Naturopathic Medicine as an Emerging Medicine
Naturopathic Medicine is becoming more and more well-known and utilized as a primary healthcare system. In fact, mainstream media has popularized many aspects of natural/alternative based medicine and deemed them the future of healthcare. Opioid addiction, obesity, and chronic disease are all epidemics in the US today – people are in need of true healing and medicine is in need of change. Naturopathic medicine offers a solution to both in a way that leads us into coexistence with our planet. But what is this medicine all about? The best way to get to know Naturopathic Medicine is by understanding its medical philosophy, which has been organized into 6 principles:
- The Healing Power of Nature
Naturopathic Medicine (NM) uses nature as a guide for healing, which means our medicine comes from natural sources (such as herbs and plants) and harnesses the body’s innate ability to heal itself. Naturopathic Doctors (ND) provide the body with what it needs to heal and remove what is does not (factors that may be hindering the healing process).
There is an intelligent force in all living things that directs life and healing – think about when you cut your skin or break a bone, eventually the skin will scab, and the bone will fuse, all on its own. With the appropriate and nature-based supportive care (such as hygiene and nourishment) the body will be able to do this even faster and more effectively.
All living beings are a part of nature and health/healing involves living in accordance with the laws of nature. Unfortunately, today’s society does not reflect this. Therefore, Naturopathic Doctors (ND) are often re-connecting people with nature, even if that’s as foundational as ensuring they are receiving clean water, fresh air, and natural sunlight, every day.
1. Identify and Treat the Causes
NM seeks to identify and treat or remove the underlying cause(s) of illness, rather than to eliminate or suppress symptoms. The underlying cause(s) of illness may involve several factors including genetics, environment, and lifestyle. Illness involves disorder in structure/function that leads to signs and symptoms. Part of treating the cause is addressing any challenge or barrier to health – what NDs refer to as an obstacle to cure.
The way that NDs identify the root cause(s) of disease may consist of obtaining a comprehensive personal/medical history, physical examination, and lab testing. The ND becomes an investigator in gathering information from your life story that reveals disruptions to health, as well as a pathophysiologist in piecing together how these disruptions affect each system individually and as an integrated whole.
NM considers symptoms to be useful information because they are our body’s natural response, or adaptation, to a disruption in health. Without symptoms, how would we know that something is wrong and where to look for the imbalance? Much of healthcare has become symptom management/suppression. When we suppress symptoms, we suppress the body’s natural healing reactions and cover up the root cause of those symptoms (turning off the fire alarm does not put out the fire).
2. First Do No Harm
NM follows 3 guidelines to avoid harming the patient: use of methods and medicinal substances that minimize the risk of harmful side effects, avoidance of harmful suppression of symptoms, and acknowledgment and respect of the individual’s healing process using the least force necessary to diagnose and treat illness. When out of our scope of practice or level of skill, we refer the patient to the appropriate practitioner.
To use the most natural and least invasive/toxic methods first, we follow the therapeutic order (TO). The TO is a hierarchy that guides treatment to promote long-lasting health and prevent unnecessary harm. In certain cases, higher force interventions (like drugs or surgery) may be necessary, however, these are greatly overused in the conventional healthcare model. The therapeutic order finds the level of intervention that will be both successful and least damaging to the body.
NM combines traditional, modern, and research-based medicine in practice. NDs are legitimate doctors who complete a rigorous process before becoming licensed, which includes attending an accredited naturopathic medical school and passing the postdoctoral board examinations. NDs can further develop their skill set by completing a residency program and/or other specialized trainings.
3. Doctor as Teacher
NDs understand that healing is ultimately the responsibility of the individual. They value the doctor-patient relationship as a mutually invested partnership. Everyone has an inner physician of their own; NDs are simply facilitators in the healing process. When it comes to health and healing, NDs help patients believe it is possible, motivate them to do what it takes, and provide the steps needed to achieve and maintain it.
