Naturopathic medicine treats health conditions by utilizing the body’s inherent ability to heal and regain balance. Naturopathic physicians aid the healing process by incorporating a variety of alternative methods based on the patient’s individual needs. Naturopathic medicine is not a single modality of healing, but an array of healing practices.
Principles of Naturopathic Medicine:
Although the term naturopathy or naturopathic medicine was not used until the late nineteenth century, its philosophical roots date back thousands of years. Drawing from the healing wisdom of many cultures including Indian (Ayurveda), Chinese (Traditional Chinese Medicine), Native American, and Greek (Hippocratic), naturopathic medicine is a system of medicine based on six principles.
The healing power of nature: The body has considerable power to heal itself. The role of the naturopathic physician is to facilitate this natural process with the aid of natural, non-toxic therapies.
Treat the causes rather than the effect: Naturopathic physicians seek the underlying cause of a disease rather than simply suppressing the symptoms. They avoid suppressing the natural, drug-free, healing wisdom of the body, such as fever and inflammation. Symptoms are viewed as expressions of the body’s natural attempt to heal. Disease causes can spring from the physical, mental/emotional, and spiritual levels.
First, do not harm: By employing safe and effective natural therapies, naturopathic physicians are committed to the principle of causing no harm to the patient.
Treat the whole person: The individual is viewed as a whole, composed of a complex interaction of physical, mental/emotional, spiritual, social, and other factors.
The physician is a teacher: Naturopathic physicians are first and foremost teachers who educate, empower, and motivate the patient to assume more personal responsibility for his or her health by adopting a healthy attitude, lifestyle, and diet.
Prevention is the best cure: Naturopathic physicians are preventative medicine specialists. Prevention of disease is accomplished through education and a lifestyle that supports health.
How Does Naturopathic Medicine Work?
In the naturopathic system of medicine, disease is seen as a manifestation of the natural causes by which the body heals itself. For example, fever and inflammation are viewed as the body’s way of dealing with an imbalance that is undermining the healthy functioning of the body. However, if the cause of the imbalance is not removed, the inflammatory responses will continue, either at a lower level of intensity or intermittently. This can be the origin of chronic disease. Healing a chronic disease requires the removal of the underlying cause. This may culminate in a return of an acute episode, called a “healing crises” or “reaction,” a keynote of naturopathic medical theory. Following this, the condition improves.
Although naturopathic physicians emphasize therapeutic choices based on individual interest and experience, as well as the legal parameters of the state in which he or she practices, they maintain a consistent philosophy. All have been trained in the basic tools of natural therapeutics and medical science.
After identifying which conditions in the patient manifest in illness, the naturopathic physician advises the patient on the methods most appropriate for creating a return to health. In order to become free of illness, it is often necessary for the patient to make both dietary and lifestyle changes. Homeopathy or acupuncture is often used to stimulate recovery. Herbal medicines may be used as tonics and nutritive agents to support and strengthen weakened systems, while specific nutritional agents such as vitamin and mineral supplements and glandular tissue extracts might also be utilized. Hydrotherapy and various types of physical therapy may be required. Additionally, it is important that major emotional stresses be addressed.
Conditions Benefited by Naturopathic Medicine:
Naturopathic medicine can be applied in any health care situation, but its strongest area is in the treatment of chronic and degenerative disease. Naturopaths are, for the most part, licensed primary care/general practice family physicians. For severe, acute traumas such as a serious automobile accident, emergencies of childbirth, or orthopedic problems requiring corrective surgery, naturopathic medicine is not recommended, although it can contribute especially in the recovery phase.
In other cases, such as ear infections and common illnesses with fever, the naturopathic physician addresses the associated pain, infection, and fever of the condition, as well as any related concerns of the patient. How this acute condition might relate to underlying causes, such as diet, life stresses, and occupational hazards, is also addressed. The physician will then usually prescribe a variety of means to deal with the immediate problem.
In the chronic cases, the procedure is different. Typically, a thorough case exploration will detail the history and nature of the patient’s symptoms and complaints, his or her complete health history, and the patient’s lifestyle. Finally, a physical examination and appropriate laboratory tests are performed. For naturopathic physicians, understanding the patient as an individual is essential when searching for causative factors.
After determining causative factors, the physician will discuss his or her findings with the patient, and an attempt will be made to tie together and interpret the symptoms. Symptoms usually relate to a central problem that has many manifestations. As an example, many symptoms can be tied to the effects of toxemia on the different systems of the body such as the immune system, nervous system or circulatory system.
Finally, dietary factors are determined and appropriate changes are recommended. Any other perceived causes are addressed with either counseling, or other methods of treatment.
