As a teenager, Queen Afua, then named Helen Robinson, suffered from poor health that mirrored someone decades older than herself—debilitating PMS, head-to-toe eczema, chronic asthma and arthritis in one shoulder. She visited numerous doctors and took prescribed medications, but nothing helped.

“By the time I turned 17, I was chronically sick,” she recalls “I knew I couldn’t live like this and have a long healthy life. At that point something had to give.”

Did it ever. Today, the 55-year-old Afua is more than healthy—she’s an internationally renowned healer with a thriving practice in Brooklyn.

She traces her path to wellness back to her late teens when she reluctantly took a friend’s advice and went on a weekend retreat that used complementary and alternative methods (CAM) such as meditation, taking herbs and healthy eating to heal the body. During the retreat, which was held in the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York, Afua was introduced to a new way of living and thinking; she attended workshops led by herbologist John E. Moore and read books about detoxing.

She then had a moment of clarity. “I had a choice to be well or continue living with all of these issues,” she recalls. An inner voice urged her to eat just grapefruits, lemons and oranges. Later she learned that citrus is effective in breaking down mucus and toxins in the body.

Inspired by her two-day excursion, Afua did intensive research on holistic health and began applying the findings into her daily routine. She ate only unprocessed foods such as raw vegetables, drank fruit and vegetable juices and added herbs such as mullein and eucalyptus to her diet. She realized that her menstrual issues were related to consuming dairy products and the eczema to her love for fast food—in short, what she ate could be used as medicine.

In about two months, she was rid of her ailments. “I once felt disempowered and weak—I didn’t know there was an alternative,” she recalls. “When an [asthma] attack happens and you can hardly walk and stand, and then all of a sudden you eat fruits and vegetables and all those things are no longer an issue, that’s powerful. When you can breathe, it’s very powerful.

“This was a miracle,” Afua continues, “and I told myself that if I can heal myself, anybody can heal.” Her mother agreed. Once she noticed her daughter’s healthful transformation, she encouraged Afua to become a certified holistic health consultant.

In 1982, she opened Queen Afua’s Wellness Institute in Brooklyn where she currently offers colonics, overall health consultations and wellness workshops. She has since become a colon therapist, polarity practitioner, hatha yoga instructor, lay midwife and fasting specialist.

As testimony to her reputation for healing, people with a variety of illnesses—breast and prostate cancer patients and those suffering from fibroid tumors, obesity and diabetes—travel from all over the country and even from the Caribbean to seek her help.

To reap the benefits of Afua’s work, you don’t have to be afflicted with a serious ailment. Nneka Jeffers became a client after Jeffers’s aunt, who had liver problems, suggested she receive a colonic—a procedure that flushes out waste from the colon. “At first, my sister and I were like, ‘Oh boy here she goes with another one of her health kicks,’” says Jeffers, laughing.

But she tried it, immediately saw a difference and was hooked. Shortly afterward—near her third visit in August 2007—Jeffers decided to make permanent changes in her life. “Around that time my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer, and that was what really inspired me to take better care of my body, mind and spirit,” the Brooklyn native told Real Health. Afua gave her a consultation and advised that she incorporate more live foods into her diet, cut out all meat and do a 21-day cleanse.

“I felt like I was given a healthy new start,” Jeffers says. “Now I’m more disciplined in my diet and I can maximize my life’s potential.”

Michelle Anderson discovered Afua’s work while browsing at the Shrine of Madonna bookstore in Detroit. Although she doesn’t have any health issues of her own, Anderson’s mother suffered from uterine fibroids that caused her to experience heavy vaginal bleeding.

Wanting to take steps to avoid her mother’s situation, Anderson decided to try Queen Afua’s tips on womb wellness. She ended up learning a lot more—and altered some parts of her lifestyle. “[Afua] has taught me to be really ingredient conscious and to pay close attention to what I’m eating,” says Anderson, who has since become a vegetarian and eliminated high fructose corn syrup and bleached flour products from her diet.

Like Afua, Jeffers and Anderson, more Americans are discovering CAM. According to a recent report conducted by the National Institutes of Health and the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 12 percent of children (17 and under) and 38 percent of adults are using CAM methods to treat a wide range of health issues in 2007. This is up 2 percent since 2002.

Despite CAM becoming trendier among Americans, however, Afua recognizes that people are still uncomfortable about the unknown. To ease those fears, she is currently collaborating with Brooklyn-based Bernadette Sheridan, MD, on a 12-week research study in which 50 participants will receive a wellness profile from Afua. Sheridan will record and analyze the findings in order to discern whether Afua’s practices are effective.

For Afua, self-optimized health is attainable, but she understands how overwhelming and difficult it can be to maintain. She offers simple advice on getting motivated: “Get three or four loved ones together, meet once a week over the phone, or have weekly potlucks, with everyone bringing a healthy dish,” she advises, pointing out that: “Just as much as we can spread disease, we can also spread wellness.”

But Afua is clear: Healing others means starting with yourself first. “Be a living example of someone who takes responsibility for their health and you may encourage others,” she says. “Your health is your wealth.”

Want to learn more? Read Afua’s books Sacred Woman: A Guide to Healing the Feminine Body, Mind and Spirit and Heal Thyself for Health and Longevity. Also, read RH’s "The New Medicine Chest."

Real Health understands that although alternative therapies are widely used, they are not for everyone. While there is anecdotal evidence that alternative therapies are effective for some people, we do not know of any scientific studies establishing that these treatments are or are not effective. If you are interested in adding herbs or other supplements into your diet, please speak with your health care provider and/or pharmacist about any possible drug interactions.