A Natural Approach to Healing with Dr. Josh Axe

    By Melinda Fulmer

If the only time you pay attention to your health is when you get that once-a-year bloodwork done at your physician’s office, it’s time to reconsider your lifestyle, Dr. Josh Axe says.

“A lot of people say, ‘Hey, I had the check mark from my doctor and everything’s good,” says Axe, doctor of functional medicine and founder of natural health site DrAxe.com, which has helped millions of people adopt a healthier lifestyle and find natural remedies.

But, he says, this focus on numbers on a chart, rather than how our bodies are actually feeling and performing, is one reason why so many Americans limp along, feeling fatigued and suffering from one ailment after another.

“I think it’s really important that people learn to just listen to their bodies” and ask themselves questions about it, Axe explains. “We’re talking about looking at your tongue, looking at your skin. What does your skin say? What is your digestive tract telling you? On a scale of one to 10, what are my stress levels?”

Small signs like dark circles under your eyes, constipation or loose stool can signal chronic conditions or imbalances within the body, according to traditional Chinese and ayurvedic medicine—signs that may go undetected in a traditional checkup and indicate a problem before blood tests would show a problem.

“I hear, ‘Hey, maybe that’s normal as I age.’ The truth is that that’s not normal,” Axe says. “And our digestive system is one of the biggest things that can tell us if we’re healthy or not,” as well as the condition of our skin.

Integrating Eastern practices

Axe has studied these Eastern practices that have endured for thousands of years and uses them to provide a fuller picture of a patient’s overall health.

While Western medicine is good at treating symptoms of chronic disease, he says, in many cases, it doesn’t take the time to address the root cause of the problem, which can often be alleviated with changes to diet and lifestyle.

Axe recommends seeking out doctors of traditional Chinese medicine or doctors of functional or integrative medicine who use dietary interventions, herbs, acupuncture and supplements as a first step to treating common illness and boosting a patient’s overall health. Many also consider a patient’s element, an ancient Eastern medicine classification that takes into account body type, personality and prevailing emotions, which even Western medicine acknowledges can have a big impact on physiological health.

A patient with an autoimmune disease and digestive issues, for instance, might find that by treating his gut with probiotics, bone broth or collagen and removing gluten and other inflammatory foods from his diet, his body begins to heal, Axe says.

Axe has used dietary intervention, herbs, supplements and even essential oils to successfully treat diabetes, heart disease, inflammatory bowel disease, hypothyroidism and other hormonal issues like polycystic ovary syndrome.

It’s not a quick and easy fix, he says, but for many, it’s a chance to improve their health without causing other problems in the body that they might get from treatment from traditional synthetic medicines.

“People are really moving toward taking care of their body naturally,” Axe says. “Because they understand that with conventional [prescription] medicine, there are side effects.”

Of course, even treatment with plant-based medicine such as essential oils must be treated with an abundance of caution given their concentration, he explains. Not all oils can be safely ingested, some can interfere with prescription medications, and many can cause skin sensitivity if not properly diluted.

Finding the right functional medicine doctor who’s not only knowledgeable about these risks but also is able to advise you on the right diet and lifestyle changes could take time. Axe says it’s important to ask questions so you understand what he or she sees going on with your body and how much that individual is willing to work with you to address these issues.

“I think the single most important question to ask your doctor is, What is the root cause of my condition?” he says.

If you’re not satisfied with the answer, it’s time to move on.

Understanding the gut/disease connection

Axe says one of the oft-overlooked contributors to chronic conditions is our gut.

“To me, gut health is really where it all starts,” he says, a philosophy espoused by Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine more than 2,000 years ago. “It’s really important that we understand that our digestive health is critical for the health of almost every organ, tissue and cell in our body.”

Problems ranging from headaches to thyroid conditions to adrenal problems can all trace their origins to the gut, Axe says, and conditions like leaky gut syndrome can be the instigator behind inflammation and immune response.

“If it’s not checked over time, your body will start attacking its own cells and tissues, causing autoimmune disease,” he explains. “If we can take care of our gut, it will go a long way to getting us healthy.”

Unplugging to support adrenal health

“A lot of people in today’s hyper-connected world also live in a perpetual state of fight or flight, always on high alert, ready for the next thing that life’s going to throw at them,” Axe says. “If you’re in that state a few minutes a day, fine. But if you live in that state all the time like we do by being in traffic jams, stress at work, stress with family, trying to get so much done,” it can take a real toll on your health, particularly your adrenal glands, which he describes as our body’s battery.

“A lot of us are working so much, going so much and not recharging that we have drained our battery,” he says.

In traditional Chinese medicine, the prescription would not be medication but simply to take a little time off and unplug, Axe says, something he now makes sure he schedules throughout his week after realizing how little time he was taking for himself.

“I realized if I wanted to be healthy, I needed to schedule things throughout my week like going for a walk in nature without my cellphone or just being present, reading a novel or doing lunch with a best friend … just doing things that took my mind off things,” he explains.

Too often, Axe says, people neglect their emotional health, not realizing what a toll it’s taking on their body.

