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What is Natural Medicine?
Joseph Pizzorno, ND, Editor in Chief
was recently asked this question by Pamela Snider, ND, the executive editor of Foundations of Naturopathic Medicine. Pamela (a member of the first pioneering class) noted that I have frequently used this term, natural medicine, ever since I founded Bastyr University in 1978 (then, the John Bastyr College of Naturopathic Medicine). I coined the term science-based natural medicine to describe the academic mission I had for the institution. In 1985, when coauthoring the first new naturopathic textbook in over 3 decades with Michael Murray, ND, we decided to title it Textbook of Natural Medicine. Not the Textbook of Naturopathic Medicine, because we had a vision of health care transformation not limited to a specific profession. So, how do I define natural medicine? The easy response is that natural medicine means the use of medicines from nature rather than synthetic chemicals. Sounds nice, but not very good. How about penicillin? It is from nature but few would consider it a “natural” medicine. What if the vitamin C prescribed to a patient is synthesized? (Virtually all commercially available vitamin C is synthetic ascorbic acid.) Is it still “natural?” But more importantly, this response, while part of the answer, is really quite incomplete. I would go further: Is the use of the herb St John’s wort for the treatment of depression “natural medicine?” This herb is “natural.” But is substituting “natural” agents for “synthetic” drugs for symptomatic relief what this is really about? Or how about the patient dying from bilobar bacterial pneumonia whose life is saved with one of the new synthetic penicillin analogs? Is this “unnatural” medicine and therefore somehow wrong? Perhaps we should define natural medicine as “all of the worldwide CAM, traditional, and indigenous healing arts,” defined as those that espouse a perspective on the principles of healing, health, and living that are in contrast to conventional Western medicine. This might be closer, but describing natural medicine by what it is not is still a poor definition. I think we achieve some insight into a better definition when we consider the Greco-Roman concepts of Hygeia and Asclepius. Hygeia was the goddess and personification of health (Greek: ὑγίεια - hugieia),1 cleanliness, and sanitation. She was about the promotion of health and
8 Integrative Medicine • Vol. 12, No. 6 • December 2013
wellness in the patient. Asclepius, in contrast, promoted the doctor as the interventionist in control and eradicating disease. Hygeia gets closest to my definition of natural medicine as the promotion of health and reversal of disease through the support of the body’s innate healing powers. It is not about the source of the treatment, the name of the profession, or arcane philosophical strictures. It is about treating the person, not the disease. Or perhaps I should say not just the disease. Bacterial pneumonia is a real disease that has a life of its own. Simply helping the immune system function more effectively is rarely adequate when the disease has progressed so far. We cynically critique conventional medicine with the adage, “The treatment was a success but the patient died.” Is “We religiously followed our ‘natural medicine’ principles but the bacteria won” any better? On the other hand, simply killing the bacteria without dealing with the causes of the pneumonia is still not good medicine. When I am asked to define the term naturopathic doctors, I describe us as physicians of natural medicine. This is actually a more complex answer than it may seem at first. Perhaps my beloved mentor, John Bastyr, DC, ND, said it best: “We are physicians who use whatever therapy is best for the patient, prioritizing those which are most natural and least invasive. Nonetheless, drugs are sometimes what the patient truly needs.” Yes, Dr Bastyr freely used antibiotics, referred to surgery, etc—whatever provided his patients the best path to a cure. Few are aware that that almost a century ago, when as a young doctor getting his training, Dr Bastyr did a 1-year residency in the one hospital in Seattle that was open to all licensed health care professionals before political medicine took control. In my definition, natural medicine is not about what we use or how we treat, but rather why and the intended effect. This is not restricted to any particular named profession, although the concept is obviously foundational in virtually all CAM professions. Bottom line for me: Natural medicine is about promoting the foundational health of the patient rather than the simple treatment of disease, no matter how “natural” the intervention. I believe this a universal truth that has been most understood by many of the natural medicine professions and practitioners—but by no means
Pizzorno—The Path Ahead
