Your NATURAL MEDICINE CABINET

(Excerpt from the Introduction)

Discovering
Natural Healing

“Can it really work that fast?”

My running buddy’s eyes were wide with astonishment. I had just dropped a natural remedy into her mouth and the pain from her cramps dissolved along with the pellets. We had just passed my health food store when she told me she had to turn around because her cramps were so bad. I suggested experimenting with something from the store. It was worth a try— it would be harmless at worst, and at best it might save our Saturday morning run. In fact the remedy worked almost instantaneously, as they sometimes do, and I was as astonished as she was.

It was one of the “ah ha moments” that led me to write this book. I spent 15 years working in the supplement department of my health food store, talking to my customers about what worked for them and focusing on:

The result is this book. I hope it will empower you to create your own natural medicine cabinet. By treating everyday complaints at home, you’ll stay healthier overall, you’ll save time and money by preventing unnecessary trips to your primary care doctor or emergency room, and you’ll lose less time from work for yourself or a sick child.

How This Book Came About

This is probably the first crowd-sourced book in natural healing, with the “crowd” being my thousands of customers and clients going back to 1977 when I opened my health food store. Boston’s historic Beacon Hill section in the late ’70s housed blueblooded Brahmins in 18th century mansions and hippies in seedy apartments on the back side of the Hill. Tourists came from all over the world, drawn by the charm of the Revolutionary War-era brick buildings and the nearby Public Gardens.

In the ’80s, gentrification brought yuppies to replace the hippies. With several distinguished colleges nearby, there were always students and professors. Mass. General Hospital was just a few blocks away, and surprisingly enough, some of its doctors and nurses ventured into my store along with staff members and patients’ families. Dean Ornish was a lunchtime regular during his residency at Mass. General in the early ’80s. My brick storefront, with its mullion-paned bay window painted a sunny yellow, was a magnet for granola-crunching humanity.

In the late ’80s I moved the store across the river to West Cambridge, among the spacious Victorians near Fresh Pond. My new customers included Harvard faculty, writers, architects, lawyers, and doctors.The store was small (a “mom and pop” store without the “pop” —  just me), so I worked at the checkout counter next to the supplement department by day and baked the cookies after the store closed at night. It was easy to get to know my customers, and I specialized in ordering supplements that they couldn’t find anywhere else. I would always ask them what it was for, why it was better than what I already had on hand, and how they could tell that it worked.

In a small store (the Beacon Hill store was only 267 square feet and it included a vegetarian cafe!), I had to keep discarding run-of-the-mill supplements to make way for these new special finds. The result was the physical version of what you’re holding in printed form: a few top recommendations for dozens of conditions. And because I catered to busy professionals with high-power jobs, the supplements also had to work quickly.

You’ll notice, though, that I haven’t limited myself to just one recommendation per condition. I found in my years in the store that just as some customers liked our maple walnut cookies soft on the inside and others wanted them crispy, so too did people have preferences in supplements. Some liked herbs, others liked vitamins, and among those who preferred herbs, some wanted convenient blends in capsules while others wanted to make their own teas and salves. Some wanted the best no matter what the cost, while others were willing to spend time preparing their own blends to save money.

So this book is drawn from the needs, preferences, and feedback of my customers in more than 15 years of running the store, and my clients in the more recent 15 years of holistic practice.

My Journey in Natural Healing

I always wanted to be a doctor like my father. I came from a medical family: my father was a vascular surgeon who tested the very first Doppler ultrasound machine in his research lab, my mother was a biochemist who researched stains for Dr. Papanicolau while he developed the Pap smear, and my great-aunt was the chief nurse in the famous series of surgeries mapping the human brain. Dad was a sought-after speaker for stop-smoking groups, and he practiced his lectures on us at the dinner table complete with slides of gangrenous toes. (I never inhaled.)

But as an undergraduate I read Adelle Davis’ Let’s Eat Right to Keep Fit and discovered that chronic disease could be prevented, even treated, with healthy food and supplements instead of drugs and surgery. I became passionate about natural healing long before there were any schools offering professional training.

So it was that I graduated from Harvard and, in a truly unusual career move, opened a health food store. In search of answers for my customers’ questions — what do you have for sore throats? for urinary tract infections? for insomnia? — I read voraciously, attended seminars led by pioneering natural healers, and learned from my customers’ experience. In the shadow of Harvard and MIT, I had probably the most highly educated clientele of any health food store in the country.

One section of my store baffled me, however. I carried homeopathic remedies because people asked for them, but I found them mystifying. Very few customers seemed to know about them, but those who did reported amazing results. Homeopathy seemed to be a secret club known only to its initiates. When I had my “ah-ha” moment, I saw first-hand what these homeopathy aficionados had been telling me about apparently miraculous results which actually followed the laws of an obscure science.

On turning 40, I decided to pursue professional training in homeopathy. I wanted to master this arcane science not only to help individual clients with its safe and effective remedies, but more importantly to teach it widely in a simple and empowering way. I was fortunate to learn from Dr. Luc De Schepper, an internationally distinguished homeopath, and even more fortunate to help him found a school and write a handbook for home prescribers and a textbook for professionals. In the process I received the benefit of his accumulated experience from treating, in his long career and by his own estimation, more than 100,000 patients.

