making positive decisions about how and what you eat, your physical fitness habits, and the products you buy for your home and body. You can also find a wealth of natural health benefits, recipes, and resources at a great natural health website, like ours.

What Is the Definition of Natural Health?

Natural health is a whole-lifestyle approach to overall wellness that addresses every component of life: how you eat, how you take care of your body, how you deal with stress, and which healthcare providers you entrust with your care. By looking at body, mind, and lifestyle, natural health is holistic. People following a natural health approach try to identify the root cause of symptoms so they can solve their health concerns, restore balance and optimize health. Eliminating unhealthy habits, performing detoxifying cleanses, and choosing positive, life- and health-affirming choices helps restore the body’s natural vitality. The natural approach offers greater personal power over your health.

Natural Health and Conventional Medicine

A natural health approach provides a more balanced way to create a healthy lifestyle compared with conventional medicine. Natural health means promoting wellness with the natural solution. For example, if you're tired, drinking an energy drink is the unnatural approach. Your body doesn't need caffeine, sugar, and chemicals; it needs sleep.

Natural health can be used on its own – which is called alternative health – or integrated with traditional healthcare. Complementary, integrative or functional medicine combines conventional medical care with one or more alternative, natural health approaches. Alternative and complementary therapies include massage, acupressure, detoxing, and health supplements. More and more traditional medical doctors and healthcare practitioners are integrating holistic natural health into their repertoire.

In a Nutshell

In a nutshell, natural health means “out with the bad, in with the good” – out with the toxic chemicals, processed foods, bad habits, and in with healthy, environmentally-friendly, toxic-free choices. If you want to get healthy, you should know that natural health works. A health revolution is taking place, and I invite you to be part of it.

Out With the Bad

  • Eliminating bad habits (smoking, drinking, unhealthy foods)
  • Detox to get rid of toxic chemicals accumulated in the body
  • Removing toxic chemicals from your home and body products

In With the Good

  • Organic, wholesome, preferably plant-based diet
  • Corrective habits (exercise, meditation, counseling)
  • Natural therapies (acupuncture, chiropractic, homeopathy)
  • Nutritional and therapeutic plant-based supplements and herbs

The Natural Health Approach: An Example

Rather than isolating one issue, natural health methods look for the ultimate cause of a health issue. Take a headache for example. Using a conventional approach, you may take a couple of over-the-counter acetaminophen pills. These pills merely mask the pain, though, and the particular solution of taking pills does not take into consideration what caused a headache to begin with.

Using a natural health approach, a person would instead try to figure out different possible causes of the head pain. Could it be emotional stress, dehydration, muscle tension, or a serious issue needing medical attention? Each of these symptoms could be a possible cause of the headache and requires a different solution. Counseling, aromatherapy or massage work best for mental stress headaches, drinking water can solve dehydration headaches, and a visit to a doctor to further identify the cause of a more serious or unidentified headache issue.

Is Natural Health Anti-Science?

Some websites claim that naturopathy, alternative medicine and the natural health approach are not backed by science, or are “pseudoscientific.” This is unequivocally false and here’s why.

Natural Health Is Internationally Recognized

Not only is complementary and alternative medicine more popular than ever among the public, it is also receiving broader recognition and more funds for research. The National Institutes of Health (NIH), one of the world’s most prominent medical research centers, established the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (formerly called the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine) in 1998, as “the [US] Federal Government’s lead agency for scientific research on the diverse medical and healthcare systems, practices, and products that are not generally considered part of conventional medicine.”

NIH defines complementary medicine as that which combines mainstream medicine with non-mainstream, alternative approaches – herbal supplements, massage, yoga, mindfulness, acupuncture, and so on. NIH defines alternative healthcare as that used instead of mainstream medicine; hence, truly alternative healthcare is exceedingly rare since most people use some combination of natural approaches with conventional ones.

Claims that the natural health approach is unscientific are unequivocally false.

Internationally, natural health approaches are also gaining wider use and recognition. Natural health approaches – particularly nutritional supplements, massage, meditation, chiropractic care and yoga – are used by a full third of people in the U.S. and Europe.[1] The European Parliament recently held a workshop to discuss how to integrate the growing use of complementary and alternative therapies into traditional healthcare systems.[2] In Australia, complementary and alternative natural health approaches are even more widespread: almost 70% of the population uses one or more alternative approach to healthcare.

