Archive for the ‘Naturopathic medicine’ Category

Malcolm Gladwell: A happy and healthy-looking guy

It’s been well over a year since I wrote here. That’s a long story that I won’t tell today. Instead, I’d like to share an illuminating excerpt of Malcolm Gladwell’s upcoming book, “Outliers.”

The excerpt tells a short tale of a community of Italians that emigrated to Pennsylvania, and showed an extremely low rate of heart disease compared to the rest of the country. From the Wall Street Journal (emphasis is mine):

In transplanting the paesani culture of southern Italy to the hills of eastern Pennsylvania the Rosetans had created a powerful, protective social structure capable of insulating them from the pressures of the modern world. The Rosetans were healthy because of where they were from, because of the world they had created for themselves in their tiny little town in the hills.

“I remember going to Roseto for the first time, and you’d see three generational family meals, all the bakeries, the people walking up and down the street, sitting on their porches talking to each other, the blouse mills where the women worked during the day, while the men worked in the slate quarries,” Bruhn said. “It was magical.”

Wolf and Bruhn had to convince the medical establishment to think about health and heart attacks in an entirely new way: they had to get them to realize that you couldn’t understand why someone was healthy if all you did was think about their individual choices or actions in isolation. You had to look beyond the individual. You had to understand what culture they were a part of, and who their friends and families were, and what town in Italy their family came from. You had to appreciate the idea that community—the values of the world we inhabit and the people we surround ourselves with—has a profound effect on who we are. The value of an outlier was that it forced you to look a little harder and dig little deeper than you normally would to make sense of the world. And if you did, you could learn something from the outlier than could use to help everyone else.

This brings me to one of my lingering questions about natural medicine. It seems to be such an obvious answer to many of our health care ills, but yet it struggles to grow widely. Why is that? What does it need? It’s sad to me that stories like this, over 50 years old, still go largely untold.


Although many of us believe that a naturopathic approach to health, feels um, natural, you could argue that we are a small minority. Despite this, I don’t think the currently mainstream approaches to health are sustainable, and much as business and governments are being forced, so to say, to go green, I think consumers will increasingly be driven to the proactive and benign practices of natural medicine.

Because the natural medicine revolution is in its relative infancy (so far!), I love it when I get a chance to show shining success stories of naturopathic medicine and other alternative benign modalities.

The most common model you’ll see in such stories goes something like this:

  • person endures suffering in the form of illness/disease/deficiency
  • person endures additional suffering in the form of symptom suppression and lack of root-cause analysis from “traditional” medicine
  • person by serendipity or research finds natural medicine
  • person achieves previously unattainable levels of wellness and literally turn their lives upside-down

I have a similar story about how I found naturopathic medicine that I’ll have to share sometime. But one person, who has created one of the most candid and intimate blogs on the internet, has such a story.

This person is Gluten Free Girl, aka Shauna James Ahern. Her recent post, for those of you new to this site, gives an abbreviated version of her story. Here’s a little excerpt:

In the early spring of 2005, I was terribly ill. My body required 18 hours of sleep a day, my stomach ached all the time, and I could barely move without hurting. Doctors ordered one medical test after another, and none of them yielded answers.

My gastroenterologist refused to test me for it, even though it only required a blood test before I could stop eating gluten. He refused. Actually, he had his nurse call me. “Celiac is really rare,” she said on the message. “That’s a long shot. We’ll talk about it during your follow-up in two weeks.”

I went to a naturopath, who did the blood test. I stopped eating gluten.

When I received the official diagnosis — you have celiac — I clapped my hands and said yes! The naturopath was a little surprised to see my celebration.

The gastroenterologist was even more surprised, the next week, when I showed up for my follow-up appointment in great health, blood test results in hand. He confirmed it — I have celiac. And he left the room, embarrassed.

Yes! It’s a great story, and as you’ll see if you follow Shauna’s blog, her life really has been revolutionized since. I’ve been reading her blog for a long time now. I originally found it looking for gluten-free recipes and now that my wife is baking and selling gluten-free goodies at her work, we feel like Shauna is an old family friend.