I now have the benefit of practicing homeopathy at the Lydian Center for Innovative Medicine in Cambridge, Mass. My colleagues include chiropractors, neuro-acupressure practitioners, a naturopath, and a craniosacral practitioner/Brain Gym expert. Some of my colleagues are doing cutting-edge work in their fields, and we learn from each other as we share clients with challenging health problems. Our clients include Nobel laureates, professors at Harvard Medical School, physicians at Harvard teaching hospitals, and soloists at Boston Symphony Hall (or the families of these professionals). Many have done their own extensive internet search on their condition. I am humbled by how much my clients know about natural approaches to their health problems and I continue to learn from them.

In my own homeopathy practice since 1996, I have never forgotten my roots in my health food store. I recommend not only homeopathic medicines but also vitamins, herbs, changes in diet, perhaps another healing modality for my clients to pursue, and books to empower them by expanding their knowledge.

How to Use This Book

My goal is to empower people to care for themselves and their families with the best natural products for many common conditions. “Best” sometimes means quickest, and quickest often means a homeopathic remedy. (For the skeptics, I review the latest research on how it works in Part Four ­— but this book is about what works, and in my experience homeopathy often works best. Try it, following the guidelines in Part Four, and decide for yourself.) Homeopathy can’t work in isolation, though. It gives instructions, like providing the architect’s drawings for a house, but you still need the “building materials” from supplements and superfoods.

The core of the book draws from my knowledge of supplements, homeopathic remedies, herbs, flower essences, cell salts, and superfoods. For each one I recommend a Quick Fix for immediate relief plus supportive supplements and lifestyle recommendations to provide ongoing relief or to prevent recurrence. Sometimes I recommend specific brands, most notably for herbs because some brands have powerful medicinal effects while others are basically worthless (depending on how carefully the herbs are handled). For homeopathic remedies, on the other hand, there is much less variation among brands because the FDA oversees homeopathic manufacturers, holding them to exacting standards. As for supplements, I recommend some by brand name, but there are other excellent brands and your local health food store staff can guide you.

Please don’t skip over the first section, though. Your natural medicine cabinet will work best if you have a strong body to begin with. The suggestions in Part One are meant to be succinct and not overwhelming, yet to provide you with plenty of resources if you would like to know more about a particular topic.

In a world of information overload, I’ve tried to keep this book short, simple and empowering. I’ve also narrowed down the list of books and internet resources. (Web-based information about natural healing is often truly awful or overly commercialized.) While the recommended books and websites may seem like a lot, I certainly don’t expect anyone to explore all or even most of them. Just start with one or two that interest you most.

In teaching this material to hundreds of students in my homeopathy school, I’ve found that it helps to present the information more than once, and from fresh angles. So while Part Two is arranged by condition, in Part Three I cut the deck differently: it’s arranged by natural healing substances, beginning with a dozen or so that I would recommend having on hand right from the start.

Part Four, the section on how to use homeopathic medicines, really makes this book unique. In my health food store, the customers who knew how to use homeopathy got dramatic results, but others who were unfamiliar with it were often disappointed. Learning to use homeopathic remedies effectively is a bit like learning to ride a bike: there’s some wobbling at first but then it becomes second nature. From years of teaching homeopathy, fielding questions from beginners, and observing where they tend to go off course, I’ve come up with a simple guide to using these natural medicines effectively. I encourage you to read it before you use any of the homeopathic medicines recommended in Part Two. A small effort to master the method will be well rewarded.

Part Five addresses one of the pitfalls I’ve noticed over the years among my clients and students. They often begin with tremendous enthusiasm for natural healing but then face skepticism from friends, family members, and health care practitioners. When they tell me about the criticism they’ve encountered, I usually find it’s based on misunderstandings and misinformation about natural healing in general and homeopathy in particular.

Part of the solution is to provide good information you can use to respond to these critiques, as you’ll see in Part Five. Another solution is to tell you about sources of support. You explorers in natural healing are not alone. Many of my clients, especially are mothers of small children, will say, “I feel like I’m the only one who is trying to keep my kids off sugar, limit TV and computer time, and avoid antibiotics if possible.” Now with groups like HolisticMoms.org and Meetup groups, they’re finding like-minded people to share enthusiasm, encouragement, and great information.

It’s also important to find health care providers who are respectful of your choices. At the same time, we need to be respectful of mainstream health care providers and all their hard-won knowledge. Part Five recommends finding a doctor you can partner with, one who listens to you respectfully. It also gives guidance on finding a holistic health care professional trained to treat chronic illness, which is far beyond the scope of this book. Please note the guidelines at the beginning of Part Two on what’s safe to treat at home versus when you really do need to call your doctor or go to the ER.

Your Natural Medicine Cabinet is meant as a handbook — a book to be taken in hand, to be manageable, to empower you with just the right amount of information rather than overwhelming you with too much. It’s meant to make you feel that yes, you can do it: you can create a natural medicine cabinet and use it wisely for yourself and your family. Welcome to the journey of natural healing!