The foundation of naturopathic medicine is built on the following principles:
· respect the healing power of nature
· remove the obstacles to the cure
· identify and treat the cause of illness
· first do no harm (use the least invasive treatment)
· treat the whole person
· emphasize wellness
· remember that prevention is the best cure
· stress the role of the physician as a teacher
With roots in the 19th century, naturopathic medicine has preserved age-old knowledge of herbal treatments, homeopathic medicine, and many other natural therapies. It offers health care that is truly comprehensive; more than any other type of medicine, it blends, balances, and integrates the conventional Western sciences with alternative approaches to health. As a naturopathic student, my requirements in the basic biological sciences, including all methods of modern physical, clinical, and laboratory diagnosis, were the same as that of other medical schools. In addition, I was required to study in-depth a wide range of alternative techniques and natural, non-toxic therapies that are seldom taught in other medical programs. Along with herbal medicine and homeopathy, these therapies include nutritional therapy, counseling, massage therapy, and hydrotherapy (treatment using hot and cold water).
The differences between the education of naturopathic and conventional physicians are important, because they reflect very different philosophies of health and disease. My naturopathic training placed a much greater emphasis, for example, on the science of nutrition and the impact of nutrition on human health (at Bastyr University, where I studied, I fulfilled 138 total credit hours of therapeutic nutritional sciences, whereas conventional medical schools typically require none).
KT: What is Chinese medicine all about and how does it work? Explain yin and yang. What role does balancing them play in health? How difficult is it for a reader to identify which of the five Chinese elements is her dominant personality type, and how important is that to understanding how to use and read your book?
DR. LS: Like Western naturopathic medicine, Chinese medicine is a natural healing tradition that provides a wonderful alternative to pharmaceutical drugs and other approaches that have potentially harmful long-term effects. With deep roots in Taoist philosophy and Chinese culture dating back more than 5,000 years, it is based on an “energetic” model of health and illness, rather than the biochemical model that is predominant in Western medicine.
If you are a Westerner accustomed to the straightforward analytical science of conventional medicine, exploring the ancient wisdom of Chinese medicine can be one of life’s most transforming experiences. It offers a way of thinking outside the box of cause-and-effect relationships that we are accustomed to in the West, challenging you to think about your body, mind, and spirit in delightfully new, non-linear ways. It invites you to approach your health through elegant poetic images that are often quite beautiful and rich in metaphor.
Perhaps the single most important tenet in Chinese medicine is the concept of Qi (pronounced chee). Qi is your body’s vital energy—not merely the energy of your physical body, but the life force that is the essence of your being. Chinese medicine uses a systematic approach for maintaining and promoting health, based on the premise that Qi is responsible for health and disease. A related essential principle in Chinese medicine is the relationship between yin and yang, which are characteristics or forms of Qi. Yin and yang are the opposites that exist everywhere in the universe, and in your body; when your yin and yang are in harmony, you will be in perfect health.
Another concept, one of the most helpful, is known as the Five Elements. These are the five basic properties that are said to be present throughout the natural world: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water. Like Qi, yin, and yang, according to Chinese medicine each of the Five Elements is also found in your body. Each is associated with particular traits and tendencies—you can think of them as metaphors for qualities, or capacities, present in your body and expressed in your physiology, your emotions, and your spirit. One of the Five Elements usually dominates your personality, and it is easy to determine your personality type by answering questionnaires which are provided throughout the book. While it is not essential that you know your personality type in order to understand how to use and read the book, you will find it quite helpful in gaining valuable insights about your health. Once you know your type, you can make a plan to create better balance in the organ or system that is predominately affected by that element, and you have a better understanding of your strengths and weaknesses. Ultimately, by knowing your type you know yourself better—which in turn helps you to make better decisions about your relationships and your life.
