Natural medicine- can it seriously be considered as mainstream?

Natural medicine is the oldest form of health care that has stood the test of time. It is a traditional and culture-bound method of healing that we have used to cope and deal with different diseases that have threatened our existence and survival.  The World Health Organisation defines natural, traditional medicine as the  is “the sum total of the knowledge, skills and practices based on the theories, beliefs and experiences indigenous to different cultures, whether explicable or not, used in the maintenance of health, as well as in the prevention, diagnosis, improvement or treatment of physical and mental illnesses”. A traditional or natural doctor, on the other hand, is “a person who is recognised by the community where he or she lives as someone competent to provide health care by using plant, animal and mineral substances and other methods based on social, cultural and religious practices”. This is evident in certain cultures, such as Chinese medicine, Ayurvedic medicine or African traditional medicine. This is the original medicine. The methods vary between cultures, however, there is enough evidence that supports the success rate of these medicines.

It is estimated that approximately 70% of the South African population has used natural and alternative medicines. A general trend that I have observed in practice is that more parents are looking for natural alternatives for their children. Natural medicine has become mainstream, and I’m sure you have noticed that supplements and herbal medicines can be found in your local grocery store to the corner garage shop.

Natural medicine has been under the spotlight in South Africa in the recent months. This is especially highlighted in the retail sphere. The legislation is loosely based on registering a natural product on the market that has been clinically trialed and assessed. I personally believe that this legislation is in order as it promotes the integrity of the medicine, the profession as well as protects the consumer. It makes sense to eliminate medicines that don’t have a therapeutic effect. This legislation allows the consumer to make a safe and informed decision about what they purchase and consume.

From a consumers point of view, one can understand the confusion around selecting a product. There is just so much variety available! The market size of natural products is fast growing in South Africa. In North America and Europe, the health industry has been regulated, therefore no products are allowed on shelves unless its safety and clinical efficacy have been evaluated. There is little to no control as to what is mixed into the capsule and its one of the many reasons that many conventional doctors do not necessarily believe that natural medicines work. They often advise their patients against taking these products as there may be toxic side effects. On the other hand, clinicians often forget to warn the patient that many registered prescribed drugs are also toxic, and that they have many side effects which may require further prescription drugs to counteract the unwanted effects of the first. Both practices are dishonest and patient is left puzzling.

This legislation is going to instill confidence in the use of natural medicine among the public and we should welcome this change in South Africa. There is place for all of us under the sun. I actually love conventional doctors, even though I know they don’t love us! They are the best diagnosticians, they offer the best emergency care, they can fix anything that’s broken however, a patient still needs to have the option to choose what type of medicine they put into their body. Even though conventional medicine has been rigorously tested, it is mainly chemical based drugs that our bodies struggle to assimilate. Conventional drugs suppress and almost stifle a disease, by ‘sweeping it under the carpet’.

This may be why the consumer turns to traditional medicine, which has withstood the test of time. Natural medicines are easier to assimilate in the body because our bodies almost recognize them as food. This is a huge advantage. By using quality herbal based medicine over extended periods of time, it invokes healing by improving your vital tone, as well as by encouraging detoxification, rather than suppressing the healing response. However, this is not to say that herbal products are harmless because they are natural. They may:

  • cause allergic reactions specific to an individual,
  • cause adverse effects,
  • be contaminated if not manufactured under strict pharmaceutical methods,
  • be toxic when used inappropriately or alongside prescription medication without being checked for possible interactions.

In the meantime, I suggest that you consult a trusted natural health practitioner to guide you to a more informed choice, as well as educate you on the best and most efficient natural products to use for you and your family.

A conventional doctor treats each symptom separately and sees your body as separate parts instead of a system working together. The consultation is sometimes short, so you may feel like you are a number and that your problems don’t matter, except your symptoms at that point.

A consultation with a natural doctor in my view, is an efficient and practical system of healing. This system incorporates the entirety of an individual. This means, it considers the physical, emotional and mental condition in relation to their ailment, including the aspects of daily life:

  • We look at your diet- what you eat, when you eat, what you crave, what you are averse to.
  • We look at what medicines you take- are there any side effects, dosage, interactions, etc.
  • We look at lifestyle choices such as exercise habits, any vices one may have, such as smoking, alcohol intake, and recreational drugs.

All these aspects contribute to the overall wellness of a person and directly influence symptoms of the individual in totality. There is more to a symptom than what meets the eye. In my opinion- this is what sets natural healing apart from conventional healing.

Our lives contribute to the cause and the cure to our own health.

A trained natural healer will be able to assist you in unraveling the mind body connection that is occurring within you as well as prescribe a natural remedy to assist, support and encourage your own body to heal itself.

I once heard an insightful analogy: ” Your body is like a car. When driving, a red light appears on the dashboard. A conventional doctor will take a hammer and SMASH the light, and carry on driving. A natural doctor will stop the car, and open the bonet and investigate the origin of this funny red light.” This is the greatest service to the human body when in a diseased state.

My only hope is that in the future, we are able to integrate conventional and natural medicine, because,we all have our strong points, and we all have our weak points. But together, we can achieve the best possible outcome for you- the patient.