Over the next five years, the natural health sector is expected to generate $210 billion in revenue annually, making it one of the top three fastest growing commercial sectors in the world. Outside of retail, only tech and cosmetics are growing faster.
As the second decade of the millennium draws to a close, I want to take a moment to look back at how the sector has developed, to highlight why I believe natural medicine has a critical role to play in prevention and treatment in the years to come, and to look at why the clinical medical sector remains resolutely opposed to ensuring patients are properly informed about their care options.
The media explosion of the last five years means that broadly speaking people now have access to much more knowledge and information about healthcare strategies than ever before.
With that awareness comes an understanding that we all now have a range of options to choose from when it comes to deciding how we want to take care of ourselves – and the internet has put those choices squarely within our reach.
Although it’s hard to imagine a world without the world wide web, it’s not all that long ago that we relied more or less entirely on our GP to recommend the best treatment for whatever ailed us – and we trusted that they would prescribe not just the right medicines to cure or treat us, but also the best medicines.
The world has moved on a lot in the last two decades – and as the months have passed, so the resources available to us to help us make critical health decisions have multiplied.
That has brought much greater understanding that natural health treatments have an important part to play in keeping us well, just as we have also learned that some of the standard curative and preventative options we once took for granted aren’t necessarily as effective or safe as we once believed.
We now know that mammography, for example, has very specific risks and disadvantages associated with it.
There are so many arguments against mammography that some countries have either already phased it out as a routine screening tool (Switzerland) or are considering taking that step (France).
The arguments include the fact that mammography isn’t wildly effective in identifying breast cancer (it has a success rate of around 65%).
It also has a questionable track record of false positive and false negative diagnoses – in other words wrongly diagnosing a cancer that doesn’t exist or missing one that does.
From a patient point of view, it’s at best an uncomfortable process to undergo and at worst downright painful (the breasts are crushed between two heavy x-ray plates), it risks exposure to radiation, and there’s evidence that the process itself can actually trigger cell mutation that can lead to cancer.
And, of course, it’s only routinely available to women aged between 47 and 73 (breast tissue density in younger women means it’s not deemed effective or, therefore, suitable, below the age of 47. This ignores the many hundreds of women outside that age bracket who are at risk, often unknowingly.
So while 20 or so years ago mammography was accepted at face value as the best and only way to effectively screen for cancer, we now know not only that it’s a flawed process, but that non-invasive screening tools like breast thermography are both non-invasive and potentially much more effective in correctly identifying an early problem in the breast (and doing so many years before a mammogram would).
There are those who would choose to abolish the use of mammography screening, as Switzerland has already done. But regardless of one’s view on that issue, at the very least women should be made aware by their GP or healthcare provider that alternative, complementary screening options are open to them.
In menopause treatment it’s a similar story. Since the dawn of synthetic hormone replacement therapy (HRT), GPs have handed out HRT medication like M&Ms to any woman who wanted to be free of the very unpleasant side effects that menopause brings.
Not that long ago, the media was awash with claims that varied in their degree of accuracy and inaccuracy about associated health risks – cancer and heart disease were two that were widely reported – and many women elected either to stop the HRT treatment they were already on, or avoid treatment at all.
But as natural health solutions have evolved, so have the choices available to women battling with the menopause. Bioidentical (or body identical) HRT uses natural compounds to replicate the hormones produced by the body and is just as effective – if not more so – in treating the symptoms.
Yet, if you were to do even the most rudimentary survey you’d find a large proportion of women remain oblivious to the availability of this treatment as a low-risk, highly effective alternative to synthetic HRT that would see them through what could otherwise be a deeply unpleasant 5 years or more.
These are just two areas that have seen tremendous benefit from the evolution within the natural medicine sector. There are many more – including hair loss treatments and heart health screening.
The big question is: why is there not more public awareness of the natural treatments that are available to people when it comes to making decisions about their care?
Ultimately, I believe, it comes down to two things: ignorance and money.
The Government agency responsible for approving NHS treatments – NICE (the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) – will tell you that there isn’t enough evidence that some natural treatments are effective.
This is obviously nonsense, since the efficacy of a significant proportion of all drugs currently provided by the NHS is largely unproven and many natural treatments have been determined to be, at worst, harmless.
By that measure, all the treatments discussed here should be available to NHS patients.
Which brings us to money.
Big Pharma invests hundreds of millions of pounds in drug development, and those companies make many more millions by selling them around the world. Big Pharma also contributes heavily to medical research through university hospitals.
It’s well known that they target the individuals, agencies and Government departments that buy the drugs they make for financial benefit.
In short, it’s not in the interests of those involved in developing, selling, buying and dispensing clinical medicine to open the field to the providers of natural healthcare.
This is why, despite its rapid growth, this sector will continue to rely for the time being on individuals like you to make informed choices that are aligned with their own wishes about how, where and when they want their healthcare to be delivered.
If you’d like to find out more about the treatments and services we provide at The Natural Doctor, why not get in touch with us for a confidential and informal conversation?