When we experience an illness or injury, we’ll often head straight to the doctor looking for a quick cure. But while conventional medical treatment has vastly improved over the years, it still may not be enough to completely restore the body to its optimal state. And so the idea of alternative therapy has become increasingly popular. But is it really possible to heal yourself? Is this kind of treatment more effective as a preventive measure rather than a restorative one?
Options For Self-Healing
Self-healing is best approached in a holistic manner, addressing physical, emotional, and mental needs. Some methods include ayurveda, one of the most ancient forms of self-healing; naturopathy, homeopathy, acupuncture, and herbalism; and meditation and yoga.
General Wellness And Stress Management
Ayurveda and naturopathy take a long-term and preventive view on health. Rather than attacking a specific condition, they look at healing the body from the wear and tear it experiences in its daily life. Both methods encourage lifestyle modifications and the consumption of specific herbs and ayurvedic medicines, as well as certain fruits and vegetables to maintain overall vitality. And there’s more and more research that supports this advice.
For example, in the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey Follow-up Study, researchers found that those who consumed a diet rich in carotenoids (found in many vegetables and fruit) lowered their risk of developing cardiovascular disease and cancer.1 Other studies have found that consuming foods rich in antioxidants (instead of relying on supplements, whose efficacy is still being studied) can help reduce the oxidative stress that is related to conditions like atherosclerosis, cancer, aging, and inflammatory conditions.2
But it’s not just what you put into your body, but how you move it as well. Nearly everyone can agree that some form of exercise, whether it be through yoga or cardio, is absolutely essential to your overall health. 3.
Then there’s the idea of clearing the mind as a way of healing the body. A study by the University of California’s Center for Mind and Brain found that those who attended a three-month meditation retreat had higher levels of an enzyme responsible for creating telomeres (the protective caps on chromosome ends; these deplete as cells divide and play a part in aging).4
The body can be remarkably resilient, whether it’s dealing with a small cut, scrape, sprain, bruise, or an even bigger injury. Pranayama, yoga, and mindful breathing have a calming effect that is useful for those who have experienced any type of trauma. Homeopathic medicines such as arnica are effective if administered quickly after experiencing shock, trauma, or bruising of any kind.5 Meanwhile, acupressure and acupuncture can address small issues before they turn into more chronic problems. In fact, Western practitioners are finally starting to endorse what traditional Chinese studies have been proposing for some time now.6
Managing Chronic Pain
For those who live with chronic pain (back pain, migraines, etc.), subsisting on a steady stream of pills is certainly not ideal, especially with the high risk of addiction that comes with taking opiate-based or narcotic painkillers. In fact, many believe that modern medicine may not be doing enough to alleviate symptoms for those dealing with chronic pain [Mafi JN, McCarthy EP, Davis RB, Landon BE. Worsening trends in the management and treatment of back pain. JAMA Intern Med. 2013;173(17):1573-1581]. This is where alternative therapy can be extremely beneficial, especially with treatments like mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR). In MBSR, meditation and yoga are employed to help a person manage their pain better. One study found no major difference in outcome when adults were treated with MBSR over conventional therapy. In other words, it was just as effective.7
Coping With Illness And Disease
Those with metabolic or hormonal imbalances can also benefit from improving their diet and lifestyle habits. One study in the journal of the American Diabetes Association found that those who consumed cinnamon for 40 days were able to lower their blood sugar levels by up to 26%.8. Another herb, American ginseng, was found to lower levels of blood glucose.9.