Natural Health Is Gaining Wider Acceptance

People with higher incomes use these non-conventional approaches more. This may be because insurance or Medicaid often does not cover alternative therapies, and lower-income individuals may not be able to afford it.[3] Even so, around 59 million people in the U.S. spend $30 billion out-of-pocket on natural, non-conventional approaches to healthcare every year.[4, 5]

Because more patients are asking for holistic, natural, patient-centered care, more hospitals and healthcare treatment centers are adopting natural remedies and approaches to health. As of 2017, twenty-eight medical centers, healthcare systems and cancer treatment centers in the U.S. now have at least one naturopathic doctor on staff.[6]

Natural Health Is Cost-Effective

According to the Institute for Natural Medicine, institutions that use complementary and alternative approaches are “delivering better health outcomes at lower costs.”[6]

Studies have found patients adhered to their treatment plan better, felt their healthcare providers spent more time with them and rated their overall experience more positively. In a different study, naturopathic therapies saved nearly $1,000 per patient with low back issues and people missed 6.7 fewer days of work.[7]

Natural Health Had Its Day in Court… and Won

It’s well known that Big Pharma and Big Medicine have in the past made concerted efforts to keep alternative therapies from becoming mainstream. For decades, the American Medical Association (AMA) tried to shut down the entire chiropractic industry, convincing the public that chiropractic medicine was based on pseudoscience, which means fake science.[8] The AMA established a Committee on Quackery in 1963 to keep chiropractors from being included on medical insurance, or from becoming mainstream. They spread the word in schools and columns like Ann Landers and Dear Abby, and wrote TV scripts that the entire field was anti-science, and even “killed people.”

But in the David vs. Goliath battle, chiropractic won out. Five chiropractors sued the American Medical Association in 1972, and after an 11-year court battle, the AMA was found guilty of trying to destroy its competition – chiropractors. As a result of this legal victory, chiropractic medicine has now become widely accepted and used and is even now recommended by conventional doctors.

Natural Health Is Ahead of the Curve

However, there are some alternative therapies and supplements for which scientific research has not caught up.[9] There are simply not enough controlled studies on the effectiveness of various therapies, herbs and supplements – but I emphasize, a lack of studies does not mean that alternative therapies are not effective or are pseudoscientific. It only means that scientists have not studied these yet.

Natural Health Success Stories

People often turn to natural health approaches because it gives them a sense of greater control over their health. People also report that they feel they get better overall support from alternative healthcare providers, who typically give more time to patients.[1]

Katja’s Story: Nothing Left to Lose

Sometimes people turn to natural health when conventional medicine lets them down or runs out of options. “My medical doctors had reached a point in the treatment of my autoimmune disorder where they couldn’t do anything more. The only thing they could offer me was steroids,” says Houston-based artist Katja Akhtar. At that point, she knew she had to take her life into her own hands, “What did I have to lose?” So she researched online and discovered the integrative and functional medicine approach.

People often turn to natural health approaches because it gives them a sense of greater control over their health.

Katja’s functional medicine doctor “took not just my medical history but my emotional history and my lifestyle history,” she says. “The approach has been vastly different than my experience with standard medicine.”

The old adage by Hippocrates that ‘food is medicine’ applied to Katja’s health. “Altering my diet was fundamental to my recovery, and on top of that supplements. Most of what I’m taking are nature-derived supplements,” she says. That’s the advantage of natural health or integrative medicine. “They consider the entire body, as well as how the [body’s] systems interact with forces outside of it. It’s been extremely effective for me.” Katja no longer has brain fog, she has more energy, and her quality of life has dramatically improved.

Orna’s Story: Medicine In the Garden

In Oregon, licensed naturopathic doctor Orna Izakson has her own story of discovering the benefits of natural medicine. One day she felt so sick that she worried she may need to go to the hospital. Her herbalist neighbor recommended some medicinal plants. One was growing in her garden. Imagine, she says, “I am sick as a dog, I can’t breathe. But I go to the garden, pick some thyme, pour boiling water over it, breathe the steam, and I went from being on the verge of hospitalization to out of the woods in less than a day.”

Natural health requires taking positive action to change your life.

