Article: Natural health

In alternative medicine, natural health is an eclectic self-care system of "natural therapies" concerned with building and restoring health and wellness via prevention and healthy lifestyles. Natural health includes herbalism, natural hygiene, naturopathy, and nutripathy and these techniques are sometimes viewed to be useful as complementary therapy to conventional medicine.

History of Natural Health

Although the term natural health did not become part of common usage until the late 20th century, many of its core beliefs developed in Europe and were brought over to the New World.

New World

Medical self-care was often the only health care available, and until the 1750s, most folk healers in the United States had little medical education beyond apprenticeships.

Around the time of the Revolutionary War (1775-1783), the practice of medicine was seen as more of a part-time avocation. Women and male lay practitioners took care of most medical matters including births, injuries, and illness through the use of folk medical practices. Of course, these natural healing practices varied from locality to locality with major cities, like Boston, Philadelphia, and New York City having hospitals and other medical practices approaching those found in Europe.

The Popular Health Movement (1830 - 1840)

In the 1830s the Popular Health Movement was started by a number of different reformers and activists, such as Frances Wright, dissatisfied with the practice of heroic medicine by the contemporary physicians of that time period. These activists sought to alter these heroic medical practices by incorporating and emphasizing some of the ideas that midwives and lay practitioners had long used to heal the sick. This was the period of Jacksonian democracy where self-sufficiency was prized. "For success in this frontier environment of growing America, the specialized skills - of lawyer, doctor, financier, or engineer - had a new unimportance" (Boorstin 1965).

From the Popular Health Movement several natural health movements developed.

  • Hydrotherapy
  • Herbalism from Thomsonianism of Samuel Thompson.
  • Eclectic Medicine, founded by Dr. Wooster Beech.
  • Natural Hygiene from the Orthopathy of Isaac Jennings, MD and Sylvester Graham.

"The peak of the Popular Health Movement (in America) coincided with the beginnings of an organised feminist movement, and the two were so closely linked that it is hard to tell where one began and the other left off" ( Ehrenreich & English 1973).

Between 1820-1845, Samuel Thompson (1769-1843) founded Thomsonianism, an early approach to modern Western herbalism. In 1823, The Association of Eclectic Physicians an organization of herbal doctors was founded by Dr. Wooster Beech. At its peak, eclecticism claimed more than 20,000 qualified practitioners in the United States. Eclectic medicine officially ended in 1939 due to a lack of support of its medical schools by philanthropists.

The Hydrotherapy of Hydropathy, was an early nineteenth-century medical sect, which entailed various applications of cold water and zealously advocated the reformation of such personal habits as diet, dress, clean water and air, exercise, sunshine, and herbs. In Europe, interest in the hydrotherapy can be traced back to the ancient Roman spas and the hot mineral springs at Bath, England. The importance of the water-cure movement was over shadowed by allopathy, which viewed hydropathy as quackery largely because of its close association with female social activists of the time period, such as Frances Wright (Sheryl et al. 1987).

In 1844, founder of Natural Hygiene, Dr. Joel Shew introduces the European system of Hydrotherapy to the United States. He later adopts the Hygieo-Therapy dietary and exercise plan, as well as its emphasis on fresh air and sunlight. In 1853, he founds the New York College of Hygieo-Therapy. In 1927, Herbert Shelton (1895-1985) of the Natural Hygiene movement was jailed for the first time for practicing medicine without a license. In 1939, Shelton's Hygienic Review magazine was published. Then in 1948, The American Natural Hygiene Society was founded.

Antebellum America

In 1860, Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809-1894), U.S. author and physician famously promoted the healing power of nature in a widely known annual address voicing therapeutic nihilism when he said "that if the whole materia medica, as now used, could be sunk to the bottom of the sea, it would be so much the better for mankind – and all the worse for the fishes" (Warner 1986).

Progressive Era of Health Care Reform (1890-1920)

The natural health movement of Naturopathy developed during Progressive Era of Health Care Reform. In 1895, founder of Naturopathy, Benedict Lust opened the Kneipp Water-Cure Institute in New York City. In 1902, he purchased the rights to the term "naturopathy" from John H. Scheel, who had coined it in 1895. The American Institute of Naturopathy opened in 1902. Henry Lindlahr, MD wrote in his Nature Cure: Philosophy & Practice Based on the Unity of Disease & Cure about the very Western concepts of fresh air, a natural diet, water treatment with cold baths, physical culture and the importance of maintaining the right mental and emotional attitude. But, said nothing about the modern notion of stress (See Lindlahr 1922).

