Fundamentals of Naturopathic Medicine

In honor of the upcoming National Naturopathic Medicine Week, I would like to devote this months article to discussion of some of the guiding principles behind our preferred form of healthcare. Naturopathic Medicine is a grass-roots movement whose popularity is currently being spread through word-of-mouth education: professional to patient, patient to family, neighbor to neighbor, co-worker to co-worker, community to government. Awareness of holistic medicine spreads from the bottom up and we are now in a political time in which citizens are educating their government about the types of medical coverage they want. So, this month we will develop a language with which to discuss Naturopathic Medicine, so that we all can continue to spread the good word.

The tag line for New England Naturopathic Health is “medicine that makes sense”. In this vain, here are three very logical principles that in my mind set Naturopathic Medicine apart from its conventional colleague.

Treating the Cause:

Increasingly, and through no fault of its own, Conventional Medicine has become a science of disease management. The reasons for this de-evolution can primarily be blamed on the pharmaceutical and health insurance industries dictating how medicine should be practiced. MDs are caught in the struggle of being limited to brief encounters with their patients due to insurance regulations and having limited education around therapeutic tools aside from pharmaceutical medications. We as a nation are being taught that the only way to “cure” our illnesses is to swallow synthetic chemical compounds invented by a biochemist in some pharmaceutical laboratory somewhere. Now, I ask you, as an intelligent person, does that concept make ANY sense WHATSOEVER? The moral of this story: question authority, always.

Practicing medicine that makes sense entails discovering and treating the cause of the symptoms that bring people to their doctors. Medicating the symptoms away, though easier and more profitable, is simply not enough. This is why I spend 90 minutes with a patient in the first appointment and why the majority of my patients submit stool and saliva samples for functional analysis. I want to understand what is going on at the very fundamental levels of health: how the patient is buffering stress, how well their detoxification processes work, how the balance of good vrs. bad microbes in the GI tract is affecting the immune system, and the list goes on. Once we have discovered the cause(s) for the symptoms affecting quality of life, how do we begin to alter the fundamental influences? This brings us to our next logical difference.

Patient Education and Accountability:

One of the other reasons that Naturopathic Doctors spend so much time with their patients is because we are educating them to understand their own bodies. We teach our patients to de-stress, reduce toxic burden and eat well for their individual constitution. Plus, we expect them to use this knowledge. It is not enough to simply take your supplements/medications and expect to “get better”. Being healthy requires living healthfully, which requires eating real food, getting physical activity, engaging in activities that bring joy and working on adjusting “the baditude”.

It is in the day-to-day lifestyle decisions that a person’s state of health is determined. No amount of medications or supplements is going to change this fundamental premise. But we have been sold a myth as a country that we can do what we please as long as we take our medications. This myth is sending the health of the United States to hell in a hand-basket. And it’s a very expensive hand-basket. We are now close to spending 1 out of every 5 of our hard-earned dollars on health care1. And what is the most expensive healthcare system in the world buying us? We have the highest rates of Diabetes2 and Heart Disease3 in the entire world and one of the lowest life expectancies4. What’s missing is patient education and accountability. I find that my patients are only too happy to learn how to take care of themselves, once they know that this is an option.

Patient Individuality

The best way to take care of one’s self is highly variable form person to person. Getting diagnosed with a “disease” in conventional medicine also means that patients are matched with a medication protocol that goes with this disease. And so, the forty-year-old male CEO gets the same medication for his tension-induced migraines as the 17-year-old female high-school student who gets pre-menstrual migraines, even though the causes are completely different.

Everyone arrives at their state of health by a different path, even if the destination is the same. It is in that individual path that the clues to successful treatment can be found. Naturopathic Medicine sees every patient as an individual requiring individualized care. Even a therapy as fundamental as nutrition is not one-size-fits-all and must be custom-fit to what the individual body and disease process requires.
Again, understanding a patient as an individual requires time and hearing the full story, which Naturopathic Doctors strive to do.

What You Can Do to Help Spread Awareness

Educate each other. The current medical system is not doing this, nor is the government, so it is incumbent upon us as responsible citizens to spread the word that good health IS possible and that you CAN BE an active participant in your healthcare. In the very near future, The Maine Association of Naturopathic Doctors and supporters of the organization will be undertaking a campaign of expanding awareness of the consumer demand for health insurance coverage for Naturopathic Medicine. Within the next few weeks, customizable letters to send to your health insurance company and the Maine State Government will be available for you to use to voice your demand for logical healthcare. Stay tuned and thanks, as always, for your support of Naturopathic Medicine.