is there any greater truth about the medicine we are striving to practice? I think the very best healers are those who. Pizzorno—The Path Ahead Truly inspiring to see CAM professionals finally being recognized as academic leaders. While we can indeed point to the real limitations of conventional medicine and the lifethreatening effects of errors and adverse drug reactions. Those aware of the history of Bastyr University’s challenges with the Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges (NASC) in the 1990s will truly appreciate how far we have come. Scott R. I quote Dr Baker more often than Dr Bastyr. 12. Also. Perhaps his most insightful adage is “All of medicine is really quite simple. we interview Valter Longo. Considering the surprisingly high levels of ferritin I have found in many men. Integrative Medicine • Vol. As I have stated many. Bill Benda. Ralph Holsworth Jr. explores this concept with a very interesting observational study showing this may be very effective in women suffering depression. In fact. I am not against conventional medicine.” Truly. (Each issue.only those trained in these healing arts. and many would not be alive without these “heroic” interventions.to 30-day water fasts for hundreds of patients. painful insights to those of us committed to integrative medicine. MD. come to recognize this truth in every patient interaction. DC. Brimhall. and Joseph Weidman provide us a very interesting review of the research looking at the effect of blood viscosity in cardiovascular disease. provides us a fascinating story.” Simply stunning. a few issues ago. As we are striving to increase awareness of the important conferences of our partner professional organizations. As usual. Congratulations to Joseph E. etc. No. United Kingdom: Oxford University Press. 2013 as “Naturopathic Medicine Week. on the effects of fasting in combination with chemotherapy to treat cancer—fascinating! I have supervised 4. the reality is that most of these patients have serious disease. I am against a system that is only conventional medicine. MD. Glad we did this as it inspired me to attend his lecture. in BackTalk provides thoughtful and. Colorado. a leader in functional medicine for psychiatric disorders. asking if I thought they might have contributed to her death. I think long-time readers will find of particular interest the parallels between his and Sid Baker’s conceptual lenses and the ways in which these parallels help us understand the multifactorial natural of most disease. McKenzie R. He sent me the long list of the drugs she was prescribed. lots of great patient examples. I was righteously offended by obvious excessive drugging of this poor woman. 2013. His message in this issue powerfully reminds me of a case I recently reviewed for a client whose middle-aged sister unexpectedly died during hospitalization. PhD. Gustafson C. Editor in Chief email@example.com. The best results for our patients are collaboration and respectful appreciation of strengths and honest recognition of limitations of all schools of medicine. can there be a better example than combining conventional drugs with homeopathy?! Maja Roje Novak. They also discuss the potential benefits of phlebotomy. In This Issue One of the most gratifying aspects of my role as Editor in Chief is identifying leaders in our field to interview for IMCJ. In other words.com/drpizzorno References 1. Then a month later. IMCJ. Gregory D. I was provided her medical records. I went from outrage to sheepish outright admiration that her MDs were able to keep her alive as long as they did. Seeing the parallel between my editorial and Bill’s BackTalk makes me wonder sometimes if the universe has a sense of humor …) Joseph Pizzorno. Robert Hedaya. organ failure. MD.2 who presented on hormeses at the July 2013 American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP) convention in Keystone. After reviewing her voluminous case. PhD. I invited Dr Calabrese to write us an article on his incredibly important work—delighted to report that he accepted. Sloop. I find especially of interest the stories of how conventionally-trained physicians leave the fold to pursue integrative/functional medicine. as well as other functional medicine MDs. Get into the person what they need and get out what they don’t. A Greek–English Lexicon. For those interested in truly integrative medicine. through training or insightful understanding. drugs. PhD: hormesis and the biphasic adaptive stress response. MD. Jones HS. DO.) In this issue. 6 • December 2013 9 . Liddell HG. London. Rather. 1996. for your appointment to Chair of the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)—a remarkable achievement. ND. as is so well-documented in John Weeks’s review. this intervention may have many unexpected benefits. we are now interviewing keynote lectures. MD.12(3):16-20. 2. All readers of IMCJ will have benefited from the remarkable insights and wisdom of Sid Baker. Edward J. Readers may remember our interview. of Edward Calabrese. Another especially gratifying example is the US Senate recognizing October 7 to 13. all of us.com http://twitter. at times. After reviewing the 20+ concurrent drugs she was taking and the over 90 severeto-moderate drug interactions reported at http://www. Calabrese. I begin writing my editorial before I see the articles we will be publishing. One of the most important I have ever heard! (After hearing his lecture. Who would have thought that fasting makes cancer cells more susceptible to chemotherapy? This is a must-read for practitioners with patients suffering cancer. many times in classes and lectures.
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