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What is Naturopathic Medicine?
Do you seek natural and non-toxic solutions for your health problems? Do you want to resolve the underlying causes and get to the root of the issue rather than just temporarily treating the symptoms? Do you believe that healthy living on a daily basis is the best “cure”? Then naturopathic medicine is for you! Many people may be living their lives and seeking care based on naturopathic principles and not even know it. In fact, I’ve long been interested in natural health and well-being and didn’t know about naturopathic medicine until not too long ago.
Naturopathic medicine is a system of primary health care that emphasizes prevention of disease and the healing power of nature through therapies such as nutrition, counseling, botanical medicine and physical medicine — it is focused on identifying and treating the underlying causes of disease, encouraging the body’s natural ability to heal, treating the whole person and educating patients about their own health. According to the Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical colleges, naturopathic medicine “utilizes the most natural, least invasive and least toxic therapies to treat illness and to promote wellness by viewing the body as an integrated whole” and “above all, it honors the body’s innate wisdom to heal.” Naturopathic medicine is science-based and blends current research on health and human systems with centuries-old wisdom of successful natural healing practices.
Naturopathic doctors (referred to as NDs) are primary health care practitioners and are trained in conventional tools of medical diagnosis as well as in the use of natural therapies (see below for more detail on the training that naturopathic doctors receive).
In practice, NDs perform physical examinations, laboratory assessments, gynecological exams, nutritional and dietary assessments, metabolic analysis, allergy testing, and use a detailed medical and social history that may also include sleep patterns and patient stressors to form a holistic diagnosis.
Therapeutic modalities used by NDs (described in more detail below) include physical manipulation, nutrient therapies (vitamin/mineral supplements – often referred to as orthomolecular medicine), botanical / herbal medicine, homeopathy, hydrotherapy, bio-identical hormone therapy and counseling – and an ND may recommend changes in diet, lifestyle and exercise and other mind-body therapies as well.
According to the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians, NDs treat all medical conditions but conditions that are commonly and effectively treated include, but are not limited to, asthma and respiratory conditions, allergies, chronic pain, digestive and gastrointestinal issues, fatigue, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hormone imbalance, endocrine issues, cancer, migraines, depression, anxiety, autoimmune disease, and gynecological issues.
The principles of naturopathic medicine were first used by the Hippocratic School of Medicine in about 400B.C. The Greek philosopher Hippocrates believed in viewing the whole person in regards to finding a cause of disease, and using the laws of nature to induce cure. It was from this original school of thought that naturopathic medicine takes its core guiding principles. Naturopathic medicine looks at health from a holistic perspective where every system is interconnected – body, mind and spirit. The six principles that are at the heart of the naturopathic philosophy are:
The Healing Power of Nature
Vis Medicatrix Naturae
The body has an inherent ability to heal itself. The physician’s role is to facilitate and augment the body’s healing process and to identify and remove obstacles in its way.
First Do No Harm
Primum Non Nocere
The goal of the doctor is to use the most natural, least invasive and least toxic methods and medicines first in order to minimize the risk of unnecessary and/or harmful side effects. The more gentle and least invasive the therapy, the less disruptive it is to the patient on the whole. Along with this idea is that symptoms are signs of the body’s attempt to heal, so the physician should avoid or minimize therapies that just suppress the symptoms rather than removing underlying causes.
Identify and Treat the Cause, Not Just the Effect
The goal of the doctor is to identify, address and treat the underlying cause of illness rather than only treating or suppressing symptoms. Symptoms are signals the body is out of balance and is attempting to heal, but symptoms are not the cause of disease. When only symptoms are treated, the underlying cause remains. Finding and treating the cause of an ailment can prevent more serious, chronic conditions and help the patient reach an overall state of health – not just absence of disease. Causes may occur on many levels, including physical, mental-emotional, and spiritual. The physician’s goal is to evaluate fundamental underlying causes on all levels, directing treatment at root causes as well as seeking relief of symptoms.
Doctor as Teacher
Beyond an accurate diagnosis and appropriate prescription, the physician’s goal is to work to create a healthy, sensitive interpersonal relationship with the patient. A cooperative and sensitive doctor–patient relationship has inherent therapeutic value. The doctor is a facilitator in the patient’s healing process with responsibility to educate, encourage, and empower the patient in taking steps to achieving and maintaining optimal health. In other words, the goal of the physician is not only to help the patient understand their individual condition but also to help them understand their role in their own healing to achieve long-term optimal health. The physician must strive to inspire hope as well as understanding.
Treat the Whole Person
Health and disease are conditions that involve a complex interaction of physical, spiritual, mental, emotional, genetic, environmental, and social factors. For example, emotional factors can affect an individual’s physical well-being. The goal of the physician is to treat the whole person as an individual with unique circumstances and to take all of these factors into account. The harmonious functioning of all aspects of the individual is essential to recovery from and prevention of disease, and requires a personalized and comprehensive approach to diagnosis and treatment.
Prevention is the Best “Cure”
The goal of the doctor is to promote wellness and prevent disease by assessing risk factors and susceptibility to disease and making appropriate interventions to prevent illness. Health is a reflection of how we choose to live. The doctor’s goal is to help patients recognize how their choices affect health. Preventing disease before it happens is the easiest way to keep patients healthy!
