Understanding “natural health” is sometimes confusing because our society likes things fixed with a single pill. A natural approach to health focuses on underlying causes. In other words, a naturopath would not recommend aspirin for a headache, but would try to determine if the headache resulted from mineral deficiencies, food sensitivities, blood sugar imbalances or stress and would make recommendations to restore balance to the person so that the headaches did not occur.
On simple problems, it is easy to see the links between the underlying cause and the problem; however, on more chronic, complex problems such as arthritis and heart disease, it is much more difficult because there is not just one underlying cause.
Generally the key to the underlying cause is nutrition. Besides air and water, food is the substance most frequently put into our bodies. Because of this, it has a great capacity to affect our health both positively and negatively.
Most major health issues have proven links to diet. Many of our modern diseases did not exist prior to the industrial age when our food supply began to be processed and refined. The most common health problems in America have their origins in diet. These include high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, attention deficit disorder and more.
One common theme I hear from people is that their health condition is genetic. Sometimes it is, but more commonly, their condition is caused by the diet they inherited rather than the genes.
Much of the focus of nutritional supplements is to fix the imbalances created by the standard American diet. Many valuable nutrients have been processed out of our food supply. The omega 3 oils are an example. Most natural oils contain some component of omega 3; however, these are processed out because they tend to be unstable and go rancid quickly. Since the omega 3 oils are virtually non-existent in our diets, the supplement industry has provided many choices from fish to flax. The health benefits of these oils range from better skin and hair, better brain and nerve function, improved immunity, lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, better mineral absorption and less arthritis pain – all from something that is processed out of our food supply.
As a nation, we have the most abundant food supply in the world, but it is also one of the most processed and denatured food supplies anywhere. I think that it is no coincidence that two separate studies reported the following statistics regarding the health of the American population. In the study reported by Johns Hopkins we ranked number 12 out of 13 countries on 16 major health indicators. In the study conducted by the World Health Organization on similar health markers, we ranked number 15 out of 25 industrialized countries.
The good news is that the body has a remarkable ability to heal itself when given proper nutrition. If we could fix our diet as a country, I wonder how healthy we all could be.
Margaret Durst owns The Green House, a vitamin, herb and health food store in Mason, Texas.