Naturopathic Medicine is a distinct system of medicine that combines modern science and traditional healing practices. Naturopathic physicians (or Naturopathic doctors, NDs) have been trained to be primary care doctors and have received an education equivalent to 4 years of conventional medical school. NDs focus on diagnosing the root causes of disease through lab tests, detailed histories, and physical exams. Naturopathic Medicine is based on six fundamental principles, and treatment is guided by the therapeutic order, moving from most foundational to most invasive.
I work mostly with the first four levels of the therapeutic order, and do not prescribe medications. I generally do not use lab tests to diagnose, as I find the diagnosis reached through examining the body is not changed with the addition of lab results. Though I usually enjoy helping people come off pharmaceuticals, at this time that is out of my scope. Due to bureaucratic and timing issues I currently do not carry a ND license in the state of Washington, though my California license is still active.
The Healing Power of Nature
Naturopathic medicine recognizes the innate ability of all people to heal themselves. When someone recovers from illness, or heals a broken bone, it is not the doctor who makes this happen, it is a power only that person possesses. The role of the physician is to facilitate this natural healing process and support its manifestation. If there are obstacles the physician recognizes and removes them. If this healing power is weakened, the physician helps strengthen it. It is absolutely necessary to work with the body, and when the conditions are met than healing happens naturally.
Identify and Treat the Cause
Naturopathic medicine understands that the apparent reason for someone's illness is often not the true, root cause. If the treatment is directed at the symptoms of disease they may resolve, only to reappear later, often more severe. Only by discovering the underlying reason for disease can true health be restored and fostered.
First Do No Harm
It is common in medical practice to state that there are always side effects: that is, pros and cons to a particular type of treatment. Naturopathic medicine recognizes that all interventions that can heal have the potential to harm as well. Care is taken to prevent harm by individualizing treatments to minimize and prevent side effects; by avoiding the harmful suppression of symptoms whenever possible; and using the least invasive intervention necessary in accordance with the therapeutic order.
Doctor as Teacher
The word doctor comes from the latin docere, meaning teach. A primary responsibility of a naturopathic physician is education, as each person is ultimately responsible for their own health. By teaching people how to nourish and activate their innate healing potential patients are empowered to self-heal.
Treat the Whole Person
Naturopathic medicine recognizes that each individual has many sides and that their disease does not exist in isolation. Physical, emotional, mental, social, environmental, and genetic factors are all important. As each person is an unique individual diagnosis and treatment must also be individualized.
The best treatment is when one does not get sick. Naturopathic medicine emphasizes preventative measures in order to nourish health and prevent illness, taking into account diet, lifestyle, and family medical history.
The therapeutic order goes from the most foundational and least invasive, starting at level 1, up to the most targeted and most invasive, at level 7.
Level 1 - Establish the Foundation for Health
This is the most important level as it underlies all the others. Without the foundations for health any types of treatments can only go so far. Good quality air, water, and food are vitally important. The right kind of physical activity, the amount and quality of sleep, the presence of nourishing relationships, all are necessary to establish health. If there are obstacles, such as chemicals in the diet, excessive work-related stress, or exposure to pollutants, these need to be addressed in order to allow the innate healing force an opportunity to come forth.
Level 2 - Stimulate the Self-Healing Mechanisms
Sometimes the vital force is stuck in an unproductive pattern and not manifesting its potential as well as it could be. This level uses modalities such as low-dose herbs, hydrotherapy, homeopathy, and other gentle therapies to help stimulate the vital force and guide it back towards health. By harnessing the power of the vital force and working with the body treatments used in this category typically have minimal to no side-effects.
Level 3 - Support and Restore Weakened Systems
At this level treatments focus on supporting particular systems in the body, using treatments to assist the vital force at a more physical level. For instance, turmeric might be used to help reduce inflammation; B vitamins could given for fatigue due to a deficiency; or parsley used to help the body eliminate heavy metals. By continuing to work with the body, while targeting more specific conditions, treatments used at this level also typically have minimal side-effects.
Level 4 - Correct Physical Structure
The physical structure of the body has a profound effect on well-being. If there is muscular tension that is pulling the spine out of alignment, or there are restrictions and adhesions in the connective tissue, correcting these structural issues can have a huge impact. Physical manipulation, deep-tissue massage, or other forms of bodywork can be used here.
Level 5 - Natural Symptom Control
At this level the focus is now on the disease instead of the person. Palliating symptoms or treating disease is necessary in certain situations, and naturopathic physicians have a variety of natural substances that can be used to target specific symptoms, replace organ and tissue functions, or address disease processes. Using thyroid hormone to address hypothyroid symptoms, herbal antibiotics for infections, or demulcent herbs for a stomach ulcer would all fall into this category.
Level 6 - Synthetic Symptom Control
Here instead of using natural substances pharmaceutical medications are used to suppress symptoms, treat pathology, and take over body functions that are not working anymore. Almost all medications fall into this category, with a few exceptions.
Level 7 - High Force Interventions
This refers to surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and other highly invasive or toxic treatments. At times these types of treatments are the best option, but should be used as a last resort, and only when necessary.