By Salvatore Battaglia
When I began my training in natural therapies back in 1983 I could not have ever imagined that in 2017 natural therapies would become so popular among the general public and with health professionals of all backgrounds.
However, all too often someone takes a swipe at natural therapies. On Monday the 13 February, Four Corners aired a show called ‘Swallowing It’. The show was critical of the lack of evidence provided by manufacturers of natural remedies to support many of the therapeutic claims made by complementary medicines. I am not here to defend the companies mentioned, especially because they refused to partake in an interview. However, the show did not suggest that the Australian natural therapies industry, which happens to already be one of the most overly regulated in the world was in breach of any health risks to the general public.
I’d like to set the record clear: the Four Corners reporter implied that in Australia it is too easy to register a natural therapy supplement with the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). They implied that all a company has to do is fill in an online form to have a product registered with the TGA and this is simply not true!
The show was also an attack on pharmacies that sell complementary medicines. The show suggested that if a product is sold through a pharmacy, it gives the product more credibility. The Four Corners episode was also concerned at the level of celebrity endorsement/advertising given to natural therapies.
The show did fail to mention that there are a very large number of integrative medical practitioners who already successfully use complementary therapies in their practice; it failed to mention that a significant number of clinical trials that have been conducted to research complementary medicine and that these trials do comply with the same framework of pharmaceuticals.
The show tried to imply that there is conflict of interest in some of the research done. To me, and many others, this is obvious; the same thing happens in pharmaceutical industry. Where do the pharmaceutical companies get their funds to do research into drugs? Professor Avni Sali made this point when interviewed, but the reporter ignored the fact that the pharmaceutical industry funds its own research. As far as Australian universities entering into funding deals with Swisse and Blackmores, I think that this is a great thing for the industry.
I am definitely not against research into natural therapies. It is essential to help us better understand how natural remedies work. However, I have always argued that we cannot always blindly accept the pharmaceutical model to understand how natural therapies truly work.
We must ask ourselves; why are people all around the world moving towards natural therapies in the first place? Why is the pharmacological based healthcare system letting us down?
In my book The Complete Guide to Aromatherapy I quote well known and respected Aromatherapist Kurt Schnaubelt who warns us that the scientific validation of aromatherapy may rob aromatherapy of its necessary human element.
Recently, I came across a definition of integrative medicine explained that integrative medicine is about changing the focus of medicine to one of healing rather than disease. The author of this article then said that this involves an understanding of the influences of mind, spirit and community as well as of the body. I have always argued that the rigid scientific model used for validating pharmaceuticals fails to understand nor does it have the mechanisms to understand these influences that affect our health and wellbeing. All too often when there is a healing outcome involving natural remedies that defies scientific validation it is referred to as ‘placebo.’ I consider this arrogant and patronizing!
Many forms of traditional natural therapies have been around for thousands of years. For example – Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine have not only been an important source of health care for much of the world and have been used as a primary health care but also as part of their spiritual and cultural belief systems.
The reason that people are often drawn to natural therapies is the feeling of regaining control of our own health and feeling empowered. Natural remedies often does not attack the illness, they support the body to gently recuperate and heal and therefore their effect may not be so immediate.
Which brings me to aromatherapy, while I have trained in natural therapies, herbal medicine and Chinese medicine, it is aromatherapy that I have come to embrace.
Over the years I have become aware of the incredible potential that aromatherapy has. While it does have limitations I have come to believe that aromatherapy has the potential to be the most effective form of preventative health care available.
However it is so disappointing that it is so poorly understood. Essential oils are so chemically complex. This often makes any pharmacological studies into them so difficult. We also still do not understand the true mechanisms of olfaction and the implications that this has for the effect of aromas on our psyche.
As I stated earlier what is missing in any pharmacological based study is the human element, the emotional element and the spiritual element. Most of you reading this article understand what I mean. I hate to be cynical, but I imagine it would be very difficult for the pharmaceutical industry to come up with a pill to help balance our spirituality.
Now I am not suggesting that aromatherapy or herbal medicine offers any quick fix. Unfortunately there is too much of this going on already. This has become the undoing of aromatherapy as a true healing profession. In order for us get the true benefits of aromatherapy we need to practice it within a holistic framework that integrates the body, mind and soul.