Comparing Conventional and Natural Medicine

By Scott J. Banks, Joe Kraynak, J. J. Virgin

The distinction between conventional and natural medicine boils down to the difference in their goals. Conventional medicine seeks to eliminate illness, while natural medicine seeks to optimize wellness. This is especially true for functional medicine.

While conventional medicine focuses on battling infections and symptoms of illnesses, such as asthma, arthritis, cancer, diabetes, fibromyalgia, heart disease, and obesity, with symptom‐suppression pharmaceuticals, functional medicine seeks to treat the imbalances or dysfunctions in the body that give rise to these illnesses.

The imbalances and dysfunctions that natural medicine treats include the following:

  • Hormonal imbalances

  • Mitochondrial dysfunction

  • Overactive or underactive immune system

  • Toxicity

  • Vitamin and mineral deficiencies

  • Food allergies, sensitivities, and intolerances

  • Poor digestion and nutrient absorption

  • Inflammation

  • Obesity

  • Structural imbalances, such as spinal misalignment

  • Toxic emotions

  • Sedentary lifestyle

Functional medicine seeks to restore health by giving the body what it needs for optimal function and removing anything that gets in the way. As a result, it leads to more durable, long‐term solutions to chronic illness.

Taking a proactive instead of reactive approach

Preventive medicine is getting a lot of press these days, because even conventional medicine practitioners are realizing that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Unfortunately, the prevention offered by conventional medicine typically comes in the form of early detection and treatment, and the treatment rarely targets the underlying cause of these illnesses.

Attend just about any hospital‐sponsored health fair, and you’ll see all sorts of screenings for cholesterol, atherosclerosis, blood pressure, diabetes, osteoporosis, colon cancer, lung cancer, breast cancer, and prostate cancer. What you don’t see are screenings for many of the underlying causes of disease mentioned earlier in this section: vitamin and mineral deficiencies, impaired digestion and mineral absorption, and so on.

Conventional health screenings are great, but they’re only the first step toward identifying and treating underlying conditions that give rise to illnesses. An enlightened physician may suggest making changes to diet and lifestyle, such as reducing the amount of salt you eat or cutting down on sweets, and your insurance company may offer discounts on gym memberships and exercise equipment, but without a treatment tailored to address deficiencies and dysfunctions, you’re fighting a losing battle.

During a visit with a natural medicine practitioner, you can expect a much more thorough assessment of your health that’s likely to include tests to detect vitamin and mineral deficiencies, hormone imbalances, food allergies and sensitivities, and gut health. And your treatment will focus on optimizing health so that your body has everything it needs to fight infection and heal itself and you have the information you need to remove anything that’s getting in its way.

Weighing the side effects of each approach

No treatment is completely void of negative side effects, but natural treatments are much safer than those offered by conventional medicine, which usually involve prescription medications, risky medical procedures, and surgeries.

The use of prescription medications is particularly dangerous, because many prescription medications cause side effects that require additional prescription medications to counter. Patients frequently end up taking a dozen medications or more and end up feeling as miserable as or worse than ever.

This never‐ending cycle of diagnosis followed by prescription doesn’t happen with a natural/nutritional approach to healing, because the natural approach treats the causes of illness instead of trying to play whack‐a‐mole with whatever symptoms happen to pop up during an office visit.

Natural cures are much safer than most treatments offered by conventional medicine, but natural herbs and supplements, even vitamins, carry some risks. Consult a qualified natural medicine practitioner for guidance. If a supplement is powerful enough to heal you, it’s powerful enough to harm you if you take too much or if it’s something your body can’t process.

Knowing when to seek conventional medical treatment

Conventional medicine isn’t all bad. In fact, it’s recommended over the natural approach for injuries, life‐threatening emergencies, and acute illnesses, such as heart attack, lung infection (such as pneumonia), asthma or allergy attacks, renal (kidney) failure, gastrointestinal bleeding, certain bacterial infections, cancer, and alcohol or drug overdose.

Natural medicine is better suited to preventing and treating chronic conditions, including asthma, allergies, arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, fibromyalgia, and obesity. The increasing prevalence of chronic illnesses in the U.S. is sufficient proof that the current model for preventing and treating chronic illness not only doesn’t work but also contributes to this trend. By exploring natural medicine as an alternative approach, you’re taking a big first step in reversing this trend in your own life and the lives of the people you touch.