Orna went on to become a naturopathic doctor, completing a rigorous 4-year medical program. Dr. Izakson is a fierce advocate for the natural approach to healthcare which includes both physical and mental wellness. She regularly hikes in nature to reduce stress and bring more peace into her life, and takes several natural health supplements to boost her energy and overall wellness. “This is the people’s medicine. It’s the weeds growing in your backyard.”

Starting the Natural Health Lifestyle: Out With the Bad

“The bottom line is that it’s empowering,” says Dr. Izakson. “You have the power to change your health and your life. The downside is you have to do it.” In other words, there is no magic bullet solution to health. Instead, natural health requires taking positive action to change your life. So where do you begin? First, you remove harmful elements from your life, as much as possible.

Removing Toxic Chemicals From Your Home and Products

Green living and a natural lifestyle go hand in hand. One of the first steps you can take when choosing a more natural lifestyle is to eliminate products that contain toxic chemicals – such as traditional cleaning products, beauty and body care products – and replacing them with healthier, environmentally-friendly, or organic options.

Eliminate products that contain toxic chemicals and replace them with healthier, environmentally-friendly, or organic options.

Many companies sell green toxic-free cleaning solutions and are better options for your home. Some people create do-it-yourself cleaning formulas – such as baking soda to clean a toilet or bathtub, or vinegar to clean windows, or more complicated solutions.

Approved Chemicals Aren’t Always Safe

Many people think that because a chemical is present in a product, it must be OK – perhaps at least studied and tested by a government agency. The truth is, many chemicals present in beauty products, home cleaning products, and even furniture, pots and pans, or clothing receive minimal to no testing. As a result, many chemicals have been later recalled and removed from circulation after enough evidence accumulated that they were toxic and could harm health, as well as the environment.[10]

Getting Rid of Household Toxicants

Think about where toxic chemicals may lurk and then go through your home eliminating them where you can. You can get replace nonstick cooking pans with cast iron or stainless steel, choose glass storage containers and avoid plastic for storing and cooking. You can choose organic cotton clothing, sheets and mattresses. And of course, you can choose to buy organic makeup and beauty products that do not have chemicals that make aging worse.

Eliminating Toxins From Your Body: Detox and Cleansing

A core part of a natural health lifestyle involves detoxing or cleansing the body organs. Cleansing the body can boost your overall health and quality of life. For optimal health, you should detox different organs in your body.

Why You Need To Detox

Detoxing is necessary because the standard Western diet (or Standard American Diet, SAD) includes a lot of processed and deep-fried foods, meat, and non-organic fruits and vegetables. Even if you eat relatively healthy, most foods contain trace pesticides, antibiotics, and genetically modified organisms (GMOs). During digestion, these toxic chemicals get into the bloodstream and end up stuck in body tissues, but particularly your colon.

With any detox or cleanse, you may experience a healing crisis when you first begin to eat raw. A healing crisis is a short-term increase in fatigue, headaches, aches and pains, among other symptoms, as your body eliminates stored up toxins.

Types of Body Cleanses

You can do a whole body cleanse, which means you detox all organ systems, one at a time, or you can just focus on one. To detox, you can use specific cleansing kits, herbal supplements, and detox-friendly foods.

Some report colon cleansing is the single most effective natural remedy for detoxing the body.

You can eat foods to cleanse the liver, you can detox your kidneys to prevent stones, or you can do deep breathing along with specific herbs like peppermint or oregano to cleanse the lungs. But many people report that colon cleansing is the single most effective natural remedy for detoxing the body and starting their natural health lifestyle – or keeping it on track.

Eliminating Toxins From Your Body: Fasting

Fasting is another way to detox the body. If you’re interested in getting healthy, water fasting can be an extremely effective way to jump-start weight loss, detoxification and a new lifestyle. Studies show that intermittent fasting in both laboratory animals and people has profoundly positive long-term impacts on health.[11, 12, 13]

The Health Benefits of Fasting

A prominent study summarized the research this way: “periodic fasting protects against diabetes, cancers, heart disease, and neurodegeneration, …[and] helps reduce obesity, hypertension, asthma, and rheumatoid arthritis.”[14] Scientists found that intermittent periods of fasting increases longevity in many organisms, including people, and this works by reprogramming the metabolic pathways and increases the body’s resistance to stress. Fasting helps cells regenerate and improves their ability to repair any damaged DNA.

