Understanding Naturopathic Medicine
Naturopathic doctors are primary care doctors with training in a diverse range of subjects.
A licensed Naturopathic Doctor can do many things. For instance, we can:
- diagnose and treat patients
- prescribe pharmaceuticals
- use herbal medicine
- utilize homeopathic medications
- give nutritional counseling at the same level as a nutritionist or dietitian
- employ exercise, hydrotherapy, and physical manipulations similar to a physical therapist or chiropractor
- provide counseling for lifestyle changes and stress management
Many people are surprised by the depth and breadth of what a Naturopathic Doctor can do.
Naturopathic medicine is about optimizing function. It’s about restoring and maintaining optimal health.
For healthy people with few health obstacles, this means eating well, exercising regularly, reducing stress, and doing something that you love. There are things that naturopathic doctors can do to further improve health such as prevent illness and assist a person through an acute condition. But ideally, healthy people don’t need a whole lot more.
For others who are suffering from chronic disease or were born with a condition that interferes with normal bodily functions, it can be more complex. This is where naturopathic medicine comes in with its many tools –modalities. These modalities include those listed above and many others. The toolbox is large and there is no one size fits all treatment. Therefore, care is tailored to each person’s body, resources, and preferences.
It all boils down to one concept: Nourish and nurture the body/mind/spirit and remove or address obstacles.
The Philosophical Roots of Naturopathic Medicine
Many people believe that naturopathic medicine is defined by its tools. While the contents of the naturopathic toolbox are very important, those tools do not define the profession. One can provide naturopathic healthcare utilizing conventional tools as well.
- First – do no harm
- The healing power of nature – the body’s innate ability to heal itself (what causes a cut to heal, or a baby to grow into an adult without anyone consciously telling the cells and proteins what to do)
- Identify and treat the cause of disease and treat this
- Treat the whole person
- Prevention as first priority
- The doctor as teacher
The Therapeutic Order:
The therapeutic order is used to determine which treatments are needed for each patient in their given condition. The order is usually depicted as a pyramid as shown. In this model treatments that focus on the foundations of health make up the base and more invasive therapies are recommended less often.
When considering the therapeutic order, one can see that naturopathic doctors have many, many different ways of addressing their patients as well as their conditions. In fact, within each level of the pyramid, there are multiple different options for treatment. This allows us to tailor treatment to you. It can also be seen that without a strong foundation (nutrition and lifestyle efforts) in place, there will be a continued need for more complex and invasive treatments. This is similar to the parable of the person building their house on a rock instead of shifting sand.
Finally, it should be mentioned that multiple levels of the pyramid will be addressed simultaneously. For instance, in the case of hypertension, once the cause of the dysregulation of blood pressure has been identified, a patient may be on an antihypertensive medication (level 6), be on an herbal combination aimed to strengthen the cardiovascular system (level 3), and be starting a new exercise regimen (level 1). Another patient may be more apt to focus on diet and avoidance of pharmaceuticals and focus on the removal of foods that they react to (level 1) while taking an herbal antihypertensive formula (level 5). Both approaches have their merits and areas to be cautious about. The treatment plan that will work the best is the one that works for the patient while addressing the underlying causes of disease.
- Botanical medicine – this is the use of herbs in whole form or products that standardize key chemical constituents found within these herbs. They are dosed as teas, tinctures, powders, infusions, topicals, or in pill form.
- Homeopathy – this medicine uses extremely diluted substances and focuses on the idea that like treats like. It finds its roots back with Samuel Hahnemann and the treatment of malaria.
- Nutrition – food as medicine
- Lifestyle counseling – helping people find balance in their routines
- Physical medicine – hydrotherapy, soft tissue and bone manipulation such as craniosacral therapy, and exercises to restore proper structure
- Pharmaceuticals – used when necessary
Naturopathic medicine is a system of medicine with a solid philosophical foundation. This foundation is implemented to guide the use of its varied tools and practitioners.