What is Naturopathic Medicine?
Naturopathic Doctors (NDs) are trained to diagnose and manage acute and chronic conditions. Treatment modalities that your ND may discuss with you include botanical medicine, nutrition, minor surgery, musculoskeletal manipulations and bodywork, intravenous therapies, hydrotherapy, energetic medicines, pharmaceutical management, counseling and more.
Principles of Naturopathic Medicine
- First, Do No Harm – Begin with the least invasive techniques and treatments whenever possible, according to the therapeutic order (see below).
- Identify and Treat the Root Cause – We are not just a group of symptoms or a diagnosis; there is an underlying cause of disease that may not be obvious or simple.
- Doctor as Teacher – May the doctor empower and educate the patient about how to best achieve and maintain their health. Only when the patient understands all of the information can they make the most informed decisions.
- The Healing Power of Nature – Trust in the body’s inherent wisdom to heal itself. We like to call this “Vitamin N”. Go spend some time outside in nature!
- Treat the Whole Person – We are an integration of mind, body and spirit. Each person should be treated as unique and should be provided with individualized, customized treatments. There are so many factors that contribute to how and why we feel the way that we do.
- Prevention – The goal in proper healthcare management is the prevention of disease by supporting and maintaining optimal health and wellness, rather than chasing symptoms after they have occurred.
The Therapeutic Order
- The base of the pyramid (step 1) is comprised of lifestyle factors that we engage in everyday that make up the foundations of health. Factors like sleep, what we consume, physical activity, mood, access to shelter, clean water and hygiene, relationships, hobbies, and passions are all important to consider. This is the part of the pyramid that should be addressed in all patients!
- Step 2 employs the healing power of nature through various modalities including but not limited to meditation, yoga, mindfulness, qi gong, prayer, and some more gentle treatments like hydrotherapy, homeopathy or UNDAs (very low dose herbs). Low-dose therapies will stimulate the vital force in the body, whereas high doses typically suppress symptoms. Acupuncture is included in this category, although acupuncture is not included in most naturopathic trainings. Craniosacral therapy, a subtle yet powerful hands-on treatment, may also be included in this category.
- Step 3 of the therapeutic order is to strengthen weakened systems. For example, the treatment of conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, digestive concerns, and chronic pain may require pharmaceutical interventions (step 6), but a targeted naturopathic treatment for some of these conditions may include dietary prescriptions, supplements, vitamins, minerals and/or botanicals.
- Correcting structural integrity is the next step. This is considered more invasive than the previous steps, because manual manipulations of the spine or extremities may be involved (think chiropractic or osteopathic adjustments). Other therapies in this category of hands-on physical medicine may include massage, exercise prescriptions, postural alignment, stretching, and physical therapy. Touch therapy is profoundly important for healing and connecting with patients!
- Use of natural substances to control symptoms – at this point in the therapeutic order, we are now treating the symptoms, rather than only the underlying cause. The symptoms are either so severe that the patient needs immediate relief in order to move forward, the case may be complicated and the underlying cause is unclear, the patient is suffering from an acute condition that warrants immediate treatment (as mentioned in step 1), there is an obstacle to cure that is difficult/impossible to remove, and/or the disease state has thus far been unresponsive to treatments in steps 1-4.
- Use of pharmaceutical substances to control symptoms – Ask your ND if their scope of practice includes pharmaceutical prescribing rights (eg. Oregon). If not, your ND may refer you to another physician to get you the treatment you need.
- High force, invasive interventions such as surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and intravenous treatments make up the final step of the therapeutic order. These procedures are often performed by specialists in cases where the disease has progressed so far, that the most invasive treatment is the most efficacious and safest for the patient. Additionally, the patient may be supported with other naturopathic treatments to optimize healing and recovery and improve quality of life.
Differences between Naturopathic Doctors (NDs) and Naturopaths
The practice of naturopathic medicine may look different depending on where you live and what type of training your provider has had. Naturopathic doctors (NDs) are licensed physicians who have doctorate degrees from accredited graduate universities and have completed board examinations to become licensed. The completion of an ND degree takes a minimum of 4 years. Currently, residencies are not required but highly encouraged for NDs. The term “naturopath” may imply that the individual is not a licensed healthcare practitioner; oftentimes such trainings are completed online over several months; such individuals are not physicians and cannot legally give medical advice. If you are in search of a licensed ND, you should look for one who has completed their training at an accredited university.
Where is Naturopathic Medicine available?
I am often asked, Where can NDs practice? To see a map of the current states and providences that license Naturopathic Doctors, click here. More states are licensing NDs each year, and each state has a unique scope of practice. Once a state gains licensure, insurance coverage may follow, so that patients have the right to choose the kind of medical care they receive.