Intermittent fasting in both laboratory animals and people has profoundly positive long-term impacts on health.

And this is remarkable: fasting for three days before chemotherapy protected normal cells and triggered stem cell regeneration of damaged immune system cells.[15]

Natural Health Lifestyle: In With the Good

The natural health lifestyle encompasses the body, mind and spirit. Each person has age-specific needs to keep your body functioning properly. But no matter what your age, everyone needs physical exercise, nutritious food, and a healthy outlook on mental wellness and spiritual life. The natural health approach takes into account all these spheres of life.

Mental Wellness Habits: Meditation, Yoga, Mindfulness, and Sleep

Having a healthy mental outlook is a key part of the holistic approach to natural health, since there are known connections between the mind and body. When your body is hurting, it is sometimes hard to have a positive outlook and it can affect your mood. But there are also tools and techniques that you can use to feel better and get stronger, no matter what personal situations you are going through.

Natural Approaches to Mental Wellness

Scientists have evidence that mindfulness meditation, acupuncture, music therapy, and relaxation techniques have a positive impact on depression, anxiety and stress. The NIH is studying the use of mindfulness meditation and self-hypnosis for managing chronic pain in military veterans.[16, 17] NIH studies have already found that using complementary natural health approaches with cancer patients resulted in less anxiety and pain.[18] Other studies found that yoga and mindfulness meditation helped people quit smoking,[19] and yoga reduced fatigue in patients.

You Need Sleep for Mental Health

It’s also important to get enough sleep every night if you want to have a positive outlook during the day. There are natural solutions for sleep problems, including essential oils, avoiding foods that keep you awake, and herbal remedies. A natural approach seeks to identify the root cause of something like sleep problems. Then, the goal is to manage symptoms based on that knowledge, rather than immediately taking a pill. Getting sleep is very important to your overall health because during sleep your body strengthens brain cells stressed during wakeful periods.[20]

Mental Wellness: The Advantage of Outside Help

Psychological counseling can also be an important part of a mental health approach. There are many life coaches, licensed therapists, and social workers who actively recommend and practice alternative therapies in mental wellness treatment, from color therapy to music therapy to biofeedback – training the mind to tell the body to reduce anxiety, slow heartbeats or other physical conditions.

Physical Fitness Habits

Exercise is an important part of staying healthy, and staying physically fit is a key part of a natural health lifestyle. Exercise is the best medicine!

The Health Benefits of Exercise

Physical activity has countless benefits to your mental wellness. Studies show that exercise improves mood, decreases the incidence of depression, and helps you sleep better.[21, 22] It also improves cognitive function – the ability to think and learn – especially as you age. But even physically active children have lower rates of depression than those who are not as active.

Exercise is the best medicine! An integral part of a natural health lifestyle, it improves mood as well as physical health.

Exercise has many benefits to your overall health, as well. It helps the heart and lungs deliver oxygen throughout the body, lowers bad cholesterol and raises good cholesterol, and reduces inflammation and insulin resistance.[23] Exercise strengthens the heart muscle and reduces the risk of heart attacks.

Easy Exercises To Get Started

Your physical fitness level can be improved with cardiovascular exercise, like aerobics, running or sports, but also gentler methods of exercise can have remarkable benefits, including yoga, tai chi, and pilates. Weight training is another great way to improve your overall fitness.

Exercising outside can be a great way to get fresh air, sunshine for vitamin D, and the healing power of being in nature. You can walk barefoot to ground yourself in the earth. There are even specific exercises to improve your sex drive.

Protecting the Environment

Many people who adopt a natural health lifestyle are also interested in living green, or in other words, considering how our actions and consumer choices affect the environment. The only way that our children will live healthy lives in the future is if we make efforts to clean up the environment today, and make choices that reduce our impact.

The only way that our children will live healthy lives in the future is if we make efforts to clean up the environment today, and make choices that reduce our impact.

To reduce the toxic burden on our children, people will need to collectively clean up the environment. This means reducing the impact of our daily choices, from the cars we drive to the electrical power we choose to the products we buy. Each choice has an impact on overall air and water pollution, toxic waste accumulation, and global climate change.

