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Reflections on the Past

With the New Year fast approaching, I thought some reflections on the past might be a topic for an article. Since having been involved in the natural health field for over 28 years, I realized my perspective may offer some insights as to where we have been and where we hope to go in the area of natural medicine.

Due to my involvement in the herbal and natural foods world, my training as an herbalist has led me to a perspective that I assume many of you share. I realized this might not be the case, especially when I am constantly reminded that most Americans are not aware of many of the principles of natural healing. Of course, there is more awareness and openness now than ever before; however, I do realize as I lecture throughout the area that many folks still do not know how to have a healthy lifestyle.

Much of the marketing of quasi natural food is only an attempt to sway the consumer to buy products that are only marginally healthy such as low fat, low cholesterol or low sugar. As I state in many of my lectures, marketing is marketing and reality is reality.

Let me take a step back for a moment. When I began to study natural medicine, it was not a popular topic. Many of my teachers had been either ostracized or arrested for practicing what they where taught, because it did not fit into a particular paradigm of thinking at the time. Their type of thinking is now called a synergistic paradigm. Meaning that we are a combination of constantly changing forces in relation to our environment, associations, experiences, and our food; and that disease as well as health have specific pathways that need to be addressed.

I can remember when herbs and natural foods were considered alternative. Alternative to what? Conventional medicine with reductionist thinking based on the idea that science knows it all and any other methods that do not follow along are useless and dangerous. Conventional medicine tries to predict outcomes when it is impossible to do so. In a recent article in The Townsend Letter For Doctors And Patients an article by a pharmacist revealed an interesting fact, “Essentially our present day (allopathic) drug therapy is only sixty years young”.

Early in the last century, a little known fact is that the name “quack” was a derogatory term applied to allopathic physicians who continued to use and prescribe mercury indiscriminately. They were called “quecksilberists” from the German word quicksilver (mercury), which became shortened and Americanized to “quacks”. Remember these were conventional physicians of the time.

Isn’t it ironic that the term has been applied to many “alternative” practitioners by conventional physicians of today? This brings me back to the positive changes I have been seeing over the last few years. The term “alternative” was widely used for a number of years, and then it became “complimentary”, and now it is considered “integrative medicine”.

This is a major shift in thinking due to consumer awareness that I feel has partially been created by the natural products and herbal industry. One can remember when it began with the organic food issues. Twenty-five years ago the organic food industry was in its infancy; of course, infancy related to the past century before the onset of the petrochemical industry with chemical fertilizers and pesticides.Traditional farming practices have been around for thousands of years.

Now you can buy certified organic foods in any major grocery store. Last year the USDA introduced its organic food guidelines after being mandated ten years earlier to do so. At least now we have a national standard for organic. This came about due to consumer demand for no chemicals and no GMO’s (Genetically Modified Foods). GMO’s have been banned in many parts of the world due to lack of substantial research that proves them to be safe.

Another milestone for the natural products industry was the passage in the early 1990’s of the DSHEA (Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act) that allowed for the use of third party literature to be available to consumers regarding foods, herbs and vitamins for prevention and treatment of disease. This meant that a product could have on the label the structure functions of the substance.

Again it is kind of funny that up until this legislation, the pharmaceutical industry fought to keep vitamins and herbs out of the hands of consumers. Since they could not stop the demands of the consumer, they decided to join the rank and file and promote their new vitamins with herbs as if they have always been supportive of this type of product.

Again I see hope for the future. Earlier this year I was able to share a lecture session in Morgantown with a medical doctor named Gregg Juckett, the director of a new program in integrative medicine at the WVU Medical School. Doctor Juckett is well versed in conventional medicine but teaches med students to be aware of herbal and nutritional therapies.

Marshall University Med School has also created an integrative medicine program. This is fantastic because this will help new physicians to have an open mind when it comes to natural therapies that their patients might be using along with conventional. My hope is that over the next few years there will not be a distinction between these different schools of thought.

Another sign of progression is that insurance companies are beginning to cover preventive therapies such as, acupuncture, massage, and nutritional and herbal remedies.

We have come a long way in twenty-five years, and I am excited about the directions we are moving in with the beginning of the new millennium. Isn’t it great to be able to have choices when it comes to health care? I want to thank all the readers of this column and all of you that have supported me and the principles of Mother Earth for the past twenty-five years.

Article by herbalist Dave Hawkins, MH, CNC

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