Naturopathy is about trying to understand why the symptoms have appeared in the first place, and how to work with the body rather than against it.
The body can heal itself
When I tell people I am a Naturopath I am sometimes met with the response ‘Oh does that mean you go around without any clothes on?’! Actually no! Naturopathy simply means using ‘natural’ means to enable to body to heal itself. Treatments may include diet, exercise, bodywork (massage and osteopathy), homoeopathy, herbs, etc. Naturopathy is based on the belief that the body is able to heal itself providing that any obstacles to cure – such as toxins – are removed, and that optimal conditions are provided to enable the body to correct any imbalances.
Our toxic environment
Much of my research has focused on how relevant such an approach is today. On the face of it, this shouldn’t be hard to achieve but on further examination this is not as easy as might appear. How do you avoid or rid yourself of toxins in our polluted environment when you are exposed to them on a daily basis? How do you obtain foods in their natural state – free from pesticides, pasteurisation, irradiation, growth promoters, hormones, etc?
Excessive free radicals
It is becoming increasingly clear that the end-stage diagnosis of a disease is not as important as the underlying process that has given rise to the disease itself. It is at this level that treatment needs to focus. Although the diagnosis may be different – atherosclerosis, coronary heart disease, M.E., high blood pressure, arthritis, for example, – all these diseases have in common:- hyper-acidity, inflammation and oxidative stress, or excessive free radical loading. The disease is an adaptation to a problem and not the problem itself. Therefore symptomatic suppression with drugs would not be regarded as curative by a naturopath but would ultimately be seen to deepen the pathology. There are countless examples of this – steroidal creams to suppress eczema resulting in asthma, breast cancer appearing six months after a course of antibiotics, arthritis progressing more quickly as inflammation (which slows damage to joints) is blocked by immunosuppressive drugs, Parkinsons Disease developing after the use of MAO inhibiting anti-depressants or statin drugs, ad infinitum.
Healing can be a slow process
Naturopathy is about trying to understand why the symptoms have appeared in the first place, and how to work with the body rather than against it. This difference in philosophy is fundamental in understanding the limitations of drug-based medicine. For people raised on the ‘quick-fix-magic-bullet’ myth, the time it can take for the body to actually heal can seem very slow. It is easy to forget how long it took for the disease to develop originally.
Beware of detoxification programmes
Some feel that detoxification is the solution to their ills. Ironically, it is those who have genetic weaknesses in detoxification pathways that are the most in need of detoxification, but who are the least able to tolerate it. There are treatments such as chelation using herbs like chlorella which I personally would never endorse. This is because chelation mobilises the toxins into the blood stream. Toxins are stored in fat cells primarily, and drawing them into circulation has the potential to cause a great deal of damage – particularly to the brain. Detoxification programmes that rely upon starvation, juice fasts etc., usually result in fatigue, severe headaches and skin eruptions and this is frequently attributed to ‘a healing crisis’. Nothing could be further from the truth. The unpleasant symptoms are usually the result of protein deficiency as proteins are needed by the liver to detoxify! The headache will kick-in on the day the protein runs out. Some people abuse their bodies on a daily basis and then expose them to gruelling cleansing regimes at ‘health farms’ in the mistaken belief that this will enable them to continue their destructive lifestyle.
Good fat – bad fat.
Research which is not yet widely known into the effects of fats on energy production seems to indicate that the fats we have recently been encouraged to eat ‘for health’ may actually block thyroid hormone function in the cells. We are currently witnessing an epidemic of hypothyroidism. Until the 1930’s we did not eat vegetable oils. All our fat intake came from meat and dairy produce. There were hardly any degenerative diseases around a hundred years ago. It was so rare for anyone to have a heart attack that doctors were ill equipped to diagnose it as they were unlikely ever to come across it in the whole of their careers. People have been eating red meat, cheese and butter for thousands of years without any cardiovascular disease. The problem with much meat today is that is produced from vegetarian animals that have been fed a diet of recycled animal waste and given hormones and antibiotics to speed up production. The constituents of the meat have altered radically since the 1950’s. In the space of a few decades vegetable oils such as sunflower, safflower, flax etc., have not only been introduced into our diet for the first time, they have even been deemed as essential! The same thing has happened with fish oils which are also touted as an essential health food. Do you think our ancestors spent time extracting the oils from fish livers? Many of them didn’t even live near water.
Eating as our ancestors used to
The constant information about what constitutes healthy eating in the media is driven by vested interest – someone is trying to sell you a food, a supplement or a drug. So, it is not easy to extract the truth and know what really is healthy. Skimmed milk is supposed to be a healthier option because of its reduced fat content. However, the removal of the fat (and what’s wrong with the fat in milk?) makes it impossible for the body to extract the calcium from the milk. It also raises the lactose content of the milk. Interfering with the components of foods which alters them from their natural state renders them an unhealthy food. Forget all the misinformation about what you should and shouldn’t be eating and just try to eat the diets we used to eat before the food industry and agri-business got involved. This would include free range, organically reared meat from animals that have eaten grass rather than ground-up animal stuffs; unpasteurised full fat milk and cheese; grains that have been soaked before cooking; sourdough breads, fruits and vegetables that have been allowed to ripen before being picked to preserve their nutrient contents and so on. The reason we see so many gluten sensitivities today is because we are eating genetically engineered wheat that has been so altered that even the weevil has the common sense not to eat it! We then ingest it without prior soaking to break down the difficult to digest starches. Dairy produce was regarded as a health food before pasteurisation altered its structure so much that most of us are now unable to digest it. Cholesterol has been mispresented as a harmful fat. Considering much of the brain is made from cholesterol – as are our hormones and cell membranes – it is not surprising that any reduction in cholesterol intake in the diet results in the liver simply making more. In spite of the lack of evidence linking high cholesterol with any disease, the promotion of statin drugs has ensured that cholesterol is now regarded as our enemy. Cholesterol binds up toxins and could possibly be viewed by the naturopath as another of our protective mechanisms.
Myth or scientific fact?
So working naturopathically today is much more challenging than in the past. We sometimes need to be more interventionist to undo years of damage and suppression. Much of my work is concerned with education and it is surprising how many myths are accepted unquestioningly as scientific fact. It was said many years ago that we are digging our graves with our knives and forks and never has this been truer than today.