Easy Ways To Get Started

Some of these efforts will take longer than others. For example, we can’t easily get rid of the persistent organic pollutants which, persist in the air, water and soil although they have been banned for many years.[10] However, here are some simple steps you can take:

  • You can lobby your representatives to force past polluters to clean these up.
  • You can make your consumer voice heard by paying attention to where you spend your money.
  • You can educate yourself about where toxic chemicals lurk, and minimize your exposure as much as possible, especially if you are pregnant or for young children.

A Natural Health Diet: A Way of Life

If you want to live in a more healthful way, you must address the way you eat. Healthy eating is not a trend; it is probably the single most important thing you can do for your health on a daily basis.

Eat Organic Foods

Choosing organic foods is best because certified organic producers must follow specific laws and regulations, which include using virtually no chemicals — although truth be told, some are allowed.

Buying organic is better for your health and better for Planet Earth.

Organic farming is better for your health: one study found organic fruits have more antioxidants and less pesticide residue.[24] And buying organic crops and meat is better for the earth: organic farmers must follow sustainable farming practices, like improving biodiversity, crop rotation on fields, and biologically-friendly pest management. Organic products can not use genetically modified organisms (GMOs) or any genetic engineering.[25] Even organic produce contains chemical traces; you can wash some of it off, but research shows that washing does not remove all the chemicals.[26]

Quick Tips for Cleaning Produce

  • Avoid the Dirty Dozen fruits and vegetables which have the most pesticide residue, and look for the Clean Fifteen, which have the least, if you must eat conventionally grown produce.[27, 28] If your budget is tight, you can choose which fruits and vegetables to buy organic, versus conventional, for yourself and your family.
  • To remove pesticides from produce, soak fruits or vegetables for 20 minutes in a large bowl full of a solution of 1 part white vinegar to 4 parts water (i.e., if you use 4 cups of water use 1 cup of white vinegar), then scrub lightly with a scrub brush and rinse.[29]

Eat A Plant-Based Diet

Eating a low-fat vegan or vegetarian diet has many health benefits: it can lead to weight loss, improve insulin function, lower blood pressure, and lower your risk of heart problems.[30, 31] Vegans generally have lower levels of bad cholesterol than people who do not eat a strictly plant-based diet.

Eating lower on the food chain also reaps enormous benefits for the planet, and is kinder to animals. Agriculture – including both animals and plant crops – account for one-third of all global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the United Nations Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO).[32] Livestock in particular account for more greenhouse gas emissions than transportation – the world’s cars, trucks, and planes. Reducing the amount of meat you eat can, therefore, help curb climate change, which is one of the biggest threats to the environment and the future of humankind.[33, 34]

Quick Tips for Cutting Down on Meat

  • Try Meatless Monday, an international movement where people eliminate meat one day a week.[35] This can be a good trial for vegetarian or vegan natural health recipes, and to begin a transition to a plant-based lifestyle.
  • Look for one of many superfoods for quick boosts to energy and health, like goji berries, chia seeds, or golden berries.
  • Many people interested in a healthy, natural diet choose to eat a gluten-free diet because this protein — found most commonly in wheat but also in other common grains — can trigger digestive problems.

Try a Raw, Vegan Diet

Have you heard about eating raw? Some people are choosing to eat exclusively raw food; this preserves all of the natural enzymes and nutrients present in food. You can start with 75% raw and 25% cooked and gradually work your way up to a fully raw diet. Or you can do a raw food detox, eating raw for a week or a month, and see how much better you feel afterward. Gradually introducing one food type back into your diet, such as corn or dairy or wheat (gluten), can help you identify which foods your body is most sensitive to.

One study found a 70-100% raw diet reduced bad cholesterol, but also decreased vitamin B-12, which you need, but it’s typically only found in animal products.[36] When eating raw or vegan, you will need a vegan B-12 supplement.

The Benefits of Eating Healthy: Weight Loss, Wellness and Energy

Can a plant-based, clean diet help people lose weight? Absolutely. People who eat vegan or vegetarian generally have lower body-mass index (BMI) than those who eat meat; in other words, they weigh less.[37] One study found that people who eat more fruits and vegetables also have a probable lower risk of cancer and osteoporosis.[38] A diet high in saturated fats (often found in red meat) can reduce the effectiveness of good cholesterol (HDL) and increases the risk of hardened arteries (atherosclerosis).[39]

"People who eat vegan or vegetarian generally have lower body-mass index than those who eat meat; in other words, they weigh less."