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) sufferers are able to regulate their periods using acupuncture, which also aids in weight loss and improves the emotional state.10 Naturopathic doctors also incorporate diets that exclude foods like animal products or processed meats high in AGEs (advanced glycation end products). These compounds are created when glucose and proteins bind together and can adversely impact the metabolic and hormonal profile of women with PCOS.11
Even with potentially terminal illnesses like cancer, self-healing techniques can prove beneficial. The simple act of incorporating half an hour of exercise and eating a healthy diet with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables reduced the risk of death by half for breast cancer patients in one study from 2007.12
Self-healing usually needs to be a holistic process. Treating just the body in isolation while ignoring your mental and emotional well-being is likely to be less effective. The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence in the UK recommends hypnosis for people suffering from IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), an indication that such holistic treatments and alternative therapy are gaining mainstream acceptance.13
When Self-Healing Isn’t Enough
Sometimes it’s necessary to turn to external help when managing a condition or treating an injury. In fact, you may end up causing long-term damage to your body or face more serious problems if you don’t seek professional medical advice, particularly in the following cases:
- If you have a terminal or potentially life-threatening illness
- If self-healing hasn’t eased symptoms
- If symptoms persist for a long period of time
- If your condition worsens
- If you experience side effects from any of the self-healing methods you have used
- If your body is feeling weaker
- If you are experiencing depression and a general lack of motivation to get out of bed each day, and/or are sleeping excessively
- If you experience any potentially life-threatening symptoms like sharp pain in any part of the body or blackouts
- If you find visible signs of concern like a change in the color of urine or stool that are not typically associated with the therapy you are using
Ultimately, the best treatment choice depends on the person and the situation, and sometimes it’s a combination of allopathic and alternative therapies that can provide the most desired results.
|↑1||Li, Chaoyang, Earl S. Ford, Guixiang Zhao, Lina S. Balluz, Wayne H. Giles, and Simin Liu. “Serum α-carotene concentrations and risk of death among US Adults: the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey Follow-up Study.” Archives of internal medicine 171, no. 6 (2011): 507-515.|
|↑2||Lobo, Vijaya, Avinash Patil, A. Phatak, and Naresh Chandra. “Free radicals, antioxidants and functional foods: Impact on human health.” Pharmacognosy reviews 4, no. 8 (2010): 118.|
|↑3||Can antioxidants in fruits and vegetables protect you and your heart?, American Health Association|
|↑4||Jacobs, Tonya L., Elissa S. Epel, Jue Lin, Elizabeth H. Blackburn, Owen M. Wolkowitz, David A. Bridwell, Anthony P. Zanesco et al. “Intensive meditation training, immune cell telomerase activity, and psychological mediators.” Psychoneuroendocrinology 36, no. 5 (2011): 664-681.|
|↑5||Arnica Montana, British Homeopathic Association|
|↑6||Sports Injuries and Acupuncture, Research Resource Centre. British Acupuncture Council|
|↑7||Cherkin, Daniel C., Karen J. Sherman, Benjamin H. Balderson, Andrea J. Cook, Melissa L. Anderson, Rene J. Hawkes, Kelly E. Hansen, and Judith A. Turner. “Effect of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction vs Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or Usual Care on Back Pain and Functional Limitations in Adults With Chronic Low Back Pain: A Randomized Clinical Trial.” Jama 315, no. 12 (2016): 1240-1249.|
|↑8||Khan, Alam, Mahpara Safdar, Mohammad Muzaffar Ali Khan, Khan Nawaz Khattak, and Richard A. Anderson. “Cinnamon improves glucose and lipids of people with type 2 diabetes.” Diabetes care 26, no. 12 (2003): 3215-3218.|
|↑9||Yeh, Gloria Y., David M. Eisenberg, Ted J. Kaptchuk, and Russell S. Phillips. “Systematic review of herbs and dietary supplements for glycemic control in diabetes.” Diabetes care 26, no. 4 (2003): 1277-1294.|
|↑10||Badawy, Ahmed, and Abubaker Elnashar. “Treatment options for polycystic ovary syndrome.” Int J Womens Health 3, no. 1 (2011): 25-35.|
|↑11||Tantalaki, Evangelia, Christina Piperi, Sarantis Livadas, Anastasios Kollias, Christos Adamopoulos, Aikaterini Koulouri, Charikleia Christakou, and Evanthia Diamanti-Kandarakis. “Impact of dietary modification of advanced glycation end products (AGEs) on the hormonal and metabolic profile of women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).” Hormones (Athens) 13, no. 1 (2014): 65-73.|
|↑12||Pierce, John P., Marcia L. Stefanick, Shirley W. Flatt, Loki Natarajan, Barbara Sternfeld, Lisa Madlensky, Wael K. Al-Delaimy et al. “Greater survival after breast cancer in physically active women with high vegetable-fruit intake regardless of obesity.” Journal of Clinical Oncology 25, no. 17 (2007): 2345-2351.|
|↑13||Whorwell, P. J., Lesley A. Houghton, E. E. Taylor, and D. G. Maxton. “Physiological effects of emotion: assessment via hypnosis.” The Lancet 340, no. 8811 (1992): 69-72.|