We are in the midst of a paradigm shift. Our understanding of health and medicine is broadening, and both practitioners and patients are embracing a holistic, integrated approach. Patients are becoming more informed via the internet, word of mouth, and diligent research that there is something significantly missing from medicine in the current standard of care in the American healthcare system. What they are finding, and flocking to, is a group of physicians that have likewise embraced this broadened approach to medicine. Some of these practitioners adopted a more holistic approach after realizing that there was something missing from their medical training, and sought out like-minded individuals and organizations such as ACAM to further their education in this new model of healthcare. Other practitioners discovered their passion before entering medical school, and pursued the study of naturopathic medicine.
So this begets the questions, What is Naturopathic Medicine, and where does Naturopathic Medicine fit in the paradigm shift?
What is Naturopathic Medicine?
Naturopathic doctors (ND) are specialists in integrative medicine, combining extensive education and training in both natural and conventional allopathic medicine, emphasizing the use of the safest, least invasive methods to treat disease by restoring health. The education entails a 4-year graduate level program, national board examinations in basic and clinical sciences, and curriculum including basic sciences, clinical sciences, diagnostic techniques and tests, pharmacology, minor surgery, and range of naturopathic therapies including botanical medicine, nutrition and nutritional biochemistry, physical medicine, homeopathy, eastern and Chinese medicine and mind/body medicine.
Integral to naturopathic medicine is a unifying philosophical approach to health summed up in The Principals of Naturopathic Medicine, which recognizes the body’s innate wisdom and healing capacity (Vis Medicatrix Naturae) and the physician’s role to treat disease by restoring the body to its natural and balanced state (Tolle Causum). Treatment programs integrate multiple modalities, which may include nutrition and lifestyle modification, homeopathy, botanical medicine, nutraceuticals, IV nutrient therapy, and when warranted, pharmaceutical intervention. Naturopathic Doctors begin with the least invasive therapies and proceed to higher levels of intervention only as necessary. This approach is outlined in what is called “The Therapeutic Order.”
The Principals Of Naturopathic Medicine:
First Do No Harm, Primum Non Nocere – this principal is at the basis of any medical professional. Naturopathic physicians follow a therapeutic order which emphasizes the use of least force necessary to restore health, using the least toxic and minimally invasive interventions and only proceeding to more toxic and invasive interventions when necessary
The Healing Power of Nature, Vis Medicatrix Naturae – First described by Hippocrates as the healing power of nature. It is a person’s vital force within that allows an individual to overcome disease. Naturopathic Medicine recognizes an inherent ordered and intelligent self-healing process in each person. Naturopathic physicians act to identify and remove obstacles to healing and recovery, and to facilitate and augment this inherent self-healing process.
Identify and Treat the Cause, Tolle Causam – The Naturopathic physician seeks to identify and remove the underlying causes of illness rather than to merely eliminate or suppress symptoms the patient is experiencing.
Doctor As Teacher, Docere – Naturopathic physicians educate their patients and encourage self-responsibility for health. They also recognize and employ the therapeutic potential of the doctor/patient relationship.
Treat the Whole Person – Naturopathic physicians treat each patient by taking into account an individual’s physical, mental, emotional, genetic, environmental, social, spiritual, and other factors that contribute to one’s health.
Prevention – Naturopathic physicians emphasize the prevention of disease-assessing factors, heredity, and susceptibility to disease, and work towards making the appropriate decisions in partnership with their patients to prevent illness.
Naturopathic Therapeutic Order
Establish the conditions for health
- Identify and remove disturbing factors
- Institute a more healthful regimen
Stimulate the healing power of nature (vis medicatrix naturae): the self-healing processes, through low force methods such as constitutional hydrotherapy, homeopathy, acupuncture
Address weakened or damaged systems or organs (via botanical medicine, homeopathy, orthomolecular nutrients, glandulars, homeopathy, and other minimally invasive, safe, natural therapies)
Strengthen the immune system
Normalize inflammatory function
Optimize metabolic function
Balance regulatory systems
Harmonize life force
Correct structural integrity
- use specific natural substances, modalities, or interventions
- use specific pharmacologic or synthetic substances
Suppress or surgically remove pathology
As Gandhi said, we must “be the change you wish to see in the world.” Naturopathic Doctors practice the change they want to see in medicine. Despite the fact that it has not gained universal acceptance within the United States healthcare system, Naturopathic Doctors have taken a ‘leap of faith’, knowing that integrative medicine is the best medicine and will eventually gain not only parity, but prominence. Naturopathy extends beyond just integrating multiple therapies and modalities in treatment. It incorporates an integrative approach to all aspects of health and wellness. Starting from day one of a naturopath’s medical education and continuing throughout practice, every body system, function, disease, and treatment is viewed from a holistic perspective. It is very likely that almost every integrative medical practitioner shares at least some philosophical tenants with naturopathy, regardless of whether it is called “naturopathic” or “holistic” or “alternative”. It is also likely that many integrative practitioners differ on some philosophies, treatments and approaches. Having an underlying shared philosophical approach combined with different styles, opinions, ideas and discoveries fuel evolution, progress and change. As such, the philosophy and practice of Naturopathic Medicine is a part of the evolving consciousness and paradigm shift towards a more holistic and integrative approach to healthcare that will soon become the new standard for conventional medicine.