Will eating vegan give you more energy? That depends on what you eat. If you eat a lot of sugar, starchy carbs like potatoes and rice, and few vegetables you may miss out on the energy boost that comes from eating raw, “live” fruits, vegetables and nuts. Not only that, meat takes more energy for your body to digest.

Nutritional Supplements and Natural Health Products

The use of natural health vitamins and nutritional supplements has seen a steady rise over the past two decades, with more than $36 billion in retail sales in 2017.[40] A National Institutes of Health Survey found that 85% of people use natural products for overall wellness, and more than 40% use them to treat a health condition.[41] As of 2012, the most popular natural supplements in the U.S. – not including regular vitamins and minerals – included fish oil (though we recommend vegan alternatives like flax oil or hemp seed oil), probiotics/prebiotics, melatonin, echinacea, and ginseng, among others.[41]

Today, nearly 20% of American adults take one or more natural health supplement. Aging men and women need more calcium and aging support, while infants as well as pregnant and breastfeeding women need to get more vitamin D. Active adults often seek out plant-based supplements like ginseng, ginkgo and vitamin B-12.[42]

Introducing prebiotic and probiotic supplements has a positive impact on your health by improving the state of your gut. The gut biota acts like an “organ within an organ,” that affects not just the obvious – digestion — but also the immune system, metabolism, and even mental health. [43, 44, 45, 46] Prebiotics are fiber-dense foods that feed good bacteria, and probiotics are specific strains of bacteria that your body needs for optimal health. While your body will have some of these from living in the world, enhancing the number of good bacteria you have in your gut will improve your digestion as well as overall health.

What Kinds of Natural Healthcare Providers Are There?

People who use natural or complementary approaches to health often do it because they feel conventional medicine focuses too narrowly on one symptom or body system, with little integration of the body with other aspects of life, such as lifestyle, diet, and social factors.[46] The great thing about adopting a natural health lifestyle is that it is inherently empowering, allowing you to take charge of your health.

"Adopting a natural health lifestyle is empowering, allowing you to take charge of your health. But sometimes you have a specific health concern and you want to see an expert."

Sometimes you have a specific health concern and you want to see an expert. There are many different types of healthcare providers who adopt a natural approach.

Naturopathic Doctors (N.D.) and Naturopath Practitioners (N.P.)

Naturopathic doctors (N.D.) must receive a 4-year post-graduate medical degree from one of 5 schools in the U.S. focusing on naturopathic principles and herbalism, and like traditional medical school have done clinical rotations. Naturopathic doctors in the U.S. are licensed by state medical boards. Some people earn a certificate in naturopathy that is not as rigorous as the full N.D. medical training; they are called naturopathic practitioners (N.P.) or just naturopaths.

Generally, six key beliefs guide the practice of naturopaths:
  1. Heal with the power of nature: the human body has a strong, built-in power to heal itself.
  2. Identify the root cause: find what is underlying symptoms and treat that, rather than suppressing symptoms.
  3. Treat the whole person: healthcare providers need to treat a person holistically, including their physical as well as mental, emotional and social health.
  4. Doctor as teacher: Naturopaths help patients learn what they can do to improve their own health and well-being.
  5. Do no harm:Use methods, herbs and techniques that do not cause harm on a person’s self-healing mechanisms.
  6. Seek prevention first: Always seek to proactively prevent disease and illness.

Twenty-three states in the U.S. license individuals with N.D. degrees to practice medicine. Each of these states has slightly different laws. In some states, N.D.s can call themselves a doctor, diagnose and treat patients with natural substances, education, and lifestyle prescriptions. In a handful of states like Vermont, Arizona, Oregon and Washington, a N.D. can also prescribe medications or do minor surgery.

Integrative & Functional Medicine Practitioners

Integrative medicine means integrating conventional and complementary approaches when treating people. It is a holistic approach, involving a person’s physical body, but also the mind, emotions, and social habits that may affect overall health and wellness.

