We are continuing on our quest of defining and understanding the different types of alternative and complementary healthcare/medical practices.??? I first decided to start writing this particular series of posts because like many people out there, I was unclear on how the various holistic healing modalities differ from each other.? I had a general idea about some of the philosophies and traditions, but since I grew up and lived the majority of my adult life solely relying on allopathic medicine, the specifics of these other methods were not a part of my own healthcare history.? I love doing research (have you noticed?), and I began to become frustrated with traditional Western medicine.? I decided it was time to crack the code and learn the real deal about the most successful alternative healing practices relied on by different societies and cultures around the world.? Our next stop: Naturopathy or Naturopathic Medicine.
What is Naturopathic Medicine?
Naturopathic medicine was one of the practices I was more confused about, since everything I ever read about it so closely resembled what I read about holistic heathcare or medicine.? And they are very similar?but what I came to realize is that holistic healthcare is kind of a general category that encompasses many of these other methods like Ayurveda, Traditional Chinese Medicine, and Homeopathy. Naturopathy is another aspect of holistic medicine.
Like Homeopathy, Naturopathy has its roots in 19th century Germany.? The progression of what is considered today?s naturopathic medicine began with German-born American immigrant, Benedict Lust.? Lust immigrated to the United States around the turn of the 20th century.? Shortly after he arrived, he became gravely ill with tuberculosis.? The United States? healthcare practices at that time were unable to treat or cure this disease, so Lust returned to Germany where he sought treatment from the well-known priest and ?nature-healer? Sebastian Kneipp. Kneipp successfully treated Lust?s tuberculosis with a combination of holistic therapies including ?hydrotherapy, wholesome diet, gentle exercise, herbal medicines, and exposure to fresh air and sunlight.? Lust returned to America, and with Kneipp?s blessing, began to promote this type of healing practice.? After doing more research on his own, Lust expanded on Kneipp?s philosophies and grew them into what is known as naturopathy or naturopathic medicine today.
Principles of Naturopathic Medicine
Like most medical or healing practices, the philosophies of naturopathy are based on 6 principles:
1.??? Let nature heal. Naturopaths believe in the body?s inherent ability to heal itself. This ability is compromised when certain barriers are formed due to poor lifestyle choices like smoking, excessive alcohol intake, diets that consist of processed foods with artificial and chemical ingredients, not enough exercise, etc. Addressing these barriers restores the function of immune system.
2.??? Identify and treat causes?not symptoms. Allopathic doctors wait for a symptom to appear, and then prescribes drugs to either mask or suppress it, without actually addressing and identifying the reason the symptom showed up in the first place. And these symptoms often return, since its cause is still present. Naturopathy works to identify and attempt to eliminate the cause. By doing so, the symptom will not return, unless the cause itself returns (if the patient does not follow the naturopath?s recommendations).
3.??? Do no harm. The safety of the patient is the naturopathic doctor?s (ND?s) number one priority. NDs only use procedures, therapies, and treatments that have little to no side effects or adverse reactions. NDs believe that certain symptoms, such as low-grade fevers, are the body?s efforts to drive out invaders and heal itself. Suppressing these symptoms interfere?s with the body?s natural process of healing. When possible, naturopaths prefer to monitor the symptoms allow the body to go through its natural healing process. They will intervene only if necessary, such as if a fever becomes uncontrollably high and does not subside after a reasonable amount of time.
4.??? Educate patients. One of the most important aspects of naturopathic medicine, as well as most other holistic practices, is educating patients on making healthy decisions regarding lifestyle, diet, exercise, and stress management. Patients must be held accountable for the role they play in their own overall health and wellness, and not simply depend on doctors to fix them when they don’t feel well.
5.??? Treat the whole person. This goes back to the theory that the person as a whole cannot function properly unless all of his or her parts (mind, body, spirit, environment, etc) are well balanced and functioning properly.? For this reason, all naturopathic healthcare assessments and treatments are tailored to each person?s needs based on all of the individual aspects of his or her life.
6.??? Prevent illness. NDs work with patients to treat diseases and disorders proactively, rather than reactively. After a thorough evaluation of the patient?s health history, family history, environment, lifestyle, nutrition, etc., a customized plan is created that addresses and aims to eliminate any risk factors in order to prevent illnesses, rather than wait for one to show up before beginning treatment.