Conventional medicine in the West has become a very left-brained process, but when you open your mind to medical traditions from both the Eastern and Western hemispheres, you more fully engage both hemispheres of your brain—the logical, rational left brain and the imaginative, intuitive right brain. As you explore Chinese medicine in the book, you might find, for instance, that you have a “wind cold invasion” in your channels, or “excess fire,” or that your “Three Treasures” are well preserved. You will find that these notions, which may seem abstract and foreign at first, become easy to understand. And you can take comfort in the knowledge that they are based on an elaborate system of healing and time-honored techniques that have evolved over thousands of years.
Although some aspects of Chinese medicine remain mysterious to Western science, the discipline is becoming more commonly accepted throughout the conventional Western medical establishment. Many of the treatments used in Chinese medicine have been confirmed with modern diagnostic techniques, and some therapies have been studied and found to be efficacious by the National Institutes of Health. Chinese medicine has proven to be consistently effective in helping people from all over the world who seek out the gentle, non-toxic therapies that it offers for maintaining and restoring health.
KT: What’s the best place to start if I want to take charge of my health and get my body to a place where it’s healing itself and I’m symptom-free?
DR. LS: The best to place to start if you want to take charge of your health is with yourself. Every day and in every aspect of your life, you make choices that profoundly affect your capacity to be healthy. Your health is the embodiment of thousands, perhaps millions, of these choices. Each one is like a drop of water; when all of them are added together, they have the power to transform the landscape of your life. We all have to battle genetic predispositions toward disease, of course, but in my years of practicing natural medicine I have become convinced that ultimately the decision to create a lifetime of optimal health lies with you. The choice is yours.
You can use my book as a guide to help you make the healthiest choices. In the book I describe a way of life that I call the Naturally Healthy Lifestyle. It brings together key components of naturopathic and Chinese medicine to keep your body strong, your Qi balanced, and your immunity in peak condition. I highly recommend that you implement this lifestyle in order to take charge of your health and get your body to a place where it’s able to heal itself.
KT: What common women’s health conditions do you address in this book?
DR. LS: The book focuses primarily on creating and maintaining great health, but it also addresses many common health conditions that may come up, and gives you guidelines for treating or preventing them. These conditions include immune system problems, decreased libido, incontinence, irritable bowel symptoms, hormonal imbalances, hypothyroidism, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, breast cysts, osteoporosis, pelvic health issues, urinary tract infections, vaginitis, and mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, and memory loss.
KT: If you can diagnose the cause of the symptoms you’re having, and then support the underlying systems or organs responsible for that condition, can you really heal yourself?
DR. LS: Absolutely—I see it happen every day. In treating illness, both Western naturopathic and Chinese medicine view the body’s expression of symptoms as a way of trying to achieve harmony, homeostasis, or equilibrium. As a practitioner of natural medicine, my job involves helping my patients find the underlying cause of illness in order to bring their bodies back into balance. Naturopathic and Chinese medicine both support my view that illness doesn’t just materialize overnight: it is the result of a breakdown of the body’s natural protections, an imbalance of Qi and, in some cases, a clash between environmental forces and genetic susceptibility. Your body gives you many signs before disease manifests itself. By identifying the underlying cause of your symptoms and correcting it, you can heal yourself.
KT: Are there conditions for which natural therapies alone aren’t enough? Can you use natural medicine in conjunction with conventional medical treatments, or do they work against each other?
DR. LS: There may be times in your life when natural therapies alone aren’t enough. There is a time and a place for drugs; like surgery, they can be extremely useful, even life-saving, when other possibilities have been thoroughly explored and exhausted. But drugs should not be used in an effort to maintain your health, and drugs do not create great health. If pharmaceutical medications or surgery ever become necessary, they should be used in conjunction with natural therapies and medicines to ameliorate side-effects and expedite healing.
KT: Why are Western medical doctors suspicious of naturopathy and Chinese medicine?
DR. LS: Some Western medical doctors are suspicious of naturopathic medicine because they are oblivious to the extensive training of licensed naturopathic physicians. According to the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians, the naturopathic medical school curriculum includes a comparable number of hours of basic biological sciences as conventional medical schools such as Yale and Stanford. Conventionally-trained Western medical doctors are also often unaware that much of what practitioners of natural medicine prescribe to their patients is based on scientific fact. Scientific journals are replete with research on herbal and nutritional supplements for treating a wide variety of ailments.