Functional medicine practitioners use an integrative approach but additionally use an approach that considers all the body systems to understand the root cause of diseases, similar to naturopathic doctors. Functional medicine goes a step beyond integrative medicine by looking for a specific cause for every problem, especially issues like autoimmune diseases or diabetes, to find a solution tailored to each individual.[47] A functional medicine provider may run genetic or environmental tests, in addition to traditional tests of biological function, for example.

People trained in several healthcare fields can receive a certificate in functional medicine or integrative medicine, including doctors (N.D., M.D., D.O., D.C.), nurses, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, registered dieticians, and acupuncturists.

Chiropractors

The field of chiropractic medicine focuses on the neuromusculoskeletal system, or in other words the nerves, muscles, and skeleton. They are concerned with how the spine and its alignment affects overall health. They perform spinal manipulations or adjustments to correct alignment problems. These adjustments not only reduce pain but can improve overall health. In general, many chiropractors believe in a natural approach to healthcare, supporting good health practices like nutrition, exercise, therapies like massage, and natural supplements. Chiropractors believe in the body’s ability to heal without drugs or surgery.[48]

Chiropractors must complete at least a 4-year university degree, 1000 hours of clinical training, and they must receive licensing in the state or province they practice in.

Osteopathic Doctors

Like chiropractors, osteopaths are trained to focus on the neuromusculoskeletal system, but they take a whole-person approach to healthcare, looking at all of the body’s interconnected systems.[49] Whereas chiropractors focus on the spine, osteopaths focus on physical manipulation of the entire body’s muscles and skeletal system for optimizing health. They focus on improving health without drugs and unlike traditional medical doctors, treat the whole person rather than just addressing the specific presenting issue.

A Doctor of Osteopathy (D.O.) is a licensed, board-certified medical doctor who attended a medical college of osteopathy. There are more than 100,000 Osteopathic doctors in the U.S., and they are licensed to practice in all 50 states in the U.S.

Homeopaths

Like other natural health practitioners, homeopathic practitioners also embrace a natural, holistic approach to healthcare and take a comprehensive history of the patient and his or her condition. Homeopathic care follows three principles[50]:
  1. Like cures like: prescribe a natural substance that is similar in nature to the condition. The goal is to help the body heal itself.
  2. Minimum dose: prescribe the least amount of a medicine needed to heal an issue.
  3. Single remedy: give people one treatment at a time.

Homeopathy is a popular but controversial form of complementary medicine, mainly because the mode that homeopathy purports to work seems to go against what scientists know about science. According to the NIH National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, “Several key concepts of homeopathy are inconsistent with fundamental concepts of chemistry and physics.” Despite that, reviews of studies have found the positive effects of homeopathic treatment for certain conditions – including acute diarrhea, flu, and allergies – cannot be explained by a placebo effect alone (the placebo effect is when people get better because they are receiving some pill, even if that is a neutral “sugar pill”).[51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57]

Homeopaths come from a wide variety of backgrounds. There are currently only five colleges in the U.S. and one in Canada which provide a four-year program in homeopathy. However, Naturopathic Doctors (N.D.s) receive training in homeopathy as part of their medical training. Other colleges and institutions offer shorter training programs and certificates in homeopathy.

Natural Health Coaches & Dieticians

You can also go to natural health coaches or dieticians which have a wide variety of certifications and training. Registered Dieticians (R.D.) or Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (R.D.N.) have a minimum of a Bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university, and they also finished a certified practice program offered by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND) of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and passed an exam.

Other types of nutritionists or dieticians, include Certified Nutrition Specialist, Certified Clinical Nutritionist, Holistic Nutritionist, and Nutritional Therapy Practitioner. Also, some individuals become health coaches to support other people on the journey to health and wellness, often after having an experience with it in their own lives. Not all of these healthcare practitioners take a natural health approach, so you will have to do your research into each provider.

Try These Natural Health Therapies and Modalities

Whether you are engaging in natural health self-care or you are under the care of a healthcare provider, there are dozens of alternative, natural health therapies that can be used for various conditions, or simply to support overall physical and mental health. Some of the most popular are below.

