Tieraona Low Dog, MD, has blended her background in midwifery, massage and herbalism with her subsequent medical degree to become an integrative medicine leader serving on national committees and as director of the fellowship at the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine founded by Andrew Weil, MD.
Natural Foods Merchandiser: How do you describe your work to the uninitiated?
Tieraona Low Dog, MD: I am a physician and teacher, though I see myself primarily as a teacher—whether that’s conveying information to patients in my office, to people at a conference, or to medical students, residents or our fellows. I see myself as a conduit for the sharing of knowledge of conventional, complementary and integrative medicine in way that is easily understood.
I believe that my background has better enabled me to do this. I studied midwifery and attended massage school in the late 1970s; ran an herbal company, school and clinic; served as the president of the American Herbalist Guild; and earned the rank of third-degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do—all before going to medical school. It gave me a different perspective than many of the 22-year-olds who’d gone straight from high school to college and then medical school. For all my scientific and medical training, my roots are deep within the green, organic, local and bio-regional movement.
NFM: Your book Life Is Your Best Medicine comes out in September. Who should read your book and why?
TLD: National Geographic asked me to write a book for the consumer audience after I worked with the company on The Guide to Medicinal Herbs. I reflected on that for a while: What do I have to say? What do I know? How would I say it? I thought if I was going to share anything, I’d want to share a little bit about my own life and then I’d want to take the three areas that I think are important to living a rich and meaningful life. The first part of the book is called “The Medicine of My Life,” which is really about what has happened in my life that led me to where I am today; the wonderful, joyful, hard and painful things. Then the book is divided into three sections: “Honoring the Body;” “Awakening the Senses;” and “Listening to Spirit.” These are the doorways that allow us to step fully into our lives, taking responsibility for ourselves, our health and our well-being.
NFM: What do you hope natural foods retailers will take away from your presentation?
TLD: I want to give them information they can use; but more than that, I want them to leave feeling as if they were personally touched. Allowing ourselves to be open, to lean in and listen, to be willing to shift ever so slightly—that’s when the magic happens. That’s when we can go back into our personal, professional and business lives and see things from a slightly different angle. It is my hope that people will leave feeling informed and inspired.
NFM: What do consumers need from the natural products industry?
TLD: Consumers need to continue to have access to high-quality foods. They have the right to know where that food has come from, what is in it and how it was grown. While it’s important that it be sustainable, I would say that it is time to move beyond sustainable; it implies on some level the status quo. I am far more interested in supporting companies and businesses that are moving beyond sustainable to be life giving, life enhancing, regenerative. I would like to think that this is where our field, our industry, our community is going. For many decades, the natural products community has promoted a way of living and doing business that is softer to the Earth. We all leave footprints, but we must be thoughtful where our footprints are taking us.
NFM: What trends do you see that retailers should be aware of right now?
TLD: I definitely believe that there will continue to be a growing interest in organic and natural products. As baby boomers age, they are looking for ways to maintain their fitness as they get older. Many are concerned about the numbers of medications being offered to them and are interested in a more holistic approach. But it’s also the young people [fueling this trend]. Many are doing yoga, going vegetarian, taking supplements, meditating ... it’s great. There is a tremendous interest in work-life balance—a recognition that there is more to life than climbing the corporate ladder.
Even with the Internet, people will continue to seek out places where they can feel part of a community. This is a great way for retailers to expand their role as promoters of well-being. Their stores could act as a wellness hub, a place where health and lifestyle coaches, nutritionists, dietitians, and other clinicians can come together to hold cooking classes, conduct shopping tours, offer integrative health fairs and many other strategies to enhance the health of their communities. We all need to be engaged, whether at the local, regional, state or national level. And natural products retailers could expand their role as promoters of well-being. I don’t think real change will happen without a broader way of thinking about health. Access is important, yes; but access to more of the same isn’t going to stem the tide of chronic disease in this country. We’ve spent billions of dollars unraveling the human genome, and we still can’t figure out a way to get people moving or eating a nutritious diet.