Axe’s goal is for patients to start a dialogue with their doctor, to begin working on everything from diet to sleep to their emotions to get at the root cause of their health issues.“Your doctor isn’t doing all the work for you,” he says. “You are partnering with your doctor. And they’re sort of helping you get started, but a big part of this, the biggest part, is what we’re doing for ourselves to get healthy.”

Dr. Axe’s Lifestyle Prescription for Optimal Health

1. Ditch inflammatory foods.

  • The biggest inflammation-causing culprit is processed sugar, Dr. Josh Axe says. If you need a little sweetener in your food, try raw local honey, maple syrup, dates or fruit.
  • Ditch refined and processed grains, which are hard for the body to digest. Try a sprouted grain bread.
  • Steer clear of bad oils. We’ve all heard that partially hydrogenated oils are harmful. Avoid soybean oil, cottonseed oil and corn oil, and try coconut oil, olive oil, avocado oil, ghee and grass-fed butter instead.
  • Go organic with dairy. Traditional grain-fed cows produce an overabundance of omega-6 fats, which are inflammatory, Axe says, and their milk can contain hormones and antibiotics. Buy grass-fed certified organic dairy, including yogurt and kefir.
  • Try bone broth. Made at home on the stove or in a powder, this is Axe’s secret weapon for a healthier lining to our digestive tract.
  • Eat your probiotics. Develop a taste for sauerkraut, kimchi and miso, or drink some kombucha or kefir. If you can’t handle the taste, a probiotic supplement that can withstand heat also is an option.
  • Load up your plate with cooked vegetables such as cauliflower, carrots and pumpkin.
  • Make your meat wild and organic. If you eat meat, stick to wild-caught salmon, grass-fed beef, and organic chicken and turkey.
  • Eat foods high in good fats. Snack on olives, indulge in avocado, nuts and seeds, and try some easy-to-digest coconut.

2. Recharge your battery.

  • Go to bed at a proper time to get a good night’s sleep and schedule some rest and relation during your week. Axe also recommends B12  and certain adaptogenic herbs such as Rhodiola rosea, green tea and Cordyceps mushrooms, which can be consumed in tea or powder form.

3. Detox with food.

  • Our livers do a lot of heavy lifting, Axe says, detoxifying our body, building blood, balancing hormones and digesting fats, so it’s important to give it a break occasionally. Rather than going on an extreme cleanse, he recommends eating whole dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale and collard greens and cooked cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts. He also recommends consuming sour and bitter foods such as lemons, artichokes and tahini.

4. Learn to use herbs.

Herbs are powerful medicine. Try to incorporate these two into your meals.

  • Turmeric, for one, Axe says, is even more nutrient dense than broccoli, containing curcumin, a powerful inflammation fighter that has been shown in studies to help with arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and heart disease.
  • Ginger is another potent anti-inflammatory that not only makes that stir-fry taste great but also helps you digest your food. And rosemary also fights inflammation that can wreak havoc on your body.

5. Harness the power of essential oils.

Plant oils have been used as medicine for thousands of years to treat conditions both internally and topically, and they can have a powerful impact on our emotions when used properly.

  • Lavender can be inhaled to ease insomnia and lower stress levels. A few drops in a carrier oil or lotion also can help heal wounds and kill acne-causing bacteria.
  • Frankincense calms the brain and nervous system and has anti-inflammatory properties. Its uplifting scent is great in a diffuser or used in a lotion with lavender and geranium or rose oil to even out skin tone.
  • Lemon oil is cleansing for your liver, gallbladder and lymphatic system, and it is great mixed with water and raw honey to soothe a scratchy throat.
  • Holy basil oil is an adaptogen that can be taken internally to lower stress and sharpen mental acuity.
  • Tea-tree oil has anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties, and it makes a great cleanser both for your face and house. Axe and his wife Dr. Chelsea Axe mix tea-tree oil, lemon oil, white vinegar and water together to clean counters in their house. Tea tree also can be mixed with raw honey and applied to your face as an acne wash or mask for more radiant skin.

The Five Elements of Eastern Medicine: What’s Your Type?

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, people are thought to fall into five predominant types—wood, fire, earth, metal and water—based on a host of traits from personality and body type to emotions.

Think of it as a Myers-Briggs test guiding you to the right diet and lifestyle changes, says Josh Axe, doctor of functional medicine and co-founder of DrAxe.com.

Click through to identify your element.

Photo credit: Mark Kuroda, kurodastudios.com; Hean Prinsloo, Unsplash; Hean Prinsloo, Unsplash; Guido Jansen, Unsplash; Aya Okawa, Unsplash; Clem Onojeghuo, Unsplash; Anastasia Taioglou, Unsplash; Joel & Jasmin Førestbird, Unsplash
Grooming: Marz


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Melinda Fulmer

Melinda Fulmer is a veteran writer and editor with more than 15 years of experience writing about health, food, and fitness. Her work has been featured in major media channels such as the Los Angeles Times, MSN, Cosmopolitan Magazine, Los Angeles magazine, Entrepreneur, HGTV.com, Prevention.com, and Details magazine.