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Natural Awakenings Charlotte

'Pura Vida’ in the Charlotte Area

Aug 03, 2020 06:07PM ● By Shannon Mc Kenzie

Michael Smith, ND, founded Carolinas Natural Health Center in 2005, a practice dedicated to treating the root cause of health issues through naturopathic medicine and homeopathic remedies. Natural Awakenings caught up with Dr. Smith for a late summer interview, focusing on the time he and his family lived abroad.


NA: We were excited to learn that you and your family moved to Costa Rica for a period of time years ago. What drove your decision to move to Costa Rica? How long did you live there? What happened with Carolinas Natural Health Center while you were gone?

MS: I really did it for my kids. I had lived in other countries at different times in my life and I knew the value of this on my own personal growth and perspective, and I wanted my kids to have that experience. We chose Costa Rica because of its proximity to the U.S., and because we had heard many great things about living there. The specific region we chose was a Blue Zone (one of five areas in the world that has the highest population of centenarians). Longevity and quality of life is something that has always interested me. I did a lot of research into how to make a move like this with a family, interviewed other families and read different books and resources. I discovered that there is a whole population of families that move to a different country for a year or more to get out of the rat race of their lives and give their kids a different experience.

We decided to go for one year. I kept Carolinas Natural Health Center going by bringing on a full-time doctor, and I also did virtual appointments from Costa Rica. 

I found it was a lot easier to make this move than most people think. We prepared for our year in advance by using cash for all expenses, setting a budget for only the essentials and downsizing to one car. This is how we saved enough money to survive the year away. 


NA: Did you practice as a naturopathic physician while in Costa Rica? If not, what did you do 

 while there?

MS: My intention was not to start an extension practice; however, I did practice with virtual appointments for my existing patients back home. Once people learned what I did, there were many who wanted my help with their health, and I was happy to offer it. 

I did try to learn to surf and speak Spanish, but I can’t say I was very successful at either.


NA: When you did return to North Carolina, do you remember any observations of how different things are here versus in Costa Rica? 

MS: Yes! People are stressed here and over smaller issues. In Costa Rica, the country motto is Pura Vida - which translates to pure life. It is used as a greeting, or to mean everything is good, don’t worry. The Ticos (Costa Rican natives) truly embody this philosophy. When faced with a problem or challenge, Costa Ricans use the tools at their disposal to find a solution. It may mean relying on the help of friends, strangers and/or passersby. For example, during the rainy season a tree fell across the road. When I came to a stop in traffic I joined the other stopped drivers with machetes and hacked away at the tree. If I were here, I would have waited for the tree to be moved by a crew of professionals. It made me see the value of figuring out solutions to problems, and while there are reasons here, such as liability, we are more sheltered from solving problems and I think that adds to stress.

I also realized that our food is not fresh. In Costa Rica we would go to the market almost daily to get fresh fruits and vegetables and what you didn’t eat within a couple of days would spoil. It made me realize how reliant we are on chemicals in the U.S. to preserve produce to make them last for weeks and look pretty on a store shelf. We also pick our food before it ripens. I loved the access we had to fresh produce year round, all ripe and full of flavor and nutrients. It is so important to our health to eat local, fresh and ripe foods.

We also walked a lot, were outdoors everyday, constantly active and surrounded by fruit trees and food growing all around us. I felt so much more in touch with the Earth than I had in the U.S., and I do think that our more sedentary lives disconnected from nature along with the lack of natural healthy foods is a significant cause of chronic diseases and illnesses. 


NA: Your website indicates your major goal is getting to the root cause of your patients’ medical issues. Did your time abroad affect your approach to getting to the root cause?

MS: Yes, it absolutely did. Since returning from Costa Rica five years ago, I have completely revamped how our practice engages with people. We spend time to educate on the problems of our societal approach (or lack thereof) to health. Each patient receives a comprehensive program based on their health concerns and goals that includes the tools, education, resources, coaching and support needed to help them not only address the root causes of their health issues, but to provide them with health independence for the rest of their lives. Our programs and approach focuses on real lifestyle change that produces long lasting results and we have found this approach to help people in a profound way. The greatest joy I get every week is to see people get their health and lives back; engage in family and relationships at a deeper level, pursue greater life purpose again and inspire others around them to lead healthier lives.

I think, as a nation, we have become so reliant on drugs and medications that don’t actually fix the underlying issue, that it is more vital than ever that people know there is a way they can really reverse their disease process and regain health.


Carolinas Natural Health Center is located at 1114 Sam Newell Rd., Ste. A, in Matthews. For more information or to register for an information session, call 704-708-4404, email [email protected] or visit

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