How is an ND different from an MD?
Other than the differences in philosophies listed above, NDs differ from MDs in some ways, but are also similar in some ways. Though both types of doctors take family medical histories and ask about your diet and exercise, what vitamins you take, if you drink or smoke, etc. an ND?s questions will be much more specific, and the overall visit will be more lengthy. Many people complain that MDs never spend enough time in the exam room?patients typically spend more time waiting for the doctor than actually being examined by the doctor.? That is not the case with naturopathic medicine.
According to the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians,?A first visit with a patient may last one to two hours and follow-up visits range from 30 to 60 minutes…. naturopathic physicians need sufficient time to ask questions and understand the patient?s health goals. NDs also need time to gather information, do an appropriate examination to uncover the root problem, and teach his or her patients about managing their conditions and improving their health.? When you go to your MD for your annual checkup, you typically go in, answer a couple of questions, have a brief physical examination, maybe some lab tests, and are sent on your way. There is never any follow up on the part of the physician?they usually say something like ?Hope I don’t see you until this time next year!? With an ND, however, follow up is much more frequent, and does not just involve sick visits.? After the initial visit and treatment plan, follow ups appointments are made whether the patient is sick or well in order to track progress and reassess and make appropriate changes to the treatment plan based on the patient progress.
Many people in our society are under the false assumption that naturopathic doctors are not “real” doctors, they are ?witchdoctors? or ?quacks?. This could not be further from the truth.? To become a doctor of naturopathic medicine, a person has to complete a 4-year post-graduate program at an accredited school of naturopathic medicine. Licensure requirements vary by state, and some do require residency before an ND can practice. ?NDs speak and understand the language of conventional medicine. They can diagnose the way MDs do.?
Although NDs prefer to use non-invasive and natural treatments and procedures, then can sometimes prescribe drugs (depending on the state in which they practice) and perform minor surgical procedures.? However, instead of relying on only one set of methods for curing disease, NDs can draw on vast arsenal of treatments and insights to. Like an allopathic primary care provider, NDs recognize that some conditions require a more specialized approach, and will make referrals to more targeted providers when necessary.
My own experience with naturopathic medicine
I still go to my MD for my annual checkups. Maybe you remember how I had to go to the doctor a few months ago for a horrible case of strep throat as well, and I was not happy about it. I took the full prescribed course of my antibiotic and the infection went away, but guess what?? The sore throat came back, and started to get worse quickly.? There was no way I was going back for more antibiotics.
So I went to a naturopathic doctor who practices nearby, and she gave me a natural remedy called Curamin for the pain (said it would also help my back pain), and? Throat Spray Tone by Energetix.
I asked if it would just numb the pain for two minutes like the red stuff you get at the drug store and she said no, the pain will go away completely?sometimes after just one dose.? I thought ?yeah right, I’ll believe it when I see it.? Well lo and behold, and I kid you not?the sore throat was completely gone after one treatment and has not come back. And the Curamin treats my back pain as well as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, without destroying my stomach or liver.
I thought it was a fluke, so when I had another minor ailment, I went back to her and the natural treatments she gave me cured that one too, just as quick as a drug would have, with no side effects.? So I still plan on going to my MD for my annual bloodwork and all that?but in between, I am sticking with my ND. And that’s the beauty of holistic healthcare?you can combine modalities and get great results.? Just make sure you tell all of your healthcare providers what medications, dietary supplements, herbs, etc you are taking to make sure everyone is in the loop and no one prescribes anything that might not be safe in combination with what you are already taking.
One more thing?
Although NDs and other holistic practitioners are not quacks, quackery does exist in this realm of healthcare. Since our society only really regulates allopathic medicine, it is very easy for someone to go take a workshop somewhere, get a certificate of attendance, and call him or herself a naturopath or other holistic healthcare practitioner. If you think seeing a naturopathic doctor might be for you, make sure you see an actual Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine/Naturopathy certificate from an actual accredited school of naturopathic medicine, and an ND or NMD (naturopathic doctor or naturopathic medical doctor) license (if your state requires it).? Same goes for holistic doctors, doctors of Traditional Chinese Medicine, etc. Don’t go to someone who just dabbles in different healing methods and trust them to guide you to better health. Part of owning and taking control of your health is educating yourself, not just on the healthcare practices themselves but also on the providers to whom you trust your health.