Healing the Person, Not the Disease:
Naturopathic medicine does not focus on disease symptoms but, rather, underlying causes. For example, the body has four major organs that assist in elimination; the lungs, kidneys, bowels, and skin. Most skin diseases are viewed by naturopathic physicians to be the result of excessive metabolic toxicity in the body, forcing the skin to be used as an extra route of elimination. The skin excretes both water-soluble and oil-soluble wastes through the sweat and oil glands. Because the elimination of toxins is irritating to the skin, the result is often various forms of skin-related disorders such as dermatitis and acne.
What Is a Naturopathic Physician Trained to Do?
A Naturopathic Physician is trained in a fully accredited, four year medical school. A student of Naturopathic medicine will rigorously study all the topics of modern medical science including Anatomy, Physiology, Histology, Pathology, Biochemistry, and Pharmacology. However, in addition, the student of Naturopathic medicine will study a broad variety of natural healing methods. A licensed Naturopathic physician will have passed an extensive set of national board exams cover all aspects of both conventional and Naturopathic medicine. As such, Naturopathic Physicians are licensed as primary care physicians in the state of Arizona and about 15 other state. In these states, the Naturopathic physician can write prescriptions and perform other conventional therapies although this is rarely the preferred method of treatment.
Modern naturopathic doctors provide complete diagnostic and therapeutic services. As family doctors, many practice natural childbirth (usually in the home setting), pediatrics, gynecology, and geriatrics. Naturopathic physicians make recommendations on lifestyle, diet, and exercise, and utilize a variety of natural and noninvasive healing techniques.
The scope of treatments naturopathic physicians are trained in include: clinical nutrition; botanical or herbal medicine; homeopathy; acupuncture; hydrotherapy; physical medicine and therapeutic manipulation; counseling and other psychotherapies; and minor surgery.
1. Clinical nutrition: The use of diet as a therapy serves as the foundation of naturopathic medicine. There is an ever-increasing body of knowledge that supports the use of whole foods and nutritional supplements in the maintenance of health and treatment of disease.
2. Herbal medicine: Plants have been used as medicines since antiquity. Naturopathic physicians are professionally trained herbalists and know both the historical and medicinal uses of plants.
3. Homeopathy: The term homeopathy is derived from the Greek word, homoios, meaning “similar,” and pathos, meaning “suffering.” Homeopathy is a system of medicine that treats a disease with dilute, potentized remedies that will produce the same symptoms as the disease when given to a healthy individual. The fundamental principle here is that “like cures like”. Homeopathic medicines are derived from a variety of plant, mineral, and chemical substances.
4. Acupuncture: Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese system of medicine involving the stimulation of certain specific points on the body to enhance the flow of vital life energy Qi along pathways called meridians. Acupuncture points are stimulated by the insertion and withdrawal of needles, the application of heat (moxibustion), acupressure (deep finger pressure), lasers, electrical means, or a combination of these methods.
5. Hydrotherapy: Hydrotherapy uses water in all its temperatures (cold → hold), forms (ice, liquid, and steam), and methods of application (sitz baths, douches, spas, whirlpools, saunas, showers, immersion baths, packs, poultices, foot baths, fomentations, wraps, colonic irrigations), in the maintenance of health or treatment of disease. It is one of the most ancient methods of treatment. Hydrotherapy has been used to treat disease and injury by many different cultures, including the Egyptians, Assyrians, Persians, Greeks, Hebrews, Hindus, Chinese, and Native Americans.
6. Physical medicine: Physical medicine refers to the use of physical measures in the treatment of disease. These include: therapeutic exercise, massage, joint mobilization (manipulation) and immobilization techniques, and hydrotherapy. Physical medicine also includes physiotherapy equipment such as ultrasound (high frequency sound waves that act as a micro-massage to tissues, stimulating or restoring function or blood circulation), diathermy (high frequency currents used to generate heat within the body), electric currents used in the body to stimulate function or relieve pain, and light therapy (applications of light that are used to stimulate heating responses in the body, such as endocrine function or increased circulation).
7. Counseling and lifestyle modification: Counseling and lifestyle modification techniques are essential to naturopathic medicine. A naturopathic physician is formally trained in the following counseling areas: 1) Interviewing and responding skills, active listening, body language assessment, and other contact skills necessary for the therapeutic relationship; 2) Recognition and understanding of prevalent psychological issues including developmental problems, sexual dysfunction, abnormal behavior, addictions, and stress; 3) Various treatment measures including hypnosis and guided imagery, counseling techniques, correction of underlying organic factors, and family therapy.
What to expect when you visit a Naturopathic Physician:
A typical office visit with a naturopathic doctor initially takes one to two hours. Your naturopathic physician considers teaching you how to live healthfully to be one of his or her primary goals, so the time is devoted to discussing and explaining principles of health maintenance, as well as your medical condition.
The relationship begins with a thorough medical history and interview process designed to view all aspects of your lifestyle. If needed, the physician will perform standard diagnostic procedures including a physical exam and blood and urine analysis. Once a good understanding of your health and disease status is established (diagnosing an illness is only one part of this process), you and your doctor work together to establish a treatment and health-promoting program.