As a naturopathic doctor in a region where naturopathic medicine is not a common practice, I am often asked about what naturopathic medicine is. Although the answers I give are often simple — it is the practice of medicine utilizing botanical medicine, clinical nutrition, homeopathy and counseling — there is a volume of depth beyond each of these and the philosophy of naturopathic care.
As Wisconsin does not yet license naturopathic medicine providers, one also must take the time to understand the certification and education that individuals with the title “naturopathic doctor” have, as this may range from a one year training program to a full medical school and clinical curriculum. Individuals with a medical school level of training can be found most directly from accessing the Wisconsin Naturopathic Doctors Association webpage. These individuals will be the most trained to understand complex medical conditions and know how to best support them with pharmaceuticals (if indicated) or natural means.
In the interest of further shedding light on how a naturopath operates, I will elaborate on the philosophy of naturopathic medicine below.
Primum no nocere
The Latin phrase meaning “First do no harm.”
In naturopathic medicine, the concept of harm is somewhat more broadly based than allopathic medicine. By utilizing a medication which suppresses symptoms and offers a short-term cure to a dysfunctional state, this may cause potential harm, particularly if the medication has significant side effects. An example of this is a condition such as heartburn, which is often treated with a medication that decreases stomach acid secretion; however, this has the associated side effect of decreased nutrient absorption. A naturopathic approach which may include altering the diet, supplementing with digestive enzymes and using botanicals which improve the mucus coating will also improve symptoms without causing further harm.
Vis mediatrix naturae
“The healing power of nature.”
With a medical school training, naturopaths have a great understanding of the physiology and pathology associated with health and disease processes. They understand how pharmaceutical drugs work, but also how to use botanical medicine and clinical nutrition to correct physiology in similar manners. There is a common misconception that we don’t understand how herbs work; however, there actually is much research pertaining to botanical use worldwide as this is how many pharmaceutical drugs are actually developed.
“Identify and treat the cause.”
Listening to someone’s story with not just the ears but also the heart, a naturopath is able to help address not only the surface symptoms but some of the deeper issues. Naturopathic doctors are interested in both the testing and labs, which your primary physician commonly does, and also at looking further beyond this to address a cause more specifically.
“Treat the whole person.”
Naturopaths want to understand what the primary complaint is that has brought someone into their office, as well as what their other complaints or symptoms are and how this is affecting their lives. By doing this, a synergistic approach to healing can be developed. For example, if an individual has difficulty sleeping, is highly stressed, mildly hypertensive, and suffers from constipation, magnesium is one nutritional element with evidence to support each of these physiological states.
“Doctor as teacher.”
One of a naturopathic doctor’s primary goals is to educate clients about the function of their body in health and disease. When one understands how the body functions and how to restore it back to health, they are empowered to do this on a day-to-day basis. With pharmaceutical prescriptions, very few people are empowered to make changes to improve things such as cholesterol abnormalities with exercise and dietary changes. Naturopaths spend a great amount of time educating their clients about how they can take initiatives with diet and lifestyle to reduce the need for prescriptions.
Prevention is the best cure
The phrase, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away” is one which many are familiar with; however, this is not right for everyone. Naturopaths take time to address prevention, and understand what disease risks are associated with a family history of similar conditions. Steps can be taken to help prevent conditions such as heart disease, osteoporosis, breast cancer and Alzheimer’s disease prior to the later stages of these conditions.