Native Am Healing interpreted by Am Cancer Soc

Native American Healing




Native American healing combines religion, spirituality, herbal medicine, and rituals to treat medical and emotional problems.

OVERVIEW There is no scientific evidence that Native American healing can cure cancer or any other disease.

However, the communal support provided by this approach to health care can have some worthwhile physical, emotional, and spiritual benefits.


Native American healing is based on the belief that health is interconnected with morality, spirituality, and harmonious relationships with community and nature.

Proponents claim it can help cure physical diseases, injuries, and emotional problems. Native American healers claim to have cured conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, thyroid problems, skin rashes, asthma, and cancer. There is no scientific evidence to support these claims.

Practitioners of Native American healing presume illness stems from spiritual problems. They believe a person under psychological distress cannot be healed. They also claim that diseases are more likely to invade the body of a person who is imbalanced, has negative thinking, and lives an unhealthy lifestyle.

Many Native American healers believe that inherited conditions, such as birth defects, are caused by the parents' immoral lifestyles and are not easily treated.

Native American healing practices are claimed to find balance and wholeness in an individual to restore one to a healthy and spiritually pure state.

Native American healing is promoted in many different ways. Some of the most common aspects of Native American healing include the use of herbal remedies, purifying rituals, shamanism, and spiritual healing to treat illnesses of both the body and spirit.

Herbal remedies are used to treat many physical conditions (see Chapter on Herb, Vitamin, and Mineral Methods).

Practitioners use purifying rituals to cleanse the body, which they claim makes the person more susceptible to other Native American healing techniques.

One kind of Native American healer, a shaman, focuses on using spiritual healing powers to treat people with illness based on the idea that spirits have caused the illness (see Shamanism).

Symbolic healing rituals, which can involve family and friends of the sick person, are used to invoke the spirits to help heal the sick person.


Native American healing practices vary greatly because there are about 500 Native American Nations (commonly called tribes). However, they do have some basic rituals and healing practices in common. Because of their extensive knowledge of herbs, one of the most common forms of Native American healing involves the use of herbal remedies which can include teas, tinctures, and salves.

For example, one remedy for joint pain uses bark from a willow tree.

Purifying and purging the body is also an important technique used in Native American healing. Sweat lodges (similar to a steam bath) and special teas which induce vomiting, are used for this purpose.

Smudging (cleansing a place or person with the smoke of sacred plants) is also used to bring about an altered state of consciousness and sensitivity, making a person more open to the healing techniques.

Because some illnesses are believed to come from angry spirits, shamans are sometimes used to invoke the healing powers of spirits or to help appease the angered spirits (see Shamanism).

Another practice of Native American healing, symbolic healing rituals, can involve a shaman and even entire communities.

These rituals use ceremonies which can include chanting, singing, painting bodies, dancing, exorcisms, sand paintings, and even the use of mind altering substances (like peyote) to persuade the spirits to heal the sick person. Rituals can last minutes or weeks.

Prayer is also an essential part of all Native American healing techniques (see Spirituality and Prayer).


Native American healing has been practiced in North America for up to 40,000 years. It has roots in different cultures, such as ancient Ayurvedic (Indian) and Chinese traditions, but has also been influenced by what they learned about nature, plants, and animals (see Ayurveda).

Other healing practices were influenced over time by the migration of tribes and contact with other tribes along trade routes.

The tribes gathered many herbs from the surrounding environment and sometimes traded over long distances.

Today, Native American Indian community-based medical systems still practice some Native American healing practices and rituals.


One recent clinical trial examined 116 people with a variety of ailments (such as infertility, chest and back pain, asthma, depression, diabetes, and cancer) who were treated with traditional Native American healing.

More than 80% showed some benefit after a 7 to 28 day intensive healing experience. Five years later, 50 of the original participants said they were cured of their diseases while another 41 said they felt better. Another 9 showed no change, 5 were worse, and 2 had died.

However, the comparison group who received different treatments also showed benefits. More clinical studies are needed to confirm the benefits of the specific healing methods.

Although Native American healing has not been shown to cure disease, anecdotal reports suggest that it can reduce pain and stress, and improve quality of life.

The communal support provided by this type of healing could have beneficial effects. Prayers, introspection, and meditation can be calming and can help to reduce stress.

Because Native American healing is based on spirituality and mysticism, there are very few scientific studies to support the validity of the practices. It is difficult to study Native American healing under accepted scientific standards because practices differ between various Nations, shamans, and illnesses.

Many Native Americans do not want their practices studied because they believe sharing such information exploits their culture and weakens their power to heal.


Like other complementary therapies, Native American healing practices may be used in relieving certain symptoms of cancer and side effects of cancer treatment.

People with cancer and other chronic conditions should consult their physician before pursuing purification rituals or herbal remedies. Relying on this type of treatment alone, and avoiding conventional medical care, may have serious health consequences.


Alternative Medicine: Expanding Medical Horizons. A Report to the National Institutes of Health on Alternative Medical Systems and Practices in the United States. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office; 1994. NIH publication 94-066.

Cohen K. Native American medicine. Altern Ther Health Med. 1998;4:45-57.

Complementary and Alternative Methods. Native American healing. American Cancer Society Web site. Available at: Accessed January 24, 2000.

Mehl-Madrona LE. Native American medicine in the treatment of chronic illness: developing an integrated program and evaluating its effectiveness. Altern Ther Health Med. 1999;5:36-44.

Note: This information was reprinted from the American Cancer Society's Guide to Complementary and Alternative Methods. Copyright(c)2000, American Cancer Society. This information may not cover all possible claims, uses, actions, precautions, side effects or interactions, is not intended as medical advice, and should not be relied upon as a substitute for consultation with your doctor who is familiar with your medical needs.

Source: American Cancer Society website

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