The other story I have to share is over at the Helfgott blog: Bill Maher talks healthcare. Love him or hate him, Bill gives it to you straight. In this snippet of his show, he talks about the need for folks to forget about healthcare reform (sound familiar?) and throws light on my point that the consumers of health care should stop taking so many aptly-named “drugs,” and start simply doing something, anything.

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This morning, OPB radio ran a story entitled, Lack Of Health Insurance Leads Many To Bankruptcy. They pointed out that bankruptcies caused by health care debts have risen sharply due to the combination of increased health care costs contrasted by the decrease in those covered by insurance.

In one example, a diabetic who had been laid off and lost his insurance explained that he had to pay $400 for an office visit to get a four-month prescription. Rather than drop another $400 on a 5-minute office visit, he started ordering pharmaceuticals online from Mexico. Four hundred bucks for an office visit? Naturally, I wondered if this person had ever considered naturopathy, where he could likely get an appointment for $100-$150, would be treated like an entire person, would likely talk to the doctor for an hour or so, and would be able to take control of his own health. Previous and ongoing studies show that specific dietary and lifestyle habit changes have significant, positive effects as treatment for diabetes.

And that gets to my point. The story brings forth two possible ideas to help solve this problem: universal health care on one hand and bringing health care prices down to “reality” to reflect a more capitalistic market. Both ideas hover far above any one person’s reach. Whether either could work or actually occur involves uncounted person-effort and time. In addition, both ideas, and the many other related ideas currently being stumped and hailed, don’t even begin to commonly define or clarify the problem.

However, there exists a solution for each and every one of us. The solution requires no kind of doctor, no special prescription, no bending of laws, no acts of Congress, and no economic analysis. Say it with me: I own my health. I have within me the power to shape my life, my mind, and my body as I see fit.

Through small, incremental changes in nutrition, exercise, your job, and even your state of mind, you can take charge of your health and get it out of the hands of any ongoing debate. You’ll know that you are doing all you can to prevent any disease or sickness. Hopefully, you’ll get to a place where you think that health insurance should be like any other kind of insurance: an investment to deal with the now unlikely event of catastrophe. At that point, you’ll know that you’ve strengthened your body and multiplied it’s natural ability to maintain wellness.

October is Health Literacy month, which according to this website is

a time when health literacy advocates around the world promote the importance of understandable health information.

Book Tree

The site includes listings of events, resources and a newsletter. I think the idea of helping regular folk obtain, process and comprehend health-related information is absolutely crucial to overcoming the increasing disease and cancer occurring today. I of course have to repeat the fact that one of the six principles of naturopathy is doctor as teacher. Naturopathic practitioners seek to enable each patient’s ability to take control of their own health and healing. Rather than quickly cover brief symptoms and rush you out the door with a prescription, the naturopath takes the time to understand everything that ails you, in your entirety, and will then take steps to enable you to overcome those ailments. In my mind, it’s always health literacy month for the natural healer!

However, I still like the idea of taking extra steps to raise awareness. The federal Health Resources and Services Administration has a page devote to health literacy here. In addition, there are tools such as Yahoo! Health, Google Directory Health, and Revolution Health with a wealth of resources and information. I haven’t spent much time on these sites to say anything about the quality of the content, but I like the support for empowered consumers taking charge of their health. The more knowledgeable the health consumer, the better choices of treatment and lifestyle can be made.

Skyscraper tree

As I’ve delved into the world of corporate wellness, I’ve found that there a lot of words for it. So far, I’ve discovered:

And the list, no doubt, goes on.

