Dr. Tieraona Low Dog, Integrative Medical Doctor, on Navigating Your Path to Wellness

Elizabeth Marglin

by | Read time: 8 minutes

Dr. Low Dog’s extensive career in studying herbal medicine and its role in modern health care began more than 35 years ago. After extensive experience with botanicals, massage therapy, midwifery and martial arts she went on to receive her Doctor of Medicine degree from the New Mexico School of Medicine.

Serene Setting of Lake, Mountains and Forest with Dock and Boat in Foreground | Vitacost.com/blog

Just a few of her many notable milestones include: She has been an invited speaker to more than 550 scientific/medical conferences, published 54 peer-reviewed articles, written 24 chapters for medical textbooks and has authored five books, including three National Geographic books: “Fortify Your Life,” “Healthy at Home” and “Life is Your Best Medicine.” At the request of former President Bill Clinton, she served on the White House Commission of Complementary and Alternative Medicine Policy. She has appeared on CNN, ABC’s 20/20, and is a frequent guest on the Dr. Oz show and NPR’s The People’s Pharmacy.

Dr. Low Dog is recognized globally as an expert in herbal medicine, women’s health and natural medicine. A recent stage four cancer survivor, she advocates for compassionate, effective and environmentally conscious health care. She is the founding director of Medicine Lodge Ranch located in the heart of New Mexico’s Santa Fe National Forest, a natural medicine school for clinicians and health enthusiasts.

This inspiring interview with. Dr. Low Dog opened our eyes to the blind spots of both conventional and alternative medicine. Here are her insights for navigating a path to wellness that is simultaneously honest, meaningful and authentic.

Dr. Tieraona Low Dog -  Integrative Medicine Doctor & Chief Medical Advisor at MegaFood | Vitacost.com/blogVitacost: How did your parents influence you?

Dr. Low Dog: My parents/grandparents gave me a lot of freedom when I was growing up. As I got older, I was given more responsibility and with that came more freedom. Freedom to play, explore, take risks, succeed and fail. The only thing more powerful than the feeling of being free was the unshakable knowledge that I was loved. 

Vitacost: What are your biggest obstacles and how do you master them?

Dr. Low Dog: Saying yes to too many things. Every time I say “yes” to something, I have to remember that I am saying “no” to a hundred other things. Time is the most precious thing I have. These days I try to ask myself, “how much of my life am I willing to give for this?” While I’m getting better, I’ve not “mastered” this yet.

Vitacost: What was the biggest learning you had from your experience with cancer?

Dr. Low Dog: Cancer was the most demanding teacher I have ever encountered. Through her, my heart grew softer. I let go of perfection. I let go of wanting to control the future. I learned what contentment feels like. I let my faith completely envelop me.

Vitacost: What do you attribute your cancer resilience too?

Dr. Low Dog: Grace. Faith. My Creator. Luck. Love. Living deep in a mountain forest.

Vitacost: What’s driving the rise of chronic disease?

Dr. Low Dog: Our modern lifestyle. Our technological prowess has been a blessing and a curse. We grow more food than our predecessors could have imagined. But we are drowning in calories and obesity, while starving for nutrient-dense food. More than 80 million Americans have no regular physical activity. We live isolated in our apartments and homes, longing for intimacy and connection. We medicate our pain, sadness and anxiety. There are chemicals in the environment seeping into our blood and bones, altering our DNA, the very blueprint of life. We know some diseases that occur later in life have their ‘roots’ in the womb. Babies are born with 200 plus chemicals surging through their bodies. Healthy babies cannot be born without healthy parents.

And yet, if we step back, we know that we can choose something different, both individually and collectively. We can choose to eat whole foods, support organic and regenerative agriculture, keep a “green” home, go for walks, take our kids/pets to the park, invite neighbors or coworkers over for dinner or a game of cards, spend some time away from smartphones and computers, find healthy ways to manage our stress, and nurture our spirit. The search for meaning and purpose is a fundamental part of being human. A richly nourished inner life is a source of strength during hard times.

Vitacost: What is one of the biggest health issues facing women?

Dr. Low Dog: Although women are often exposed to recommendations for improving our reproductive health, women’s health is far broader than our reproductive transitions (e.g., menarche, pregnancy, menopause, postmenopause). Women are disproportionately affected by autoimmune disorders, depression, anxiety, stress-related conditions, migraines, bladder issues, fibromyalgia and osteoporosis, to name just a few. Some of us have concerns about, or have personally experienced, heart disease, diabetes or cancer, particularly breast, ovarian and colon cancer.

Women’s health addresses all aspects of a woman’s wellbeing. Partnering with a health professional(s) who can help us sort through our care options is important.  But all women can empower themselves to find deeper health through choosing a whole foods diet, getting regular exercise, proper supplementation, adequate rest, strengthening healthy relationships and nurturing those parts of ourselves that give rise to our creativity, strength and wisdom.