The Modern Period

By the end of the 20th century the following forms of natural health were well established as a part of American culture: health food grocery stores, natural health web sites, self-care health books, and Vitamin & Nutritional Supplement dealers.

Basic Core Tenets

The ideologies of natural health hold that all health, illness, and healing can be positively affected by prevention and lifestyle modifications. These natural therapies are under the control of the individual.

Natural philosophy

Just like any other natural philosophy, the word 'natural' in natural health is referring to the physical realm of existence.

Natural health excludes all belief systems that say disease is a result of anything other than natural causes. Faith and psychic healing are not a part of natural health. Likewise, Eastern philosophies with beliefs in other worlds or dimensions (such as beliefs in spiritual, karmic, or ancestral forces and personal auras or energy flows around the human body) that are invisible to our normal senses are not a part of the very Western practices of natural health. And, natural health certainly has nothing to do with magic or new age mysticism.
Natural health has nothing to say about the creation of life, beliefs in religion, and other worlds or dimensions other than that all health, illness, and healing can be positively affected by simple and inexpensive natural therapies. Nor, does this imply that the role of your mind should be ignored in health, illness, and healing due to its tenet of holism.
The core tenets of all natural health practices refer only to the very Western biological factors of health. Early sects of the natural health movement did show an interest in relaxation offered by the water cure. But, concerns over stress and the mind-body connection are a modern extension added to some practices of natural health from Eastern philosophical traditions.

Vitalism

The most fundamental tenet of the natural health philosophy is that the human body has the capacity to heal itself.

In natural health, all healing is essentially self-healing, a basic property of all living beings. Vitalism is an ancient concept that can be traced back to the body's own innate vitality, vital energy, vital force, or the 'vis medicatrix naturae' (i.e., the inherent wisdom of the body) of Hippocrates (c.460-377BC), the father of medicine, who wrote that "the natural healing force within us is the greatest force in getting well."
A physician can kill an infection with antibiotics, perform surgery, put a broken limb in a cast, or suture a wound, but if the patient does not respond to the treatment, all the efforts of the physician have been useless since all healing is performed by the patient.
In natural health the self-healing of vitalism is paramount. The inherent natural healing process is respected and sought after during treatment, although it is not necessarily understood.

Holism

In natural health, healing is viewed as a concerted effort of the entire organism and cannot be achieved by any part in isolation from the whole.

Holism is an old concept that can be traced back to Paracelsus (1439-1541), the father of modern medicine, who insisted on treating the whole being rather than merely the part displaying disease.
Respecting and understanding the defensive abilities of the body and differentiating between disease symptoms and defensive or recovery symptoms has always been an absolutely fundamental part of the various forms of holistic based natural health practices.
Under holism, sickness is viewed as a result of a weakened body that has fallen into an unbalanced condition. As such, it is remedied by overall strengthening of the body’s natural resistance to disease.
Holism is an ancient concept that only hints at the modern concept of the mind-body connection. The core tenets of all natural health practices refers only to the very Western biological factors of health. Hence, the more fully developed psychosocial treatments are a modern extension added to some practices of natural health from the biopsychosocial model of health.

Individualism

According to individualistic ideology, individuals are capable of accepting responsibility for their personal health and taking care of themselves.

The individualistic ideology of Western society is about: (1) the primary importance of the individual over the needs and concerns of the community, and (2) the virtues of self-reliance and personal independence. True individuals are both self-reliant and independent. Individuals are assumed to have the power to make changes in their own lifestyles.

Victim-blaming

The victim-blaming approach to natural health follows the individualistic ideology of Western society (which is strongly rooted in the development of Protestantism, the work ethic, and American history).

Victim-blaming requires individuals to take responsibility for their health. To improve their prospects in life, the victim must change rather than the environment around them. According to the ideology of victim-blaming, health problems should be self-corrected. At-risk behavior is seen as the problem, and improving one's lifestyle is viewed as the solution.
When a person gets sick, the assumption is that the victim must have done something wrong. When the victim comes down with a lifestyle disease, the assumption is that the victim must have been doing something wrong for a very long time.
The basic notion of a healthy lifestyle requires the ideologies of individualism and victim-blaming, without consideration of socioeconomic or environmental factors involved in individual lifestyle choices.

Prevention

Prevention emphasizes improving health rather than fighting disease.

Primary prevention is focused on intervention to prevent the occurrence of an illness, condition, or injury. Secondary prevention activities are concerned with early detection and interventions into disease processes that potentially could develop into a serious disease. Tertiary prevention is focused on treatment of an illness to reduce its effects and to prevent further deterioration.
Natural health lifestyle choices are viewed as factors that affect our health. Hence, prevention is considered to be everyone's responsibility.

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