Massage

Massage is one of the oldest, most well-known and most used alternative therapies. Not only can massage relax you, but it also has specific health benefits. Studies have found that massage can reduce pain, decrease anxiety and depression, increase alertness, and improve the immune system[58]. Two-thirds of hospitalized patients attributed their greater ability to move around, higher energy levels, and speed of recovery to getting massages during their stay.[59]

"Massages are one of the most used alternative therapies. They relax muscles and boost the immune system."

How do massages help? Physiologically, they relax muscles and increase blood and lymph circulation. Some studies have found massage boosts the immune system in both sick and healthy people.[60, 61] One study found massage increased the hormone oxytocin, sometimes called the love hormone, and decreased levels of cortisol and adrenocorticotropin, hormones produced by the pituitary gland during stress.[61, 62]

Ayurveda

Ayurveda is an ancient system of medicine from India.[63] Ayurvedic medicine takes the approach that the mind and body are intricately interconnected, and the mind has a strong ability to heal the body. According to Ayurveda, people have three different constitutions or “doshas,” which means life force:

  • Kapha types are dominated by water and earth, and are typically strong and stable as long as they exercise regularly, but may tend towards weight gain without exercise. To be balanced, kaphas may need to be motivated or energized through the various Ayurvedic therapies, including herbs, food, and mind-body practices.
  • Pitta doshas are ruled by fire and water elements, are typically medium build, have ruddy skin, and can be competitive and sometimes irritable. To find balance, they need to manage their fiery tendencies.
  • The final dosha type is vatta, dominated by light and air, and who tend towards a light, airy constitution. They think on their toes, are fast-moving, and creative, but may tend towards anxiety or fatigue, and may need to find ways to ground their airy energy.

Ayurvedic practitioners use panchakarma, a system of cleansing different body systems using essential oils, massage, and foods. Meditation, yoga and deep breathing, getting outside in nature, getting adequate exercise and sleep, and including all six tastes in every meal (sweet, salty, sour, pungent, bitter, and astringent) are used to help bring balance to the body and its systems.

Acupuncture, Acupressure and Traditional Chinese Medicine

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) was developed more than 2,500 years ago in China, and involves understanding and redistributing the body’s energy force, called chi, along meridians or channels in the body. TCM healers use herbs and medicines (some of which come from endangered species, such as tigers or rhino horns), as well as mind-body practices like tai chi and acupuncture. In acupuncture, practitioners will insert tiny needles along the body’s meridians to heal an ailment.

There are few studies accessible to the western world that have systematically evaluated TCM, making it difficult to evaluate scientifically. However, some studies have started looking at the disease-fighting capabilities of certain TCM herbs.[64, 65] Although scientists do not understand how it works, several studies have shown that acupuncture treats chronic pain more effectively than no treatment or “sham” acupuncture treatments (placing needles on non-meridian points). Not only that, some brain imaging research has found that stimulating specific acupuncture points activated specific parts of the brain.[66]

Acupressure is a bodywork technique that involves putting pressure on the meridian points associated with a particular ailment, instead of using needles as they do in acupuncture.

Aromatherapy

Scent is one of our most prized senses, and it can be used to improve health and well-being. Massage therapists often add in aromatherapy into their practice, but this is a great therapy to do self-care. There are hundreds of essential oils that you can use for various needs, and these are sold at grocery stores, online and specialty stores.

  • Lavender oil can reduce anxiety and improve sleep.[67] Inhaling lavender also lessened the effects of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) in women.[68]
  • Orange oil was found to lower heart rate and decrease stress for students studying for exams[69]
  • Peppermint oil not only improves muscle relaxation and achy joints, inhaling peppermint oil can reduce nausea,[70] reverse mental fatigue[71] and improve physical performance in both mice and men.[72]

Natural Health Wrap-Up

There are a number of other alternative and complementary natural therapies, but what they have in common is that they look to natural herbs, nutrition, and lifestyle changes like exercise to maintain wellness while seeking to avoid costly and invasive surgeries or treatments.

Natural therapies can be empowering because — although many are not as well-researched as some conventional medical treatments — they typically have fewer side effects. However, always be sure to research the quality of the healthcare or therapy provider, natural health supplements, or treatments you are interested in. Check reviews, read as much as you can, and be an informed decision-maker about your own healthcare.

I truly believe my purpose on this planet is to help people live healthier lives. There are many simple, natural ways to improve your health and make you happier every day. I hope this guide helps you on your journey to better health.

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