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Natural Therapies

Updated on March 23, 2012

Natural therapy is a system of treating ill health and disease by using techniques and remedies which stimulate the body's innate ability to heal itself and without the use of pharmaceutical drugs or surgery. Many natural therapies have evolved from traditional medicine, i.e. indigenous systems of healing which are distinct from and often pre-date orthodox medicine. The natural therapies used in Australia today include some that have been borrowed from other cultures than our own, notably acupuncture, but also herbalism, which has an old European tradition as well as an ancient Chinese one.

Natural therapies are often called alternative therapies, especially by the medical profession, and are in general, with the common exception of acupuncture, not accepted by mainstream medical practitioners.


Acupuncture forms part of the natural therapy discipline of traditional Chinese medicine and is a system of healing in which the body's inherent defense, repair and maintenance systems are stimulated by means of the selective insertion of fine needles through the skin. The points for insertion are located along the meridians along which the energy (or chi), according to the ancient Chinese tradition, is perceived to flow through the body.

The art of acupuncture may be more than 4000 years old, but the oldest surviving description is the Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine which was written in China about 100 BC. By the sixth century, the practice of acupuncture had been codified and standardized throughout China, and it remained one of the mainstays of Chinese medical practice until outlawed in 1929 by the nationalist government of Chiang Kaishek. The practice of acupuncture continued in rural areas until the ban was lifted by Mao Tse-tung in 1949.

The first information in Europe about acupuncture was published by Dutch traders to Japan in the late eighteenth century. In 1821, the Englishman J.M. Churchill published A Treatise on Acupuncturation under the aegis of the Royal College of Surgeons and brought knowledge of the practice into the British area of influence.

In addition to the natural therapists who practice traditional Chinese medicine, many doctors now also recommend acupuncture. In China it is used to treat a very wide range of conditions. In the West it has come to be regarded as an effective adjunct in the treatment of chronic conditions such as asthma, sinus problems, arthritis, rheumatism, stress, migraine, and also of stomach complaints, non-specific muscle pains, insomnia, period pains, etc. Medical practitioners sometimes limit the use of acupuncture to the alleviation of pain (especially lower back pain, arthritis, headaches and facial pain). A series of treatment is usually required.

Traditional Chinese medicine has its own internal diagnostic system which arises out of the ancient philosophy and custom governing the discipline.

In addition to acupuncture, traditional Chinese medicine also uses herbalism and a combination of acupuncture and herbs in moxibustion or moxa treatment, in which acupuncture points on the body are stimulated by the heat from burning a stick of special herbs. The remedial therapies in this discipline include various massage techniques, acupressure, and shiatsu, and exercise and relaxation techniques such as tai chi.


Chiropractic and Oestopathy

Chiropractic is a healing art designed to relieve human ailments by special manipulation and adjustment of the spine. The technique and the fundamental theory that most human ailments result from a slight misalignment of the vertebrae, causing nerve interference, were developed by the American M.D. Palmer in 1895. He adjusted the spine of a man who had been deaf for many years, and the man regained his hearing.

Chiropractors believe that, because the nervous system (brain, spinal cord and nerves) controls all the other systems of the body, adjusting the spine can affect other more distant parts of the body. The adjustment of the spine is perceived as removing misalignments between the vertebrae called subluxations, or abnormal movements between vertebrae called fixations. When subluxations or fixations are removed, normal movement returns to the spinal joints, nerve and muscle irritations are eased and tension is relieved. It is claimed that subluxation in particular parts of the spine may induce disorders of other organs, such as the kidney, stomach, lungs and liver, and increase the body's likelihood of contracting disease.

Osteopathy is a system of manipulating the spine and other joints and their surrounding soft tissues to enhance nerve and blood supply activities and thereby improve back problems, other joint disorders and all body tissues.

Orthodox medicine looks upon manipulation as but one therapeutic action among a range of treatments available to patients with disorders of joints and muscles only. Manipulation is carried out by doctors and physiotherapists. Orthodox medicine does not accept that spinal adjustment can cure diseases within distant organs.


Naturopathy is a natural therapy discipline which encompasses various modes or sub-disciplines, including nutrition, herbalism, homoeopathy, and remedial therapies such as massage and exercise. By the use of these, the naturopath aims to create the conditions within the body that are most conducive to healing.

The nutrition therapy consists of an assessment of the nutritional needs of the individual patient and any special requirements arising from the complaint for which help is sought. Advice is given on how best to support the healing process by a sound diet, including adequate fluid intake, the avoidance of smoking and using other toxic or potentially toxic substances, etc. The advice may extend to the selective use of vitamins, minerals and other supplements, and in some cases to the use of fasting and hydrotherapy.

Herbalism is the use of plants and plant extracts (other than those used in pharmaceutical drugs, such as quinine, opium, digitalis, etc.) for the treatment of ailments. It is one of the forms of therapy used in naturopathy and also a sub-discipline within traditional Chinese medicine. In naturopathy it has developed mainly from a European tradition and is sometimes referred to as Western herbalism to distinguish it from Chinese herbalism. Herbalism as a form of traditional Aboriginal medicine in Australia has very limited application today.

Homoeopathy is a method of treating disease by the use of very small amounts of herbal, mineral or animal substances which in healthy individuals produce symptoms similar to those of the disease being treated. For example, someone who presented to a homoeopath with vomiting would be prescribed a very dilute mixture of a substance that was known to cause vomiting. This approach of treating like with like was introduced by a German doctor, Samuel Hahnemann (1755-1843), at the end of the eighteenth century. Some of the homoeopathic substances can be toxic when undiluted, but at the very high dilution of the therapeutically used dose the toxic properties are lost. The effectiveness of such preparations has not been supported by modern pharmacology. As a form of therapy used by medical practitioners, homoeopathy has not been as widespread in Australia as, for example, in Britain.

Western remedial therapies used by naturopaths include different forms of massage, exercise, postural and relaxation therapies .

Criticism of naturopaths is often aimed at their limited skills in diagnosing serious diseases and also at the orthomolecular treatment (i.e. the use of very large doses of vitamins and minerals) some of them recommend.


Iridology is not a form of therapy but a diagnostic tool used by many naturopaths. It involves examining the condition of the iris (the colored part) of both eyes of the patient. Photographs are often taken of the iris for later detailed examination.

Charts of the iris, divided into segments like a complicated clock face, are available, and were initially prepared by the American, Bernard Jensen. An abnormality, fleck or color, or swirl of lines in an area of the iris can be interpreted from the chart to represent a problem in a particular part of the body.

Iridology is meant to be used in conjunction with other methods of diagnosis. There is no scientific evidence for the rationale behind iridology, but the diagnosis indicated can often be confirmed by other means once the problem area in the iris has been identified.

Remedial Therapy

Remedial therapy is a generic term covering a number of massage, exercise and relaxation therapies. Remedial therapy does not involve the use of spinal manipulation or internal medicines.

Western remedial therapies include Swedish massage, deep tissue massage, sports massage, reflexology or zone therapy, the Alexander technique, relaxation therapy, and stress management therapy.

Oriental remedial therapies include Chinese massage, acupressure, shiatsu, and also yoga, tai chi, te kwan do, and transcendental meditation.


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