- Physical Medicine and Hydrotherapy: Naturopathic medicine has its own methods of therapeutic manipulation of soft tissue, muscles, bones, and spine. NDs also use ultrasound, diathermy, exercise, massage, and gentle electrical therapies. Hydrotherapy is the applications of hot and cold water to stimulate blood flow, lymphatic drainage and the immune system. These treatments are simple, but often highly effective.
- Botanical Medicine: Medicinal plants have been used as food and medicine by peoples around the world for thousands of years, and many plant substances have powerful healing properties. Many pharmaceutical drugs actually have their origins in plant substances. NDs learn how to use plants as medicine including extraction principles, dosage considerations, interactions, clinical applications and treatment regimens for their healing effects and nutritional value. When properly utilized, most botanical medicines can be applied effectively with minimal likelihood of side effects.
- Pharmacology: Naturopathic doctors are trained to use conventional drugs when necessary as well as drug interactions and side effects.
- Clinical Nutrition: Food is the best medicine and adopting a healthy diet is often the first step towards correcting many health problems. Many medical conditions can be treated more effectively with foods and nutritional supplements than they can by other means, with fewer complications and side effects. NDs use specific nutrition planning and nutritional supplementation with their patients.
- Homeopathic Medicine: Homeopathic medicine is based on the principle of “like cures like.” Homeopathic medicines are very small doses of natural substances that can stimulate the body’s self-healing response without side effects. Some conditions for which conventional medicine has no effective treatments will respond well to homeopathy.
- Mind/Body Medicine, Lifestyle Counseling and Stress Management: Mental attitudes and emotional states may influence, or even cause, physical illness. NDs are trained in counseling, nutritional balancing, stress management, hypnotherapy and biofeedback. They also attend to environmental and lifestyle factors that affect their patients’ health and to help them heal psychologically.
- Minor Surgery: Naturopathic physicians perform in–office minor surgery, including repair of superficial wounds and removal of foreign bodies, cysts, warts and superficial lesions with local anesthesia.
- Naturopathic Obstetrics, Midwifery, & Natural Childbirth:Naturopathic physicians who have additional specialty training provide natural childbirth care in an out–of–hospital setting. They offer prenatal and postnatal care using modern diagnostic techniques combined with ancient midwifery wisdom. The naturopathic approach strengthens healthy body functions so that complications associated with pregnancy may be prevented.
- Oriental Medicine:Naturopathic doctors are trained in the fundamentals of oriental medicine and diagnosis. Oriental medicine is a healing philosophy that is complementary to naturopathic medicine and adds to the Western understanding of physiology. Some NDs complete extra training to be licensed to use acupuncture, acupressure, and Chinese herbal medicine.
What type of training do naturopathic doctors receive?
Naturopathic doctors attend a four-year naturopathic medical school, are clinically trained, and work in all aspects of family health — from pediatric to geriatric care.
Most NDs provide primary care through office-based private practice. Because NDs view natural remedies as complementary as well as primary, they cooperate with other medical professionals, referring patients to (and receiving patients from) conventional medical doctors, surgeons and other specialists when appropriate.
How is naturopathic medicine similar to, and different from, conventional medicine?
Licensed NDs are educated in all of the same basic sciences as a medical doctor (MD) and use the Western medical sciences as a foundation for diagnosis and treatment. Just like MDs, NDs must pass rigorous professional board exams before they can be licensed by a state or jurisdiction. And, for at least the final two years of the medical program, naturopathic medical students intern in clinical settings under the close supervision of licensed professionals.
NDs, however, also study holistic approaches to therapy with a strong emphasis on disease prevention and optimizing wellness. In addition to a standard medical curriculum, NDs are trained in clinical nutrition, homeopathic medicine, botanical medicine, psychology, physical medicine and counseling.
The scope of practice of NDs varies by jurisdiction and is specifically defined by the legislation in the various states and provinces that license or regulate naturopathic medicine, and practice varies significantly among states, provinces, and countries. (See a list of the states, provinces and territories that license NDs).
California Practice: In California, NDs have a broad scope of practice and are licensed as primary care doctors. NDs can diagnose, order lab and imaging tests, and treat illness with natural therapies. NDs can also prescribe all hormones independently and can prescribe many other drugs under the supervision of an MD or doctor of osteopathic medicine. This makes integrative health clinics a common and very practical arrangement for patients – providing the most integrative care.
Please note that I am a student and not a doctor. Although I share information believed to be relevant to your health, it is not intended to be medical advice. The naturopathic philosophy emphasizes that every person is unique and should receive individualized treatment specific to their condition, lifestyle, and issue. If you would like to find a naturopathic doctor in your area, please click here.
Wishing you the best of health!
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I'm Stephanie and I'm on a mission to spread awareness about health-harming toxins in our daily lives and easy ways to reduce them. I believe that healthy living doesn't have to be hard and that we can all take simple steps to create healthier lives for ourselves, our families and future generations. If you're seeking simple solutions for toxin-free and natural living in the modern world, then you’re in the right place!
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