Natural Medicine Vs Pharmaceutical: Which One is Best For You?

Updated: Oct 28

When it comes to getting healthy, you have more choices than ever before. There's conventional medicine, chiropractic care, traditional medicine like Ayurvedic or Traditional Chinese medicine (just to name a few), functional and integrative medicine, mind body medicine, and, my personal favorite, naturopathic (sometimes called natural) medicine. 

With so many options to choose from, there's bound to be some confusion concerning which option is the best for you. But do you have to choose between the various forms of medicine?

Should you use only one form of medicine and avoid all of the others completely? Are some forms of medicine and their practitioners "quacks"? (Does anyone even use that term anymore?)

While it is certainly a personal decision you must make concerning your choice of health care, I'll try to help you understand which choice may be best for you depending upon your circumstances.

What is Natural Medicine?

I think it's safe to say that of all the different forms of medicine, natural medicine is gaining the most popularity. There's countless websites and bloggers dedicated to spreading the word about how natural medicine is the way to go (wink wink).

A simple Google search using the words 'natural medicine' fetches over a billion results whereas a search using the words 'conventional medicine' only nets around 256 million. A search for 'pharmaceutical' yields only about 443 million.

Clearly, natural medicine is making its mark on and even changing society.

But what is natural medicine exactly?

A simple definition from the Medical dictionary states that it is:

(1)Naturopathy or Naturopathic Medicine.

(2) A general term for any form of healthcare (diet, exercise, herbs, hydrotherapy, etc.) that depends on the body’s natural healing powers.

(3) Any substance (e.g., foxglove, menthol, peyote, etc.) which is used in an unadulterated state to manage a condition or evoke a desired change in a person’s physical or mental status.

For a more comprehensive definition, check out this post: What is Naturopathic Medicine and Why You Need It. 

While natural medicine is gaining a lot of popularity, there’s a lot of opposition to it as well. This usually comes from some of those trained in allopathic (conventional) medicine and the pharmaceutical industry. Why the opposition? Well I have my own opinions, namely, some allopathic doctors are extremely ignorant of the benefits of natural medicine and feel threatened by it due to their lack of understanding and training it in and their patients increasing use of it. There’s also a financial component associated with the acrimony some allopathic doctors have to natural medicines. The natural medicine industry is booming. It’s estimated that the industry will be worth almost 197 billion dollars by 2025. While that’s nothing compared to the estimated 1170 billion of the pharmaceutical industry, there is a rising sense of repulsion among people (in general) when it comes to drugs. Their adverse effects and the greed (whether perceived or real) of the drug giants are repelling people from looking to medications for their ills. There’s also the bleak outlook of having to take medication for the rest of your life that sets some people looking for a different ( or what they perceive as a better) path. I also believe that conventional doctors are perplexed by the variety of treatments available with natural medicine. After all, the MD’s most effective (and usually only) form of treatment is pharmaceuticals. I like to joke that some MDs should be doctors of medications not medicine. But this is just my opinion of why natural medicine is so maligned among some conventional MDs. If you ask one, he might say something along the lines of natural medicine is ineffective, not evidence based, and/or dangerous. Let’s examine these claims.

Natural Medicine is Ineffective

Whenever I hear someone say this, I immediately think of a person who’s been spending their time reading a Forbes (who is staunchly against naturopathic medicine) article with a bag of chips in one hand and a bottle of blood pressure meds in another. If this is you, I make no judgment. Despite the fact that natural medicine has been in use for thousands of years, people claim that it’s ineffective. But is this true? Diet and exercise have been proven countless times to be effective in reducing or even curing lifestyle diseases like depression[1] and high blood pressure[2] . This is natural medicine (gasp). Herbal medicines have been studied and found to be effective for disorders from high LDL cholesterol[3] to insomnia[4].

Supplements like CoQ10 and vitamin D have been found to improve the health outcomes of people with heart failure[5]. An extract from green tea, EGCG has been found to inhibit DYRK1A protein production which helps with cognition enhancement in individuals with Down Syndrome[6].

Infra red sauna has been shown to increase the body's own production of antioxidants in the blood[7].