Many medical doctors may also simply have trouble accepting viable forms of health care that exist outside of their own paradigm. Because of the limits of their training, they often have little or no understanding of other approaches, and unfortunately tend to assume that what they are not trained in must have no value.
In addition, some medical doctors have difficulty accepting Chinese medicine, perhaps in part because they have a hard time comprehending and trusting a system based on the premise that Qi, the fundamental concept of Chinese medicine, exists in the first place. Since Qi is not quantifiable and measurable in Western terms, it is typically dismissed from Western scientific inquiry. Yet Chinese medicine has a proven track record, much longer than that of the conventional Western pharmaceutical approach: there are literally thousands of years of documentation of the safety and efficacy of Chinese medicine.
KT: What’s the real story behind herbal medicines, Chinese medicines, and nutritional supplements that aren’t regulated by the FDA? How can you know if they’re safe, pure, or potent?
DR. LS: The real story is that many herbal and Chinese medicines were being used by people to improve their health for thousands of years before the FDA existed. They are, in a sense, our natural inheritance—and now we have a wealth of scientific research that validates what has been known for centuries.
As far as safety is concerned, in many cases it’s a matter of common sense that herbal medicines and nutritional supplements are perfectly safe when used correctly; this is often self-evident with traditional herbs that have been used medicinally for millennia, such as ginger. The FDA has implicitly acknowledged this by classifying herbal medicines and nutritional supplements as dietary supplements that need no regulation. In fact, proving their safety has seldom been necessary; only two cases have come up in recent years, and as I point out in Natural Choices for Women’s Health, both were caused by misuse of the herbs.
Even so, many herbal medicines, Chinese medicines, and nutritional supplements are regulated within the industry. When purchasing herbal and nutritional supplements at your health food store, look for the GMP (Good Manufacturing Practices) certification on the label; this certification is established by the National Nutritional Foods Association and indicates that a nutritional supplement has been screened for contaminants and quality tested.
The safety of most herbal medicines, Chinese medicines, and nutritional supplements becomes even more apparent when you compare them to the dangers associated with pharmaceutical drugs. Many modern drugs are relative biochemical newcomers that have not yet stood the test of time the way traditional herbal medicines have. Since pharmaceutical drugs often have serious side effects, and some are even potentially life-threatening, strict regulation is absolutely called for. Yet the FDA has often been accused of approving drugs much too quickly, without sufficient scrutiny, and consumer advocates have argued, with increasing alarm, that the FDA is not adequately doing its job of safeguarding public health.
If you need help knowing if herbal medicines, Chinese medicines, and nutritional supplements are safe, pure, and potent, there is good news. Licensed Naturopathic Doctors (NDs) are highly qualified to answer your questions and prescribe the herbal medicines and supplements that are the safest, purest, and most potent for you. As medical experts who devote much of their training to precisely these kinds of issues, licensed NDs are currently, by far, the world’s best trained physicians in this arena. It is important that you find a licensed naturopath who attended a four-year college, as opposed to someone who merely took correspondence courses over a much shorter period of time. (In some states, it is still legal to claim to be a naturopath without adequate training.) You can locate a well-trained licensed naturopath by contacting the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians toll free at 1-866-538-2267, or visit their website at www.naturopathic.org.
KT: What’s the most common misconception people have about natural medicine?
DR. LS: The most common misconception is that it’s some sort of “new age” concept; in fact, it’s a form of medicine based on traditional healing techniques and scientific research, and in the case of Chinese medicine, empirical evidence. As I say in the book, natural medicine is rooted in both common sense and scientific fact. And it involves much, much more than simply telling patients to take a vitamin or an herbal supplement. Natural medicine requires many years of study, and the assimilation of numerous approaches to health care that can have profound effects on the quality of people’s lives.