Natural Hygiene: Health Without Medicine (or Wisdom)

Can Natural Hygiene really lead to a longer life?

by Brian Dunning

Filed under Alternative Medicine, Health

Skeptoid #28
February 19, 2007
Podcast transcript | Listen | Subscribe
Also available in Russian

Today we're going to flush our entire medicine cabinet down the toilet and try "natural hygiene," the practice of improving our health by avoiding medical care.

The hypotheses behind natural hygiene suggest that modern medicine and vaccinations are harmful to the body, and that viruses, bacteria, and germs are not harmful. Basically, take everything that modern science has taught us about the human body, turn it upside down and backwards, and there is your natural hygiene. However they do recognize one fact of biology, and that's that the human body has the power to heal itself. But they don't really understand what this means: They believe that the only way a human body can be healed is on its own, without medical care. For example, if you have an infected wound, natural hygiene suggests that a shot of penicillin will actually make things worse. In fact, such wound care as this can sometimes be the only thing that will save your life. Many practitioners do bend their own rules in cases of trauma or emergency care, ackowledging that medical care is actually helpful in an emergency. It's the rest of time, normal wellness or treatment of chronic illness or disease, where they believe medical care is counterproductive.

The human body does have amazing recuperative powers. Its immune system is powerful and sophisticated. Every day, someone's immune system manages to overcome some disease that's usually fatal. And it's these relatively few lucky victories that always get all the attention. When a person who doesn't understand medicine reads in the National Enquirer that someone overcame cancer while trying natural hygiene, it's natural to assume a causal relationship. In fact, as we know from medical history, more people who treat their cancer will survive than those who don't. It's the exceptions that make the headlines, and comprise the bulk of the anecdotal evidence supporting natural hygiene.

When a practitioner of natural hygiene cuts his finger and sees it heal, he attributes this to his natural hygiene lifestyle. Really this is just the body's normal process. If he'd put on some Neosporin and a band-aid, it probably would have healed quicker and with less risk of infection.

Prior to 100 years ago, you were actually better off not going to the doctor if you became ill. The doctor was likely to bleed you, or induce vomiting, in order to balance your humors. Illness was thought to be caused by an imbalance in the four basic humors: blood, phlegm, black bile, and yellow bile. Needless to say, this level of treatment didn't get you very far. You were just as likely to die from infection caused by the bloodletting incisions.

Since then, with the advent of modern medicine and a century of its development, we've doubled the average life expectancy in the Western world from under 40 to almost 80. Most of this gain in average life expectancy has come from reductions of infant mortality and early childhood illnesses. Generally, if you can survive early childhood, you have a good chance of reaching middle age or even older.

Modern-day non-civilized native tribes, who lack access to modern medicine and are the only groups currently practicing natural hygiene in large numbers, have an average life expectancy of just 34 years at birth. But this doesn't mean that everyone drops dead at 35, like some jungle version of Logan's Run. Those lucky enough to survive into their teen years have an average life expectancy of almost 60. What this means is that natural hygiene practitioners are at greatest risk of death during infancy and early childhood. Without innoculations and infant care, many children die and bring down the whole average.

Modern Western practitioners of natural hygiene are people who make the choice sometime during healthy adulthood. This means that they have generally already received their innoculations at an early age, and it obviously means that they already survived infancy and early childhood. So, doing nothing else, and having already been brought into adulthood through modern medical care, their human genes already provide them quite a long lifespan. In fact, since infant mortality brings down the whole average for everyone, an adult's life expectancy is already higher than the average life expectancy. This simple mathematical curiosity accounts for the fact that natural hygiene practitioners can generally claim to live longer than average. However, if they were required to place their bets just before childbirth instead of 20 years later, their average would be no higher than the general population, and probably less since they will not accept treatment for later stage illnesses like heart disease and cancer.

Natural hygiene practitioners do follow some very good health practices. They generally don't smoke or drink alcohol excessively, and they often follow a healthy low-calorie diet. These are all great practices, but they can be followed by anyone. You don't need to add the weird element of shunning healthcare to enjoy the benefits of these simple healthy choices.