Occupational health is probably the original place that the move towards corporate wellness started. As defined, occupational health focuses on workplace safety and therefore reducing and preventing anything that might be detrimental to the health of each employee. Over years, many companies have been able to build safety into corporate culture, therefore making it automatic. At my work, people call you out if you even motion to stand on a chair. My dad, who batches concrete, has to wear steel-toed boots even though he spends all day behind a computer. Many employees might whine about such measures being overbearing, but no one wins when an employee gets hurt at work: the worker loses income, the employer loses productivity and gains health cost, and the co-workers have to pick up the slack. The result of safety efforts, training and awareness campaigns is that employees pro-actively ensure workplace safety as a part of their job. I don’t think you could find a better measure of success than that.

As many companies experienced sterling safety records, they wondered what else they could do. The next logical step was to go beyond removing detriments to health and to help each employee achieve optimum health. Although a significant challenge, the quantifiable and uncountable benefits for the employee and the employer are immense. In addition, many factors are pushing employers in this direction. Although I’d like to believe that everyone wants to nourish their inner athlete, I know that the universal motivator for change is increasing: money. As health care costs rise at an accelerating pace, many companies are seeing their related expenditures rise into the billion$ and as a result, they are pushing those costs onto their employees. Besides that, the employer always loses when an employee misses work or cannot work at full speed due to illness. From their perspective, a healthy employee means a productive employee that brings their A-game to work on a consistent basis.

In the last decade or so, many companies have been able to create the culture of prevention that I’ve been talking about. However, we’re slow to see these effects spill into society as a whole. As companies help employees identify health risk factors, introduce healthy eating habits and provide better options in work cafes, and in some cases, provide facilities for fitness and physical activity, our health care dilemma only increases. Obesity, diabetes and cancer are marching strongly forward. Is it time that workplace wellness programs set bigger goals? Is this an avenue that the general health care community can use to achieve public health goals? Should public health encroach into corporate social responsibility?

This is a revolutionary possibility. Corporations have demonstrated that with a naturopathic approach to corporate wellness, employees can take charge and improve their personal health. The question now is, how can the methodologies and technologies developed by corporations to create a successful culture of prevention be applied to a wider community?

In my mind, naturopathic medicine is one answer, at least on a smaller scale. By definition, naturopathic doctors work closely with each patient to identify the roadblocks to their ideal health, to correct the root cause of those roadblocks by tapping into the patient’s innate ability to heal, and to move into a state of prevention and education about healthy living. Corporate wellness programs seek to do exactly the same thing.

In the end, maybe there’s a partnership here that can happen. While naturopaths can provide the knowledge and techniques to make preventive, holistic health the norm, the corporations can provide expertise and information technology to apply it on a bigger scale. Although corporations might see their successful wellness programs as strategic advantages to attracting the best and brightest, they could also realize that these programs could be applied to become a transformative force and asset to the health of the communities in which they operate. Although there might exist a number of preconceptions on both sides of this partnership, I think a lot could be learned with open discussion and debate.

To conclude the series of ideas to apply a naturopathic approach to corporate wellness, I’ll tackle the sixth and final principle of naturopathy: prevention. The naturopathic physician recognizes the fact that the goal of healthcare is not only treatment of disease, but ultimately the prevention of disease. To meet this goal, the naturopath works with each patient to maximize their health through education and the promotion of health-building habits.

In my approach to corporate wellness, all the previous principles I have applied have been shaped to help the employee achieve proactive wellness through prevention. The process flow now looks like this:

  • employee clarifies their personal health goals
  • employee realizes they hold the power and responsibility to reach those goals
  • the program works with the employee to identify the root cause of what is hindering them from reaching their goals
  • the program helps the employee take a 360-degree view of their internal and external health, to reach their goals in totality
  • the program empowers the employee with knowledge and strategies to make their goals happen
  • celebrate and share success! and now reset goals and continue the process again

This process positions the employee population to take charge of their health and foster a culture of prevention. Imagine a workplace where folks talked about how good they feel as opposed to how much they’re paying for prescriptions and how tired they are all the time. Obviously the workplace itself can attribute to such negativity, but if employees have already taken charge of their health, they’ll be that much more able and motivated to take charge of their work and the shape of their company. I don’t know about you, but I want to work with that workforce!