What Is Naturopathy – and Is It for You?
Contributed by Dr. Amy Whittington, Trilogy’s Naturopathic Physician
Naturopathic medicine has been around for hundreds of years, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve heard of it, or that you know much about it. The field has experienced a resurgence in the last several decades and now is recognized as a viable form of healthcare in many parts of the country. For many people, naturopathy is a new option in healthcare that should be taken into consideration. Numerous patients across the country credit their health, balance, and well-being to naturopathic medicine. Many seek out integrative medicine because of lingering symptoms or for preventive care. Naturopaths often work as primary care doctors, but that can vary from state to state. So, what is naturopathy, and is it for you?
In full disclosure, and as seen in the attached bio, I am a naturopathic physician. Although this article reaches you in various parts of the country, I practice in Arizona, a licensed state (more on that later). The first misconception that needs to be addressed is that the majority of naturopaths are not against traditional medicine. Traditional medicine, which includes your medical family physician and specialists, saves lives on a daily basis and can help effectively treat symptoms and improve your general health. We aren’t against medicines or pharmaceuticals, and in licensed states, we often prescribe them when necessary. Some patients see only naturopathic physicians for their care, but most use naturopathy as adjunctive care.
Naturopathic medicine, or naturopathy, is a system of medicine that focuses on prevention and treating the body as a whole. Naturopathic diagnosis relies on identifying the underlying causes of disease with an emphasis on treating through natural means whenever possible. Naturopathic therapies are supported by research from peer-reviewed journals across many disciplines, including naturopathic medicine, conventional medicine, European complementary medicine, clinical nutrition, phytotherapy, and homeopathy. Generally, naturopaths treat using a combination of nutrients, botanical medicine, acupuncture, clinical nutrition, hormones, homeopathy, manipulation, and pharmaceuticals as necessary.
Naturopathic doctors are currently licensed in about 17 states and Washington D.C. Naturopaths practicing in licensed states have attended an accredited four-year postgraduate doctorate program, undergone board testing for licensure, and have passed and maintain all requirements required by the state. Licensed naturopaths are often considered primary care doctors, and in many states, like Arizona, have diagnostic and prescription rights. If you are not in a licensed state, it is important to ask if the naturopath holds a license in another state, or if they attended an accredited post-graduate schools (see box next page). It is important to note that if you are in an unlicensed state, anyone can claim to be a naturopath, so you should do your research. They are not always doctors, and usually don’t have the 8+ years of schooling that you should expect from your provider.
But can a naturopathic doctor really offer you any help beyond what your traditional provider can? The chances are pretty good that he or she can. For one, naturopaths have a large arsenal of tools for prevention. Numerous studies show the efficacy of herbs and nutrients in both prevention and treatment. Many traditional doctors have even begun including supplements such as probiotics, CoQ10, and fish oil, in their treatment plans because they are finding them to be effective tools for treatment and prevention of many ailments. Poor digestion, hypertension, high cholesterol, hormone imbalance, headaches, and joint pain are just a few of the areas that can often be treated with herbs and nutrients instead of medications, usually prior to the point at which medication would be offered, to prevent further decline (and perhaps the need for the medication altogether).
Naturopaths are also well-versed in lifestyle modification coaching. Have you ever left your doctor’s office with the instruction to: “lose weight”? This is often sound advice, but for a lot of people, more instruction is needed in nutrition, exercise, and cleansing in order to do so safely and effectively. Most people who need or want to lose weight have tried and failed, or lost weight only to regain it. An integrative physician, such as a naturopath, will often adjust hormone balance, blood sugar, and other parameters that can affect your metabolism to help you to bring that weight loss goal to fruition.
Perhaps the most obvious reason to see a naturopathic doctor is if traditional medicine isn’t working well for you. Naturopathic medicine has treatment alternatives in areas where traditional medicine might fail. For example, digestive disturbance such as IBS, heartburn, and bloating can remain even after traditional treatments are put in place. Or, medications, like those for reflux, might control your symptoms but are known to be harmful if taken long-term. Naturopathic physicians can test for flora imbalance, food intolerances, and digestive function to further investigate possible causes, and often treat with antimicrobials, probiotics, herbs, and nutrients. Hormone balance is another great example of beneficial naturopathic care. For men and women seeking non-hormonal options to decrease symptoms associated with hormone changes, herbs, nutrients, and acupuncture can provide great relief. For men and women desiring hormone balance using hormones, bio-identical hormones can provide a better and more patient-specific option. There are alternatives for pain, mood, sleep, fatigue … the list goes on and on.
Finally, naturopathic doctors have a large arsenal of tools to decrease side effects of medications, including nutrients to correct for depletions that your necessary medications might be causing. Perhaps the most underutilized aspect of naturopathic medicine (because it should be available to every sufferer) is support to decrease the side effects for the treatment of cancer. Many naturopathic doctors within licensed states maintain a practice focus in oncology. Some give treatment alternatives; others work right alongside traditional providers to improve nutrition, potentiate the traditional treatment, and decrease the side effects of chemotherapy.
Naturopathic medicine is a growing field, and one that can be a useful adjunct to your healthcare in prevention, symptom relief, and healing. Its availability is expanding every year, but you still need to vet the doctor of your choice, especially in an unlicensed state. Once you establish care with a knowledgeable doctor, I think you will find that naturopathic medicine is for you.
Stay healthy and be well!
Amy Whittington, NMD