Updated: Apr 26
This is an exciting time for medicine and health care in general. With more of a spotlight being shown on complementary and alternative medicine, society is becoming more aware of the options available for treating illness.
Although the use of complementary and alternative care in the US is on the rise, many people haven't heard of one of the most comprehensive systems of medicine that there is: naturopathic medicine.
What is naturopathic medicine?
Naturopathic medicine is a century year old system of medicine founded on the belief of the "healing power of nature" championed by Hippocrates over 2400 years ago.
The first school of naturopathy was founded by Benedict Lust with it's first class graduating in 1902. Naturopathic medicine has been practiced in the United States with varying levels of popularity ever since.
Well that's great but what does naturopathic medicine actually do and why do I need it? I'm glad you asked. As stated above, naturopathic medicine is founded on a number of principles, the chief of which being: the healing power of nature.
What does that mean, you ask?
Well think back to when you were a child and you fell and scraped your knee or when you last had a paper cut. Is your knee still bloodied and bruised?
Are you still wearing a band-aid for your painful paper cut? The majority of us would say no.
Why? The healing power of nature, that's why.
The Healing Power of Nature
What naturopathic doctors usually mean by the healing power of nature is that the body has the ability to heal itself given optimal conditions with little to no conscious effort on our part. When you fall and scrape your knee, you don't have to consciously tell your fibrin (a protein involved in clotting blood) to create a blood clot or your fibroblasts to contract your wound. The body does this on it's own without any effort on your part.
This is the healing power of nature. It the naturopathic doctor's job to remove whatever is impeding your body's own healing abilities to allow the body to heal itself.
Another key principle of naturopathic medicine is to identify and treat the root cause.
Root Cause Medicine
No one likes feeling bad and if you go to a doctor with a headache you'd be grateful to leave with a prescription that promises relief but what happens when you only address the symptom of the headache without trying to find out the cause of the headache in the first place?
A lifetime of medication with possible side effects.
The goal of naturopathic medicine is to find out what is causing the symptoms and remove it.
This will get rid of your symptoms safely and permanently. Sometimes this can't be done but more often than not, it can.
So back to our headache example, if you were suffering from headaches and you went to a naturopathic doctor, he would do a thorough intake (often up to 2 hours) to find out about you. Your lifestyle, diet, stress, family and personal history, among many other factors, will be addressed in this visit.
At the end of the visit, he might tell you to have a protein snack in the afternoon because your blood sugar levels are low which causes your headache or he might refer you out to a neurologist for advanced imaging. It all depends on your unique symptoms and personal history.
One of the biggest principles that guides naturopathic medicine is first do no harm.
First Do No Harm
Naturopathic medicine is designed to be safe, gentle, and effective. Naturopathic doctors are trained to use the most effective method with the least amount of force for the greatest amount of healing.
This means that lifestyle changes are prioritized over pharmaceuticals (in states where naturopathic doctors can prescribe).
That's not to say that medication is never warranted. If you are having a hypertensive crisis and your blood pressure is extremely high, a naturopathic doctor won't hesitate to send you to the emergency room and would support the use of medication to manage your blood pressure.
The goal of the naturopathic doctor is to do her best to help you live life to the fullest which may allow you to reduce or discontinue that blood pressure medication once you have implemented successful lifestyle and diet changes (never stop taking your medication without first speaking with your health care provider).
Another tenant of naturopathic medicine is doctor as teacher.
Doctor as Teacher
Naturopathic doctors believe in education, education, education! Have you ever been to a health care practitioner, received a prescription, and walked out totally confused?
This is the complete opposite of what you can expect with a visit to a naturopathic doctor. Naturopathic doctors take the time (up to 2 hours for a first patient visit) to talk to you and let you know why we have chosen a certain modality for your condition.
We also help you to understand the pathology behind your condition, basically how your body is being affected by your condition, and how you can expect to start healing based on our recommendations. Yes, explaining all of this takes a long time and for some patients it might not be worth it, but naturopathic doctors believe that knowledge is power and we want to empower you to live your best life possible.
Naturopathic medicine also follows the tenant of treating the whole person.
Treat the Whole Person
We understand that you are not just your painful arthritic knee or your fibromyalgia diagnosis. We know that you aren't your depression. We know that autism isn't your son who just had another meltdown for the 10th time today.
People get sick. They don't become their illness.
The naturopathic doctor's job is to make sure that you are functioning as best as possible on all levels: mind, body, and spirit. If you don't believe in a soul or spirit, you can think of it as the psychosocial/emotional components of what makes us human.
One of the best analogies I remember from my naturopathic medical school days is the three-legged stool. If you cut just one leg off of the stool, then it wouldn't stand properly, if at all. It's the same with us. As human beings, we need to be sure that we are cared for in all of our spheres and the naturopathic doctor strives to do that.
The last principle that naturopathic medicine is founded on is prevention.
You've heard the old saying that pound of cure is worth an ounce of prevention right? I couldn't agree more.
Why waste your time and resources trying to cure or manage your disease, when you can prevent it in the first place? Chronic illness in the United States is at an alarmingly high rate.
The CDC estimates that about 50% of adults have one or more chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, arthritis and obesity .
While this statistic may be disheartening, there is hope with naturopathic medicine.
Naturopathic doctors work hard to identify and remove risk factors in your life so that illness doesn't ever develop.
For example, if you have a family history of diabetes and you eat high calorie nutrient poor sugary foods for the majority of your meals, there is a high chance that you may end up developing diabetes.
A visit to a naturopathic doctor would not only advise you of your risk and encourage you to have better eating habits, you would actually be educated on what to eat, when to eat it, how often you should eat, and perhaps even tips and supplements to help curb the sugar cravings. You would also get tips on exercise and stress management as well.
Naturopathic care is comprehensive in it's treatment of the patient. It's no wonder that of the 10 healthiest states in the USA, 9 have licensed naturopathic doctors .
So why do I need naturopathic medicine?
You need naturopathic medicine, if you're frustrated, tired and ready for a change.
You need naturopathic medicine so that you can become empowered to change your life.
Naturopathic medicine will help you get to a place in your health journey that you may never even considered or thought possible.
If you are suffering from a chronic condition and you want a change, consider going to a naturopathic doctor.
You certainly won't regret it.
To find a naturopathic doctor near you go to the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians.
1."Chronic Disease Overview | Publications | Chronic Disease Prevention And Health Promotion | CDC". Cdc.gov. N.p., 2017.
2."Explore Health Measures In The United States | 2016 Annual Report". America's Health Rankings. N.p., 2017.