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Do you or someone you know practice natural hygiene? If so, we'd love to hear from you. Please come to and post your experience in the forum.

Brian Dunning

© 2007 Skeptoid Media Copyright information

References & Further Reading

Barrett, S. "A Critical Look at Natural Hygiene." Quackwatch. Stephen Barrett, M.D., 1 Jan. 2007. Web. 15 Jan. 2007. <>

Ernst, E., Singh, S. Trick or Treatment: The Undeniable Facts about Alternative Medicine. New York: Bantam Press, 2008.

INHS. "Natural Hygiene History." International Natural Hygiene Society. International Natural Hygiene Society, 1 Jan. 2003. Web. 1 Mar. 2010. <>

Lewis, James R. The encyclopedia of cults, sects, and new religions. Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, 1998. 405.

Shermer, Michael. "Cures and cons: Natural scams 'he' doesn't want you to know about." Scientific American Magazine. 1 Mar. 2006, Volume 294, Number 3: 25.

Shils, M., Shike, M., Ross, A., Caballero, B., Cousins, R. Modern nutrition in health and disease, 10th Edition. Philadelphia, Pa.: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins (LWW), 2005. 1803-1804.

Reference this article:
Dunning, B. "Natural Hygiene: Health Without Medicine (or Wisdom)." Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media, 19 Feb 2007. Web. 8 Oct 2015. <>


10 most recent comments | Show all 47 comments

John, you state that "with a hygenic lifestyle the exact opposite is possible". Gues what, the exact opposite is possible with conventional medicine too. Not everybody is humilated, or becomes relient on life support or medicines (and if you want to call them poison, supply proof).

Oh, and a hygenic lifestyle can lead to the need of urgent medical intervention. You can live the life you describe and still suffer the conditions you consider humiliating and NEED actual medicine (or, you know, not use it and die).

To declare that there are only absolutes, live with medicine and be ill, live you prefered style and only ever be healthy, is bull, and not supported by any statistical data, or evidence.

TomH, Kent
August 13, 2011 12:33am

I actually have no idea what nature cure is. But as it seems to be quoted as a medicine, I would immediately assume it is associated with the wild quackery that Brians good friends at skeptic zone have posted.

I dont know what it is in queensland, but there seems to be a preponderance of half baked loons killing and maiming their philosophical and educational equals.

Maybe because it gets hot?

Henk v, sin city NSW, Oz
August 13, 2011 7:06am

Well, presumably it means natural cures not made from the naturally occuring chemicals, extracts and cultures that Medicine uses.

Seeing as how St Johns Wart does not occur naturally in Pill form, I would have to deduce that even "natural" cures require some processing, so can only be as natural as the source materials used by pharmeceutical companies. Which includes living viral samples, and surely you can't get any more natural than natural born microbes?

Tom H, Kent
August 22, 2011 9:36am

My take on natural hygiene is rather different from your interpretation, Brian. To me, it is a lifestyle that, rather than intervening to resolve a disease, places an emphasis on supporting the body's own self-repair capabilities. This involves holistic nutrition and a reasonable avoidance of toxins. I don't refuse medical care for things like injuries, but I do shy away from most conventional medicines - no painkillers, no antibiotics unless it's something severe (and NOT a viral infection), no drugs to relieve symptoms, etc. And certainly none of the counterproductive advice on diet.

I made this choice for myself two years ago, at age 15. But my mother had made the choice for me at an earlier age. I was never vaccinated, and generally didn't receive medication during my childhood, except once in an attempt to alleviate my allergies (didn't work, so I quickly stopped), and another time when I had broken my arm (painkillers that I did not ask for). I'm still doing very well, but I always remember that I was fortunate that I had a very good start in life.

Jonathan S., Toronto
October 1, 2011 7:14am

John, medicine has been pushing health and lifestyle issues all my life and that of my parents. I am sure that you missed the nice speeches your endocrinologists and cardiologists waste on you about preventative medicine by life style.

secondly, everything is either natural or supernatural. Seeing we have no evidence of the latter, in this universe everything is natural and the raft of radioelements in your body are there from perfectly natural procasses (what you ate and even more so what your ancestors ate.)

