How I found a mix of medicines – Eastern, Western, natural and not – that works

By Alive & Well


The other day, a friend of mine told her husband to give me a call to get a recommendation for an osteopath, which was great. I love my osteo.

Credit: renjith krishnanShe then said, “I think he’s worried you’ll tell him to take a herb or get someone to do a tribal dance around him or something,” – i.e. something insufficiently robust for a burly Australian man.

We laughed, but later on, I found myself thinking about it…

It’s not uncommon for people to associate natural medicine with an anti-‘modern medicine’ mindset, or an unsustainably puritanical lifestyle – but of course perception is often far removed from reality.

Here’s the thing. I love ‘Western’ medicine. I am so grateful for so much of the knowledge and the advancements it has brought. If, heaven forbid, I get into an accident and have a bone hanging out of my leg, you bet I’m going to want the best of Western medicine at my disposal, to get it right back in there and sewn up nice and tight.

My co-blogger/ghostwriter Marj takes drugs every day (pharmaceuticals people, pharmaceuticals) because, for now at least, they’re the best option she has found for a couple of issues she’s got going on. And she has looked. Extensively.

Yep, in many situations – particularly acute ones – Western medicine rocks.

However, I also know that it’s not the only approach that’s available to us, and that we’ve come to rely on it a little too much. In many developed countries, it’s the default approach for every little thing that ails us, and sometimes this only treats the symptoms rather than the underlying problem. Furthermore, there’s often a natural treatment that’s just as effective, and far less damaging to our bodies in the long term.

First things first: you really are what you eat

Even Hippocrates, who is considered the father of Western medicine, understood the power of nutrition. Way back in the 4th century BC, he said something that is commonly translated as “let thy food be thy medicine and thy medicine be thy food” and argued that disease was the result of environmental factors, diet and lifestyle habits.

At the time, this was a radical departure from mainstream thinking, which believed that ill-health was punishment inflicted by the gods. But as we know today, it’s absolutely true. And it’s fundamental to the concept of natural medicine.

Next: understand what the universe of medicine can offer

I’ve lived a pretty healthy life, but I didn’t really understand what natural medicine or ‘wellness’ was until we started looking into the options for healing my son’s chronic health challenges. I didn’t know much about Eastern medicine, despite dabbling in the occasional round of acupuncture when it was recommended to me for a particularly persistent running injury.

I now understand that Eastern medicine sees disease as an imbalance within the body’s interconnecting organs, where one organ system has become weakened over time and another may have become agitated. Eastern practitioners examine their patients’ lifestyles and eating habits to find the cause of the imbalance, and use minerals, plant and animal products – as well as things like acupuncture and massage – to calm or fire up particular systems as required.

The more I understood it, the more sense it made to me, and the more I realised how little I knew about the universe of medicine that is available to us. And now I’m sure that I’ll never stop learning.

Above all: become your own expert

What I do know is I’m getting better at incorporating aspects from every approach into my health and wellbeing, and listening to what my body is telling me is the right thing to do. I also know that I am the only person who can really ‘hear’ it and tune into what it’s saying.

That’s the key – to become your own expert. To take the best of everything and apply it to your own needs.

Take the time to question why you’re not feeling well, and notice what feels good – and what doesn’t – for you. Basic things like bloating and flatulence, god love ’em, are signs that what you’re eating isn’t digesting properly, and you need to work out what the causes might be. And if you can, give your body the opportunity to heal itself before you apply a medical blowtorch to it. Most people’s bodies have amazing healing powers, if they’re given the chance to use them.

I’ve seen so many examples of this in action in my own family – from my middle son’s chronic health issues to my youngest’s emerging case of asthma and my own lifelong struggle with eczema, all of which have been knocked on the head thanks to the dietary changes, herbal medicine and supplements recommended by our wonderful integrative/holistic GP, Dr Robyn Cosford. And there is now significant research (for example, from Johns Hopkins University in the U.S.) that demonstrates the healing properties of many wholefoods and herbal remedies. So for these reasons, I will always try to find a natural way to restore my body’s strength first.

What about you? Where has Western medicine been great for you? Where does Eastern medicine and natural healing fit into your life? Do you avoid one approach like the plague?