Understanding Naturopathic Medicine


Naturopathic doctors are primary care doctors with training in a diverse range of subjects.  An ND 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; and provide counseling for lifestyle changes and stress management techniques among other things.

Naturopathic medicine is about optimizing function.  It’s about restoring and maintaining health.  How does one do these things?  You make sure you have everything you need, and you get rid of everything that is standing in the way.Family-sitting-on-boardwalk-at-lakeside_Large

For healthy people with few obstacles to health, 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, 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 all its tools –modalities.  These modalities include nutrition, herbs, hydrotherapy, homeopathy, drainage, IV nutrients, pharmaceuticals, and many others.  The toolbox is large and there is no one size fits all treatment.  This means care is tailored to each individual’s body, resources, and preferences.

It all boils down to one concept:  In with the useful and out with whatever is slowing you down.




The Philosophical roots of Naturopathic Medicine

Many people believe that naturopathic medicine is about what treatments it uses.  While the contents of the naturopathic toolbox are very important, those tools do not define the profession.

The Tenets:

  • 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 telling the cells what to do)
  • Identify and treat the cause of disease
  • Treat the whole person
  • Prevention first
  • The doctor as teacher

The Therapeutic Order:

the-therapeutic-orderThe 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 with treatments ranging from creating a solid foundation of nutrition and lifestyle habits all the way to heroic measures such as surgery and chemotherapy.

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 of treatment and focus allowing us to tailor treatment to the individual.  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.

Finally, it should be mentioned that multiple levels of the pyramid can be addressed simultaneously.  For instance, in the case of hypertension, once the cause of the disregulation 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.

The Treatments:

  • 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, 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
  • Supplements – this is the use of high doses of nutrients to treat specific conditions based on a person’s individual condition
  • Biotherapeutic drainage – the use of combined homeopathics and the philosophy of targeted cellular and whole system detoxification and restoration of normal physiology
  • Physical medicine – hydrotherapy, soft tissue and bone manipulation, and exercises to restore proper structure
  • Pharmaceuticals – used when necessary

Naturopathic medicine is more than its tools it is a whole system of medicine with a very solid philosophical foundation to guide the use of its varied tools and practitioners.