Vitacost: What is one of the most glaring blind spots of conventional medicine?  Complementary medicine?

Dr. Low Dog: Modern conventional medicine was born out of infectious disease and trauma. And it excels at both. But much of what burdens humanity today is chronic disease, many of which have their roots in the way we live. The “pill for every ill” and one size fits all approach to treatment is proving insufficient to meet the troubles of 21st century America. There are reasons to be optimistic, however.  Scientists are gaining insight in how we can prevent and treat disease based upon an individual’s unique genetic makeup, increasing effectiveness while reducing side effects.

As for complementary medicine, the modalities and professionals that practice/deliver them, have been shown to help people feel a greater sense of control over their health. Millions of people find benefit from seeing their massage therapist, acupuncturist, or attending a yoga class. Herbal remedies that have been used for thousands of years are now being supported by randomized controlled trials. But there is noise and confusion in the field. Outrageous claims for some exotic treatment or cancer cure the FDA doesn’t want anyone to know about. Consumers, and we are all consumers, must do their homework to make informed choices for themselves and their families.  Choose brands, products and practitioners that use the evidence, both scientific and traditional, in a way that is honest, meaningful, and authentic.

Vitacost: What’s the best way to sort through and suss out all the health information presented through the press and media?

Dr. Low Dog:Don’t become consumed by the chatter and the trends.  Instead, know what your body needs to feel its best. Use common sense. We will always be exposed to the new this and the trendy that, but it is far more important to uncover what works best for you as a unique individual rather than follow the crowd.

Vitacost: How do you change the quick fix mindset?

Dr. Low Dog: By remembering that life is a marathon, not a sprint. Anyone who has ever done sports knows that it takes practice, lots and lots of practice, to be a good athlete. It doesn’t happen overnight. Health is not a destination. You don’t suddenly “arrive.” Health is a resource that you nurture by striving to make more healthy than unhealthy choices. You can start anytime. It’s never too late.

Vitacost:How do we become more empowered about our health?

Dr. Low Dog: By being informed consumers. By being responsible for our choices. By owning our health.

Vitacost: What’s the role of nutrition and supplements in health?

Dr. Low Dog: Nutrition and proper supplementation are important when it comes to our health. Eating clean foods that are nutrient-dense, while limiting foods that drive inflammation and insulin resistance, should be the foundation. That means incorporating healthy proteins and fats in the diet while limiting sugary/high carb foods and beverages.

But no matter how hard we try to eat well, there can be gaps in our diet. Vitamin D is hard to get in food. Menstruating women are often low in iron. Women who are planning on conceiving, or are pregnant, need adequate folate, iodine, iron and choline. People over age 50 and those taking medications like metformin or proton pump inhibitors need additional vitamin B12.  I recommend a multivitamin for both men and women as a simple way to avoid nutrient gaps. From there, a few of my top recommendations for supplements include vitamin D, magnesium, probiotics, turmeric and omega 3 fatty acids.

Vitacost: How can I make sure that I’m buying a quality supplement?

Dr. Low Dog: It is important for consumers to look at ingredients and know exactly what they are consuming. Are the ingredients listed those you recognize? Does the product boast certifications and seals that further validate its quality? MegaFood®  is the first vitamin and supplement brand to secure Glyphosate Residue Free Certification by The Detox Project for every single product in its line. Glyphosate is an herbicide deemed to be a human carcinogen. I prefer vitamins and minerals based in whole foods when supplementing, as well as purchasing from companies that put as much effort into the quality and sourcing of their ingredients as they do their bottom line.

Vitacost: You have said that the Aramaic word for forgive, literally means to “untie.” Forgiveness is what frees us from the ties that bind us to our pain and suffering. We must forgive to free ourselves from being tangled up in old wrongs. How do our emotional knots—such as resentment, anger, powerlessness—affect our health?

Dr. Low Dog: Many health conditions can be the cause, or result, of prolonged stress or hurt. Many of us carry the weight of abandonment, rejection, shame, loss, anger and sadness. Unresolved conflicts and disappointments can take a tremendous toll on our health, altering our biochemistry and metabolism. If left unattended, these negative emotions can increase our risk for depression, insomnia, heart disease, weight gain, chronic pain, headaches, diabetes and more. Sometimes the hurt is buried so deep, we don’t even know it’s there. We don’t know it could be making us sick or keeping us from getting better.

If you are holding on to old resentments, talk to someone you trust. Don’t keep things bottled up. Forgiveness is a process. Over time you will find yourself blaming the person less often, taking away his/her power to hurt you. Forgiveness is a choice. We choose to let go. We choose to move on. And often, the person we need to forgive first is the one looking back at us in the mirror. Be tender with your evolving soul.

This statement has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent disease.