What is Naturopathic Medicine?
Naturopathic medicine is a system of medicine that is defined by its philosophy rather than by its treatment modalities. It is a separate and distinct branch of medicine that is different from the standard medicine of the American Medical Association, different from osteopathy, and different from chiropractic, although it does encompass many of the same treatments.
Naturopathic medicine is guided by six principles. These six philosophical tenets are what sets naturopathic physicians apart from all other physicians.
Vis Medicatrix Naturae - The Healing Power of Nature. Naturopathy recognizes that health is the constant and natural state of being. Ill health and the accompanying symptoms are the result of the body trying to compensate for imbalances. The body has the desire and capacity to heal itself, sometimes it just needs help to do so. Naturopathic doctors support this process by identifying and removing obstacles to health and recovery and by supporting the creation of a healthy internal and external environment.
Tolle Causam - Identify and Treat the Cause. In order to find true healing, the root cause of the symptom must be uncovered and treated. Just as it makes no sense to change the tire on your car if the driveway is littered with nails, so too it makes no sense to treat a symptom if the cause of that symptom is not addressed.
Primum Non Nocere - First, Do No Harm. Naturopathic physicians use the least invasive and least toxic therapies possible when treating patients. There's no sense implementing a sledgehammer solution to a ball-peen hammer problem. Using the wrong tool might not help fix the problem, and it could very possibly cause harm. Appropriate treatment involves the least force intervention necessary to restore health.
Docere - Doctor as Teacher. In naturopathic medicine, the patient and the doctor work together as a team. A doctor can only recommend a patient follow a particular course of action and explain why the patient should do so. The responsibility for actually following the recommendations rests on the patient. Together, they work together to return the patient to a healthier state.
Tolle Totum - Treat the Whole Person. We treat a person with a disease rather than treat a disease. The body is not made of individual components that operate separate from other components. Instead, all the parts and pieces work together. Naturopaths treat the whole body, including the emotional and spiritual components. This is why we have such long intake forms and ask so many questions. Disease is a process rather than an entity and clues to that process may be found in seemingly unrelated systems.
Preventare - Prevention. It is always easier to prevent an illness than it is to treat an illness.
Treatment Modalities. Prior to 1989, naturopathic medicine was defined by its treatments. While the definition changed with the adoption of the philosophy characterization, the available treatments did not. Naturopathic physicians have a large variety of evidence based therapies available, the use of which is specifically chosen for the individual patient. Treatment therapies include:
Lifestyle Counseling. Just as one can't build a house without first putting in a strong foundation, one can't build health without nourishing food, clean water, sufficient exercise, loving relationships, a clean personal environment, appropriate stress, and emotional health. Work on the foundations is where patients can best participate in their healing journey.
Nutritional Counseling. Hippocrates, the father of Western Medicine, once said, "Let your food be your medicine and your medicine be your food." Unfortunately, it today's modern society, many food choices are not conducive to health. We can help identify harmful dietary habits, food allergies and sensitivities, and nutritional deficiencies.
Physical Manipulation. Many musculoskeletal problems can be addressed with moist heat, stretching, trigger point work, massage, chiropractic type adjustments including the gentler Activator method of adjustment, and others. One size does not fit all. Naturopaths have a large toolbox of tools from which to choose from when deciding on a treatment for an individual patient.
Hydrotherapy. Who knew water could be so healing? Well, you did. A soothing bath, a soak in a hot tub, or a dip in a hot springs. Who doesn't feel better afterwards? But it's not just hot water that is healing. Cold water is often used to reduced swelling after an injury. Contrast hydrotherapy is the use of alternating hot and cold water to stimulate the immune system and improve circulation. Constitutional hydrotherapy combines contrast hydrotherapy with electrical stimulation to tonify the organs of elimination.
Homeopathy. Homeopathy works on the philosophy that "like treats like" - that an infinitesimal small amount of a substance that causes symptoms in a healthy person will cure those same symptoms when given to an ill person. These "remedies" as they are called, are carefully chosen for each patient depending on many factors including the symptoms the patient has as well as who they are as a person.
Botanical Medicine. Botanical medicine is the use of plants - leaves, flowers, stems, bark, roots, and rhizomes are all used - to treat various conditions. However, just because something is natural, doesn't necessarily make it safe. For example, rattlesnake venom, while natural, is certainly not something you want to encounter. So too with herbal medicine. This is why you want to have a practitioner who have been trained in herbal medications and understands countra-indications to use as well as proper dosage, side-effects, and possible interactions with other medications the patient may be taking, including pharmaceuticals.
Environmental Medicine. Let's be honest, we live in a polluted world. We are exposed to more than 80,000 chemicals, few which have been studied with respect to health impacts, heavy metals, pesticides, synthetic hormones, pharmaceutical drugs, radiation, and a host of other contaminants. Although our bodies are designed to handle a certain amount of these toxins, the body can become overwhelmed. Naturopaths are trained to support the body in eliminating unwanted toxins and have tools to help the body when the body becomes overwhelmed.