As Naturopathic Medicine becomes increasingly popular, many people have been wondering, “What exactly is Naturopathy?” or “What does a Naturopathic Medical Doctor do?”

In an attempt to clear up confusion and offer a realistic understanding, we would like to present to you the philosophy of naturopathic medicine. The following principles are the foundation that all naturopathic doctors use to diagnose and treat patients.

The first principle that defines naturopathic medicine is to treat the cause, not merely the symptoms. If we compare our bodies to our cars, we know that there are a whole host of warning lights that can indicate potential problems, such as the “check engine,” “low fuel,” or “service now” indicators. When these lights appear, do we disconnect the light or pull the fuse so we don’t see it or do we seek to find and fix the problem?

Likewise, when we experience pain in our body, headaches, low energy, mood disorders, etc. – these are our body’s “warning lights” that something is in dis-ease or needing attention. We can ignore the problem and hope it goes away but doing so can certainly risk serious complications; another option is to take prescription pharmaceutical drugs to “mask these symptoms” knowing that there are inherit side effects that can arise. Yet another option is to heed the messages and seek to understand or unearth the underlying cause… I refer to this as “getting to the root of the problem.”

Naturopathic medical doctors (NMDs) are committed to helping their patients get answers to what might be causing their symptoms. If we used depression as an example, most people understand that this is very serious medical condition but it is NOT caused by an anti-depressant drug deficiency, is it? Instead, the depression could be the result of an imbalance of neurotransmitters or a lack or excess of important nutrients (vitamin D, B vitamins, taurine, etc) that the brain needs to function properly.

The second principle in naturopathic medicine is do no harm. Hippocrates’ instruction to physicians clearly states that whatever intervention a doctor can make is only acceptable if it will do no further damage to the patient’s health. A good example of a naturopathic approach to healing a bacterial infection is instead of killing all the body’s bacteria with antibiotics (anti-life), NMDs may instead strengthen the body’s immune system. Antibiotics can lead to resistant bacteria and cause overgrowths of pathogenic bacteria later by shifting the body’s innate microorganisms and gut flora, leaving an individuals’ immune system weakened. Although there are situations when antibiotics might be necessary, NMDs would prefer to try a more natural, non-toxic approach.

Another example of this principle is to not suppress symptoms, which are the body’s efforts to self-heal. The body may provoke a fever in reaction to a bacterial or viral infection, and as our body heats up, it creates an inhospitable environment for the harmful bacteria, thereby destroying it. Of course, the NMD would not allow the fever to get dangerously high, but also would be slow to turn to fever-reducing medications as a first step.

The third principle that defines naturopathic medicine is to employ the healing power of nature. NMDs aim to restore and support the powerful and innate healing ability of the body, mind and spirit. The beauty of this principal lies within the individuality of the patient and their body’s own genius to adapt and overcome external and internalized stressors. Cooperating with the body’s wisdom to heal and restore is a mainstay tenant of the art and practice of naturopathic medicine. As long as the obstacles to healing (“the root cause”) can be identified, addressed or removed, the body’s intelligent healing ability can be facilitated and enhanced.

NMDs are committed to helping patients help themselves. If we used broken bone as an example, most people understand that as long as the broken bone ends are in proximity to one another, the bone will naturally knit itself back together and create a boney scar or callus and structural function of the bone is restored. This is the Vis Medicatrix Naturea – the natural healing power of the body. There is minimal intervention needed (barring the obvious breaks like crush injuries or compound fractures that require surgical intervention) because the body just knows what to do in order to heal naturally.

The fourth principle in naturopathic medicine is to treat the whole person. Each person is unique and should be addressed with individualized care. In treating the cause of any presenting dis-ease, NMDs take into account not only the physical symptoms, but also the mental, emotional, genetic, environmental, social, and spiritual aspects of the patient’s life. This is why NMDs spend more time with patients and ask in-depth questions regarding medical history, family history, residential/work environments as well as the quality of the patient’s significant relationships. Physical exams, imaging, and laboratory evaluations are often employed to evaluate the body’s state of stress, toxic burdens, digestive processes, hormone levels, and genetic expressions.

Dis-ease affects the entire person, not just a specific organ or system. The patient’s nutritional status, lifestyle, family history, emotional intelligence, environmental stressors, and physical health are carefully evaluated and addressed when treating the whole person.

The fifth principle that defines naturopathic medicine is the physician as teacher. The word “doctor” is derived from the Latin word docēre that means to teach, instruct, tell, inform, show, or demonstrate. The NMDs major role then is to educate and encourage the patient to take responsibility for their health. The doctor is often catalyst for healthful change, empowering, and inspiring the patient to assume responsibility as the principal agent in health and well being.

It is because of this type of doctor-patient dynamic that it becomes desirable to have a naturopathic medical doctor as a part of your own health care team. NMDs are expert investigators working with patients to unearth and evaluate both corollary and causative stressors in a patient’s dis-ease process – this includes things like diet, medications, genetics, environmental exposures, unhealthy relationships, etc. They take a holistic approach to address patient’s concerns and create individualized treatment plans. This personalized approach to teach and educate the individual patient is often the key to major health gains and recovery from dis-ease.

As a word of caution…In spite of the ease and speed in which you can access unlimited information on “Dr. Google,” remember, it is full of conflicting and confusing information and lacks the human element of rapport and care. Many patients have delayed or even worsened their own health situation by not seeking appropriate professional help in a timely manner.

Practicing preventative and proactive medicine is the final principle in naturopathic medicine, and where NMDs become invaluable to the patient’s healthcare team. The preventative approach to healthcare saves money, pain, misery, and very often, lives. “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” has never been truer.

NMDs always evaluate patient’s risk factors for heredity and vulnerability to disease. They inquire about and address the physical, mental, emotional, environmental, social, and spiritual aspects of the patient’s life to determine how the patient can gain greater wellness and correct any harmful behaviors or choices before symptoms appear. This approach has proven itself to be the most effective way for patients to be less likely to need treatment for future illness or disease.

So there you have it. Naturopathic medicine is a distinct primary health care profession that strongly emphasizes prevention, a holistic approach to evaluation, treatment, and optimal health through the use of therapeutic methods and substances that encourage the individuals’ innate self-healing process. The practice of naturopathic medicine includes modern and traditional approaches along with scientific and empirical methods.