I am quite happy for you not to take pain killers and will be astoundingly happy for you if you can avoid life saving therapies. But dont think everyone is just like you.

Finally. Everytime I mention a bit of science you change the topic slightly. A thank you for a bit of FREE tuition on the matter by Brian and subsequently Tom, Hopefully Cam and my admonishments on the lack of scientific veracity in "natural" argument would be nice.

Ask why skeptics think the way they do. Some are pretty clever and approachable (like Brian) and some are hidebound by science.

Use your good start in life and do something really satisfying. A degree in bio-informatics will not kill you nd will stand you in good stead as you enjoy the very rest of that very good start you enjoyed.

I wish you much health and happiness... please promise me you will toddle back to open course learning.

You appear intelligent. Please enjoy your gifts.

Mud, (Oz) Sin City NSW,
October 5, 2011 5:59pm

I don't believe that natural hygiene encourages people to stay away from modern medicine but rather reinforces the idea that if you maintain a healthy plant based diet you will see that your trips to the doctor are few and far between. When looking for answers to life's tough questions I observe nature and when plants don't get the proper nourishment they wilt and die; well why are we any different? Go to nursing homes and hospices around the country and you will see that way too many american citizens are wilting for a few years and then dying.

Jeremy, Tulsa
October 3, 2012 10:52am

I find it amusing how many New Age woo people harp on about medicines as poison and woo is better, while consuming socially acceptable poisons through cigarettes and alcohol.

I know a Reiki woo who is always on about sorting me out, she is a practising witch and adherent of most crazy conspiracy theories, rationality abandoned. A long time ago I needed an operation and as part of my recovery I worked my body hard and effectively had a body-builders diet regime. Part of the diet was a selection of vitamin and nutrient pills, the excess being removed by the kidneys. This Reiki woo was telling me how unhealthy the diet was and how the vitamins were poisoning my body - all this while smoking 3o plus a day and consuming cases of strong lager!!

Alcohol and tobacco cause more harm in our society than medicine or any medical intervention, yet the woo never criticise it do they?

As for natural is best BULL!!! I once broke a tooth and just put up with the pain, eventually blocking it, I could still eat and so carried on. By about the 4th day I drove for miles to the nearest emergency hospital, collapsed, was hospitalized and told I had blood poisoning!!

Then there was the time I had an eye infection, I thought my body would sort things out, but my partner dropped me off at the nearest hospital, where I was told that if I had left it another two hours the eye pressure would have cost me my optic nerve.

Sure docs and science aren't perfect but I owe my life and optic nerve to them.

Ordinary Joe, Global Consciousness
November 2, 2012 6:08am

I had chronic ear infections as a child. I wouldn't have survived to see age 2, if I lived in the age before antibiotics.

Sara, San Francisco, CA
November 8, 2012 9:50am

Joe..I am glad your nick wasn't Lucky..

Sara, surely you could give echinacea a plug..I cant but I think someone should.

Think I'll scratch that job offer..

Mud, sin city, Oz
August 6, 2013 7:48am

I am not up on Natural Hygiene today but back in the '80's a book came out called 'Fit for Life' by Harvey and Marylin Diamond that mentioned proper food combining which I think came from the Natural Hygiene movement. I've followed the advice from that book to not combine proteins and starches for 20+ years and found it healthy as I hardly ever experience indigestion or acid reflex. Basically most of the time when I eat grains I don't eat meats but eat grains and starches with just veggies. I don't eat much diary but when I do I do not eat it with meats.

I had years of eating way too much sugar and carbs, ice cream and junk but I still consistently practiced proper food combining.

I mostly eat Paleo now which is real minimally processed foods and I eat local foods, low pesticided food and seasonal food. Some raw some cooked foods and I try and rotate different foods and not eat the same all the time. Generally the simpler the meal the better I feel. So for me proper food combining from Natural Hygiene was a great encouragement for me to eat better quality food.

With 'health care' often lacking from both professional medical and alternative health care today I think it is wise for folks to take some responsibility for their own health with simple natural helps.

Will go and see what else Natural Hygiene is about today...

Percyfaith, Central Virginia
August 1, 2015 5:43pm

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