Why you should care
OZY steps outside the medical mainstream for a checkup on alternative health.
We’ve all seen or heard references to “alternative” health, but what does it really mean? On one side, there are those who dismiss it as quackery; on the other, increasing numbers are gravitating toward treatments outside the mainstream — whether because conventional medical care has failed them, they lack the necessary insurance required by traditional doctors and health care systems or they’re drawn to a more natural, holistic approach to maintaining their physical and mental well-being.
Whichever side you’re on — or, if like many, the idea of integrating alternative treatments as a complement to conventional medicine appeals to you — there’s a burgeoning interest in practices and products that promote wellness in new, unforeseen ways. From adaptogens to movement medicine to the rise of DIY health care, OZY has scoured the alt-health landscape to bring you what’s trending and why, and the people forging another path to health and healing.
Ten years ago, physician Maree Batchelor was living a picture-postcard life as a medical doctor in the Melbourne suburbs. Then her 4-year-old son died after being hit by a car. Her unbearable grief was followed by another shock: Batchelor was visited by a glowing orb imbued with an otherworldly intelligence and she became what ufologists call an “experiencer.” Today, having abandoned a 20-year career in conventional medicine, Batchelor works as a multidimensional physician, joining a growing number of medical professionals who are rejecting the biomedical disease model to perform energy healing under the supervision of “galactic guides.”
Keepers of a once outlawed body of plant lore who have survived centuries of genocide, colonization and repression, Native American healers are working to integrate their knowledge of traditional medicine with Western approaches to offer patients new ways to heal. A self-described “nerdy ethnobotanist” who lectures at Sitting Bull College, a tribal university in Fort Yates, North Dakota, Linda Black Elk is among the leaders of this renaissance. Determined to make indigenous healing available to more people, she is opening a clinic inspired by her work running a medical camp during the 2016–17 protests at Standing Rock.
Retired Navy physician Fred Foote has worked doggedly to integrate holistic therapies into the military’s treatment programs for post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuruy. He recently saw the creation of the first “healing green space” at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, the country’s flagship military hospital. Holistic medicine has gained steam as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have left veterans with new traumas. In Iraq, where Foote served, the enemy “fights with bombs, not with bullets,” he says. The result: rising cases of TBI and PTSD. Not only was Foote tasked with suggesting new approaches to treat such hidden wounds but he also had to develop a system to prove his methods actually work.
Medicinal mushroom extracts are growing 6.3 percent annually, with sales of food products with medicinal mushrooms rising between 200 and 800 percent year-over-year. And no fungus supplements rival the growth, price and breadth of health claims as the Cordyceps, which went viral as “that ant-killing zombie fungus” and the plot device behind postapocalyptic video game The Last of Us. With a price that puts truffles to shame — between $10,000 and $50,000 a pound — Cordyceps are becoming the most prized mushroom on earth. But are its health claims legit or is this the latest instance of pseudoscience fueling a shroom boom?
From home pap smears and an Alexa-size tool that measures fertility to a device that pairs a Bluetooth-connected motion tracker with a digital physical therapist so people can do PT at home, a growing number of startups are emerging as DIY home health care providers, helping people attend to health needs without attending physicians.
AI, machine learning and natural language processing are spawning a growing number of startups across the world that are tailoring mental health care to each individual’s needs and circumstances in ways unimaginable just five years ago. Silicon Valley-based app Ginger scans words users type into their smartphone to determine exactly what kind of treatment they need, and alert the patient’s therapist, while Mindstrong uses the swipes and taps a person makes to analyze conditions like depression. Still other mental health apps such as 7 Cups and Replika allow users to chat with a therapist or coach any time of day to help treat loneliness.
You won’t find a medical doctor scribbling “movement medicine” on a prescription pad anytime soon. But growing numbers of psychiatrists and psychotherapists believe that the key to healing our most common psychological ailments lies not in our heads but in getting back in touch with our bodies. From his base in the United Kingdom, Ya’Acov Darling Khan is leading a revival of shamanism, a form of spirituality dating back tens of thousands of years. His mission: to help people transform their relationship with their mental, physical and emotional health through the power of free-flowing, spontaneous dance.
An ovarian reserve test is a common metric for evaluating a woman’s fertility, but Ridhi Tariyal’s doctor wouldn’t give her the test. Why? Because Tariyal wasn’t actively trying to conceive — even though she planned to have a baby someday. When her doctor said no, the Harvard grad got pissed — and then got to work. A home test kit seemed the obvious solution, and what better data than a woman’s menstrual cycle? NextGenJane, the company Tariyal founded in 2014, allows women to mail in smart tampons so they can assess their ovarian reserves. “Your body is expelling information,” says Tariyal, “and we want to give you a tool that gives that information back to you.”
Jaya Rao’s work as co-founder and chief operating officer of Molekule, a science and clean-tech company with patented air purification technology, took on new urgency when she was pregnant during the wildfires in Northern California (research shows that wildfire smoke leads to a 4 to 6 percent reduction in birth weight). Using nanotechnology to break down and eliminate pollutants on a molecular level, Rao is working to help people breathe easier amid worsening air quality in California and many other parts of the world.
Got adaptogens? These ancient herbs have long been used to cope with biological and psychological stress by making it easier to balance your endocrine system. But did you know that some adaptogens can guard against environmental hazards like air and water pollution? Whether or not adaptogens deserve to be called the new turmeric, there’s evidence that they can fortify our bodies against environmental menaces.
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