What is Naturopathic Medicine? This is probably one of the most common questions Naturopathic Doctors are asked, and we love answering it! For most of your life, you probably have visited a doctor and thought your doctor practices medicine the same as other doctors. While this is true for the most part, physicians have different philosophies that they follow. These philosophies determine how they approach health.
As Naturopathic Doctors (NDs), we are trained to treat the individual by going beyond just treating symptoms. As Naturopathic Doctors we use signs and symptoms as clues to figure out what is causing the discomfort you may be experiencing. Let us look at some practical examples to highlight how NDs approach common issues.
Pre-diabetic – NDs will look into lifestyle habits like diet, exercise, sleep, stress management, and digestive health. In labs, we will look beyond just a HbA1c. We may like to see inflammatory markers, C-peptide (to accurately assess how insulin resistant they may be), Vitamin-D status, and other factors that may contribute towards diabetes progression. Depending on the state of the person, we may or may not use botanical medicine or nutraceuticals to help support better glucose metabolism and digestion.
Diabetic – We would still look to do the above mentioned interventions. At this point, botanical and nutraceutical intervention would definitely be utilized. Depending on where the patient is at, we may recommend conventional medications such as metformin or insulin. If they are already taking these, we would look to see how we could intervene to make these more effective. We would never consider just taking insulin or metformin as sufficient therapy in managing diabetes. There are always other steps we would take beyond just a prescription.
Acid Reflux (GERD) – PPIs (Proton Pump Inhibitors) such as Nexium and Pepcid are some of the most commonly prescribed medications in the world. These medications were never intended to be used long-term. As NDs, we would look to see what the cause of stomach acid imbalance is, then we would work to correct that imbalance. Sometimes heartburn is caused by too little stomach acid. Patients with too little stomach acid present exactly the same as patients with too much stomach acid. Treating them with a PPI may seem like the right thing to do, but it actually will make things worse in the long run. Long term PPI use creates certain nutrient deficiencies (such as iron, magnesium, calcium, B12 and more). As NDs, we take into account your health in the future, not just in the moment. This is why knowing the cause of the issue is the focus of NDs.
Naturopathic Care is not limited in vision. We recognize and respect the benefits of pharmaceutical medications when appropriate. However, we are also aware of the limitations and negative impacts medications, supplements, and botanical substances may have. Therefore, by correcting the underlying issue, we can safely look to remove you from these substances. Our goal is not simply to replace pharmaceutical medications with natural substances. Our goal is to correct the problem that makes our patients ill in the first place.
These are the principles that guide NDs. While some may be unique, you will see many of these principles shared in other medical professions.
First Do No Harm
Like other medical professionals, our first and primary goal is to not do harm to our patients. We ensure we are doing this by following what is called the therapeutic order. This allows us to assess what the patient needs and what interventions are needed to achieve that goal.
The Healing Power of Nature
Living things are ordered and structured. There is an intelligence in life that can be observed at the smallest molecular levels. As human beings, we are meant to be healthy so that we not only survive, but thrive in our environments. We auto-regulate temperature, breathing, fluid levels etc, all to be able to thrive in the environment we are in. We heal from cuts without consciously trying. There are ways to harness and support this innate intelligence. As NDs, we focus on supporting this system to help you overcome illness.
Identify and Treat the CAUSE
Signs and symptoms are merely the body’s attempt to return to wellness/fight to survive. For example, the pain from a broken toe will cause us to be unable to walk comfortably, minimizing movement of the broken toe, allowing for healing to occur. Without pain, the injury could get much worse. Lack of pain is actually one of the main causes to diabetic ulcers.
Doctor as Teacher
Many are unaware the word doctor actually means teacher. It comes from the latin word “Docere”, which means “teacher”. As NDs, we recognize it is our duty to be educators to our patients and community. In order for patients to take better charge of their health, they must be educated on how to do so. This is why we spend a great deal of time counseling our patients and answering as many questions as possible.
Treat the Whole Person
Treating the whole person is in line with recognizing that the whole body is a living organism, intrinsically interconnected. While a cardiologist may be able to better address issues related to the heart, it does not mean what happens to the skin is not related to the heart, kidneys, lungs, liver, pancreas etc. NDs recognize that our patient is a person suffering, they are not merely an illness. The subjective experience of suffering is unique to each person. We all experience a cold differently. Therefore, addressing the unique experience of that person in front of us is vital to naturopathic care.
As the old adage goes, prevention is better than cure. Through proper education and intervention, patients can return to a healthy state and prevent other illnesses from occurring.