Dr. Andreas Michalsen Proves the Power of Combining Naturopathic and Allopathic Medicine in “The Nature Cure”
Raised in a small village in a southern part of Germany by a physician father and grandfather who practiced both conventional and integrative medicine, Dr. Andreas Michalsen was steeped from an early age in the worlds of modern medicine and traditional healing. Now a physician and naturopath in his own right, he brings together the two worlds with rigorous research and recently published the internationally bestselling book “The Nature Cure: A Doctor’s Guide to the Science of Natural Medicine”. He tells Parvati Magazine about his journey, the science behind natural cures, and how natural and conventional medicine can complement each other.
Parvati Magazine: What is naturopathic medicine? Why do you see this approach to be increasingly popular today?
Andreas Michalsen: Naturopathic medicine uses treatment methods rooted in nature, based on natural factors such as use of heat, cold water, fasting, manual treatments, meditation or yoga. It is based on the principle called hormesis that if we apply a stimulus or stress to the body, by say, fasting, it stimulates the body to cope with this challenge, to enhance self-healing.
I think people intuitively feel that they have a Nature deficit as more [of us] live in urban areas. It also has to do with the epidemic of lifestyle diseases that are not really helped by modern medicine. Some thousand years ago the limited availability of food forced us to practice intermittent fasting. We spent a lot of time in Nature with plants, within the natural environment. Now we exercise less. We have abundant food availability and highly processed foods, but have no hunger anymore. The spectrum of diseases has changed. I’m not an enemy of modern life. I just see that our biological programming is not prepared for what happened with our cultural evolution.
Parvati Magazine: Tell us more about your journey to naturopathy.
Andreas Michalsen: Of course I was influenced by my father and by my grandfather, who were also MDs. I spent years mastering the tools of modern cardiology. During this period, I came to realize that I was not addressing the real cause of the diseases. Patients came back every year with a new heart attack, new stroke, and this frustrated me in a tremendous way. So that was when I decided to change my position. I began to study and engage in clinical research in nutritional medicine, traditional and herbal medicine, lifestyle-based medicine and mind-body medicine. I still use conventional medicine and for me, the combination is an enjoyable way to practice.
Parvati Magazine: Your father influenced your view that naturopathic and allopathic medicine can be complementary approaches. Tell us more about this.
Andreas Michalsen: In Germany all naturopathic doctors are MDs and have to have certified specialization in a field of conventional medicine, so that is the advantage we have here. We need conventional medicine, and naturopathic medicine can complement this. This combination is also how more and more patients want to be treated, and feel that they have more options.
For example, if a patient gets admitted to our hospital, we might have to use rapidly acting conventional drugs, because naturopathy is a slow medicine. It takes time to get patients interested in a plant-based diet or to practice meditation. It’s a stepwise process by building up natural treatments, which may reduce the need for conventional treatment over time.
Parvati Magazine: Your research examines the scientific basis of naturopathy. What are some examples of your research findings?
Andreas Michalsen: I published a study in 2003 in the American Heart Journal, where we treated heart failure patients with cold water showers. After a few weeks, we saw an increase in quality of life and work capacity in an exercise stress test. This treatment was so simple! Leech studies [also] showed impressive results. We published a randomized study where after one session of application of four to five leeches to an arthritic joint, there was pain relief for several weeks and up to months. We investigated fasting and found a very significant blood pressure-reducing effect and most surprising for me, a very strong mood-enhancing effect.
Parvati Magazine: As our environment is increasingly under stress from pollution and ecosystem degradation, how do you see this impacting the study and practice of naturopathy?
Andreas Michalsen: Yes, it’s a problem because we need Nature for naturopathy. For example, we need healthy forests for forest bathing, which is a practice that came from Japan. But we can make good use of this situation we face currently. We recently had discussions with the German government. We will have a campaign to have more trees in Berlin, to allow patients to go there. We see Nature is endangered, but this can help underline to our governments that Nature is very important for our health. So this brings it more into awareness.
Andreas Michalsen, MD, PhD, is Professor of Clinical Naturopathy at Charité University Medical Center Berlin, Chief Physician of the Department of Internal and Complementary Medicine at Immanuel Hospital Berlin and author of “The Nature Cure” and bestseller “Healing with the Power of Nature”. He has published over 200 scientific articles and has collaborated with Stanford University, Harvard University and the Mayo Clinic.