Educating patients is one of the most important parts of health and healing. NDs make it a point to help the patient understand all aspects of their health – how the body works, why their condition has developed, and what their therapeutic options are. They take time to break down your health into easily digestible pieces and help you realize the connection between your health and lifestyle.
The word doctor comes from the Latin word, Docere, which means “to teach.” The word physician comes from, Physickos, which means “nature or natural.” In Eastern medicine, the role of doctors is to educate their patients about how to cooperate with nature. Short-term interventions are often part of initial treatment, but lifelong wellness comes from changing the way you live in a way that aligns with the natural world.
4. Treat the Whole Person
NM takes a holistic approach that considers all aspects of a person including their physical, genetic, mental, emotional, spiritual, environmental, and social health – all of which are interconnected and reflective of total-being wellness. The aim should be on tending to each of these areas to reach an overall state of balance.
Health does not solely come from the absence of disease, but the presence of a nourishing diet/lifestyle, positive thought, meaningful experiences, purposeful work, loving relationships, and higher belief systems. NM looks at the whole body, rather than just its component parts and treats the person, rather than just the disease.
NM acknowledges the you that isn’t defined by your illness and handles the body as the integrated functioning unit that it is. It is focused on the patient, and every patient is unique. Therefore, every treatment plan will be completely individualized to the patient based on their body, condition, finances, and goals.
NM believes in taking care of the body before it becomes ill – promoting health-care, instead of sick-care. Many people only seek out a doctor once they have a problematic symptom, but by this point a disease process may already be set in motion. Investing in your health over time can save you money and suffering in the long run from debilitating diseases that could’ve been delayed or reversed with preventative measures.
Furthermore, NM doesn’t just strive for good health, it strives for great health. Even without poor health, the way you feel and function can always be improved and enhanced. This is where performance optimization and regenerative medicine comes in. LIVV specializes in these areas and provides many services (such as IV therapy, PRP injections, hormone health) to optimize your health.
NM sees health as a life-long journey and promotes wellness care across the life cycle. Visiting your ND should be a seasonal self-care practice that keeps you healthy over the long-term and supports you through difficult transitions. Disease prevention is accomplished with assessment of risk factors and genetic susceptibilities as well as corresponding preventative interventions. NDs strive to create a healthy, thriving world!
Now that we’ve covered what NM is, let’s review how NM does what it does. In addition to all the basic sciences and standard medical curriculum, NDs learn several additional modalities throughout their academic career. The most common include nutrition and lifestyle medicine, laboratory and diagnostic medicine, homeopathic medicine, botanical medicine, physical medicine, behavioral medicine, and hydrotherapy. NDs can be trained in more advanced areas such as prescribing medications, performing minor surgeries, and delivering babies – although scope of practice differs between states.
So, why see an ND? You can expect the following benefits working with your ND:
- A deep dive into all aspects of your personal health
- A genuine ear for your thoughts, feelings, and concerns
- Quality time and energy spent in and around appointments
- An explanation of your health from mechanism to manifestation
- Access to a large and diverse therapeutic toolbox
- Profoundly useful data from functional testing
- Targeted and tailored treatment plans
NM is becoming increasingly accepted and recognized around the world – Medical Doctors and other conventional practitioners are increasingly completing certifications in Integrative and Functional Medicine. Although conventional medicine and naturopathic medicine have their differences, they can and should be great allies. When considering their strengths, one might equate conventional medicine with emergency medicine and naturopathic medicine with lifestyle medicine. There is a time and place for each type of care, which makes them complimentary to one another. Many people find themselves pursuing naturopathic medicine after other medical approaches have been poor, ineffective, or limited. Naturopathic medicine can serve as both primary and adjunctive healthcare to treat both chronic and acute conditions.
So, are you Interested in NM? Good news, this amazing healthcare option is becoming more accessible – we are proud to say that 25 states (and growing!) in the US currently have laws regulating naturopathic doctors. Make your appointment at LIVV today to get started on your naturopathic healing journey!
Written by Jordan Valdez, RDN