Naturopathic Medicine

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The philosophy of Naturopathic medicine can best be described as the utilization of the healing power of nature.

Several basic thoughts are at the core of this philosophy. Naturopathic healthcare providers approach health with prevention and education foremost in their minds. If disease enters the picture, the approach is to treat the whole person so that the natural healing powers of the body are able to resolve the root cause of the illness.

Naturopathic medicine focuses on holistic, proactive prevention and comprehensive diagnosis and treatment.

There are six accredited naturopathic medical colleges in the United States. If you choose to include naturopathic medicine in your treatment plan, it is important that you see a licensed naturopathic physician (ND). Naturopathic medicine is currently licensed in 20 states. Licensed or licensable naturopaths also practice in states where they may not hold licenses. The American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (http://naturopathic.org/) provides information on well-trained, NDs in the United States.

The Principles of Naturopathic Medicine

The healing power of nature is the inherent self -organizing and healing process of living systems which establishes, maintains and restores health. Naturopathic medicine recognizes this healing process to be ordered and intelligent. It is the naturopathic physician’s role to support, facilitate and augment this process by identifying and removing obstacles to health and recovery, and by supporting the creation of a healthy internal and external environment.

Identify and Treat the Causes

Illness does not occur without cause. Causes may originate in many areas. Underlying causes of illness and disease must be identified and removed before complete recovery can occur. Symptoms can be expressions of the body’s attempt to defend itself, to adapt and recover, to heal itself, or may be results of the causes of disease. The naturopathic physician seeks to treat the causes of disease, rather than to merely eliminate or suppress symptoms.

First Do No Harm

Naturopathic physicians follow three precepts to avoid harming the patient:

  1. Naturopathic physicians utilize methods and medicinal substances which minimize the risk of harmful effects, and apply the least possible force or intervention necessary to diagnose illness and restore health.
  2. Whenever possible the suppression of symptoms is avoided as suppression generally interferes with the healing process.
  3. Naturopathic physicians respect and work with the healing power of nature in diagnosis, treatment and counseling, for if this self-healing process is not respected the patient may be harmed.

Doctor as Teacher

The original meaning of the word “doctor” is teacher. A principal objective of naturopathic medicine is to educate the patient and emphasize self-responsibility for health. Naturopathic physicians also recognize and employ the therapeutic potential of the doctor-patient relationship.

Treat the Whole Person

Health and disease result from a complex of physical, mental, emotional, genetic, environmental, social and other factors. Since total health also includes spiritual health, naturopathic physicians encourage individuals to pursue their personal spiritual development. Naturopathic medicine recognizes the harmonious functioning of all aspects of the individual as being essential to health. The multifactorial nature of health and disease requires a personalized and comprehensive approach to diagnosis and treatment. Naturopathic physicians treat the whole person, taking all of these factors into account.

Naturopathic Physicians

Naturopathic physicians are trained as primary health care physicians whose diverse techniques include modern and traditional, scientific and empirical methods.

Naturopathic physicians (NDs) combine the wisdom of nature with the rigors of modern science. Steeped in traditional healing methods, principles and practices, naturopathic medicine focuses on holistic, proactive prevention and comprehensive diagnosis and treatment. By using protocols that minimize the risk of harm, NDs help facilitate the body’s inherent ability to restore and maintain optimal health. It is the ND’s role to identify and remove barriers to good health by helping to create a healing internal and external environment.

A naturopathic physician will take time with you. Naturopathic physicians need sufficient time to ask questions and understand the patient’s health goals.

Naturopathic physicians can serve as a primary care physician and treat medical  all conditions. They may serve as the patient’s sole medical provider or as part of an integrated healthcare team. They can order blood tests and imaging diagnostics, and they may order blood panels a western medical doctor would not (such as tests for heavy metals) to help determine the underlying cause of disease. NDs can perform minor surgeries and prescribe medication, though in an effort to minimize potential  harm, natural methods of healing are preferred over prescription medications and invasive procedures, when appropriate. 

A visit with a naturopathic physician differs from those with most western medical doctors. NDs  need sufficient time to ask questions and understand the patient’s health goals and typically spend much more time with their patients. A first visit with a patient may last one to two hours and follow-up visits range from 30 to 60 minutes. During your first appointment, your ND will take your health history, find out about your diet, stress levels, use of tobacco and alcohol, and discuss your reasons for visiting a naturopathic physician. The physician will work with you to set up a customized health management strategy. If necessary, your ND will refer you to other health-care practitioners.

Is Naturopathic Medicine Right for You?

Anyone can benefit from the inclusion of a naturopathic phsyician as part of their healthcare team. According to the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians, an ND may be especially helpful for patients who:

  1. Want a doctor who will treat all of them, not just their illness
  2. Want personalized treatment
  3. Want to treat the root cause of an illness, not just the symptoms
  4. Want to actively participate in managing their own health
  5. Have chronic pain and don’t want to use pharmaceutical drugs such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen, or highly addictive opioids to manage it forever
  6. Have tried all conventional medical options for diagnosing and treating a health condition

While rigorous scientific studies comparing outcomes of naturopathic medicine to those in western medicine are scarce, research has shown naturopathy to be effective in reducing back pain and in preventing cardiovascular disease, while producing cost savings over the standard of care.

Naturopathic approaches are usually safe and well-tolerated by patients. But even the more natural, conservative approaches favored by naturopathic physicians can come with risks and may not be appropriate for everyone. Remember to share all of your treatment approaches with every member of your healthcare team.

Many healthcare plans, including Medicare and Medicaid, do not cover naturopathic physician services and visits. Review your insurance benefits and obtain estimated costs from the physician’s office prior to scheduling an appointment, so that you can anticipate payments you will be responsible for making.