World health day and why we need natural therapies

It’s World Health Day this month. When I googled it, I found a simple message: “the striving towards giving people access to healthcare without the prospect of financial hardship all over the world”. Yet this is the same month in which the government has removed cover for certain alternative medicine cover from private healthcare choices. The Department of Health advises that, according to some research, these “natural therapies lack evidence”.

To be sure, acupuncture is still available for private healthcare rebates. However, I feel natural therapies as a whole have a lot to offer. For example, as a holistic healthcare practitioner, I encourage many of my patients to take Pilates because it is so safe and regularly guided by well-trained instructors, making it particularly helpful for injury recovery and chronic health issues. Better Health Victoria states “Pilates is a safe and effective method of rehabilitation and exercise that focuses on muscular balance.” It mentions improved stabilisation of the spine, safe rehabilitation of joint and spinal injuries and stress management amongst many other health benefits. But it costs more money than going to the gym.

So, the whole messy situation got me thinking about what health actually means to us. Merriam-Webster defines health as “the condition of being sound in body, mind, or spirit” or “a condition in which someone is thriving or doing well.” To me, this sounds like more than the absence of disease. In ancient times, Chinese doctors would only get paid if people stayed healthy. Their job was not to cure the sick, but to help people maintain a state of health; in other words, keep them thriving and doing well. A Chinese proverb says: “A superior doctor prevents sickness; a mediocre doctor tends to impending sickness; an inferior doctor treats sickness.”

This understanding is the very foundation of Chinese medicine; a body that is in harmony will be in a state of health; disease results from imbalances. Such imbalances can occur through improper eating habits, lifestyle choices that neglect rest and relaxation, emotional and physical trauma or shock, accidents, or environmental influences such as exposure to extreme heat or cold. This is a profoundly different view from the one we have become used to with our reliance on allopathic medicine. Allopathic medicine is great at saving lives of those who are seriously ill or injured. But what about optimal health? Do we just want to live in a state where our blood results are ‘within range’? Or do we want to thrive? Alternative therapies as a whole and acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine in particular can help create and maintain balance and harmony – in other words health.

Chinese medicine at its most basic is based on the principles of Yin and Yang. Simply put Yang energy is all that is active, bright, up, sunny, hot; Yin is more passive, darker, down, shady, cold. These are not abstract concepts or static states of being, but one grows from the other. From night comes day and day turns into night. One depends upon the other. If Yin and Yang are out of balance, disease will occur. For example, if through prolonged stress the Qi of the body stagnates (I wrote about this here) heat is created. Excessive heat can dry up the bodily fluids, the Yin of the body, potentially leading to inconveniences such as constipation, the occasional hot flash, dry eyes, dry skin, headaches or excessive thirst or desire for cold water (which will create a host of other problems further down the line). The symptoms may come and go for many years. Because an imbalance presents differently in each patient, the Chinese medicine practitioner will address the patient’s particular situation. Leading the patient back to his state of health and well-being.

The Yin is the material basis of all the Yang energy and, if not tended to and corrected, a cycle of disease can start from any one imbalance. Many years or even decades later, major health issues present, seemingly without cause. Now the imbalances have become much harder to correct. And it is only at this time that allopathic medicine will look at the disease. That is why we need natural therapies. Because their purpose is to help people, not just live, but thrive.

Dr Jacqueline Barnett (BTCM) holds a Bachelor of Chinese Medicine and is a qualified acupuncturist, Chinese herbal medicine and certified Arvigo® practitioner.