Naturopathic medicine combines evidence-based medicine with age-old healing traditions. Naturopathic doctors receive four years of post-graduate training at naturopathic schools of medicine. It is estimated that about one-third of people utilize alternative and complementary healthcare. Learning more about how naturopathic medicine might help is the first step in determining if it is a viable alternative for stress, sleep, immunity and general well-being.
Naturopathic Medicine Principles
It was in 1892 when the term “naturopathy” was created. This natural therapeutic system drew from medicine systems throughout the world and from Hippocrates. In modern society, this form of healthcare draws from science-based therapeutic and diagnostic procedures and from traditional and ancient methods. The following six principles are the foundation of naturopathy:
• Identify and treat the causes
• Doctor as a teacher
• The healing power of nature
• First do no harm
• Treat the whole person
The Naturopathic Approach
In this system of medicine, illnesses are looked at as a health disturbance process. Several factors may disturb optimal well-being, such as stress, poor nutrition or chronic inflammation. The goal is to discover the disturbances and minimize them. Naturopathic doctors use determinants of health for this process.
The first category regarding determinants of health is inborn. These include:
• Genetic makeup
• Maternal exposures, such as toxins, mental emotional factors, drugs and viruses
• Maternal lifestyle, intrauterine and congenital and maternal nutrition
The second category regarding determinants of health is lifestyle factors and life experiences. These include:
• Environment, mental emotional, lifestyle and spiritual health
• Nutrition, diet and digestion
• Exposure to nature (fresh air, light and clean water)
• Socioeconomic factors (loving and being loved, community, culture and meaningful work)
• Rest and exercise
• Physical and emotional stressors (trauma, medical intervention or a lack of intervention, exposures, addictions, illnesses, physical injuries, and exposure to harmful and toxic substances)
Who Might Benefit from Naturopathic Medicine?
All health concerns and health goals may be approached using naturopathic techniques. All demographics may seek naturopathic treatments, from pediatric patients to the geriatric population.
Patients might consider naturopathy for the following:
• To discover viable health promotion and disease prevention techniques and strategies
• To explore alternative treatment options for chronic health conditions that might be used along with conventional techniques or in place of them
• To seek out a second opinion for symptoms that have not been diagnosed by other medical practitioners
• To find ways to better manage the side effects that might occur with conventional medical treatments
Your conventional and naturopathic doctors can work together to ensure that your treatment combinations can be used simultaneously. Naturopathic doctors have extensive education about both naturopathic and conventional remedies such as prescription medications, in order to reduce the risk of negative interactions between naturopathic and conventional remedies. Naturopathic treatments can be used in conjunction with conventional prescription medications or when appropriate, may provide an effective alternative.
Naturopathic doctors can treat most common ailments that a conventional medical doctor can. They also put a focus on your general well-being, helping to ensure you can manage your stress, get restful sleep and have optimal immunity. In addition to general wellness, the 10 most common conditions that naturopaths treat include:
• Chronic pain and inflammation
• Headaches and migraines
• Healthy weight loss and management
• Depression and anxiety
• Hormonal imbalances (thyroid imbalance, menstrual symptoms, peri-menopausal symptoms)
• Infertility (female and male)
• Elevated blood pressure and cholesterol
• Allergies and food intolerances
Your chief complaint typically receives a targeted therapy or regimen. However, a naturopath also puts focus on your total health throughout the diagnostic and treatment processes.
Naturopathic Diagnostic Techniques
The diagnostic process generally begins with a thorough medical history. Your naturopath starts by getting a full record of your medical history, including all past and current conditions, medications and natural remedies, surgeries and other procedures and past or current injuries.
The practitioner will also obtain details regarding your health concerns, health goals, lifestyle, past and current stressors and your diet. They will discuss your psychological health history too. The next step is learning about your family history. This usually includes direct and distant relatives.
Depending on your medical history and symptoms, a complaint-oriented physical exam may be performed. They sometimes will ask for your medical records. This is important because it allows them to see exactly what diagnostic testing and treatment methods have already been done. If necessary, further diagnostic testing may be recommended which could include food sensitivity testing, more detailed hormonal testing, routine bloodwork.
Treatment Methods in Naturopathic Medicine
There are several treatment methods naturopathic doctors might employ. The options used generally depend on your diagnosis. Learning more about these methods gives you more insight into what to expect.
Lifestyle and Dietary Changes
These changes are generally aimed at both promoting greater well-being and aiding in disease management. Techniques may include:
• Adopting a healthier diet and removing inflammatory foods from the diet
• More exercise
• Stress management strategies
• Quitting smoking
• Reducing alcohol consumption
• Mental health support
Nutritional Supplements and Herbs
There are numerous nutritional supplements and herbs that are used in naturopathy. Your practitioner will recommend the ones that are best for your specific ailment. For example, if you have a nutrient deficiency, a supplement of the nutrient might be prescribed. Herbs may be utilized to re-balance the immune system, promote hormonal balance or address other health goals and concerns.
Acupuncture involves the application of fine needles or pressure (acupressure) on specific points of the body to assist with symptom management and to re-balance the system as a whole. Treatment is based on the principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine which may include the use of herbs.
Homeopathy is based on the law of minimum dose and like cures like. The products used in this system of medicine come from an array of minerals and plants. They come in multiple forms, such as sublingual pellets, gels, creams, ointments, drops and tablets. The remedies are diluted and utilize nanoparticles in extremely small quantities.
Detoxification might be recommended if toxicity is suspected to be contributing to your ailment. The goal is to flush the toxins from your body to restore optimal health and well-being. The following are possible detox methods:
• Dietary changes
• Herbs and supplements that support the liver and lymphatic system
• Stress management
• Dry skin brushing and castor oil packs
• Deep breathing and exercise
Referral to Supportive Practitioners
While, many health concerns and goals can be addressed naturopathically, there is also tremendous benefits to integrating other health care practitioners into the treatment plan.
For example, for mental emotional health and chronic physical conditions, psychotherapy and counseling might be beneficial. Therapeutic massage, acupuncture and manual osteopathy might be helpful for both psychological and physical conditions. The purpose is to reduce pain, enhance well-being and restore optimal musculoskeletal function. Your naturopathic doctor may have you work with any number of physical medicine practitioners who may also recommend certain exercises and activities to do at home.
If you decide to visit a naturopathic doctor, check your provinces requirements regarding training and licensure. Then make sure the practitioner you make an appointment with meets these requirements before booking your appointment.
**Dr. Jennifer Yee, ND, is a fully licensed naturopathic doctor and graduated from the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine (CCNM) in 2006. She also obtained a Bachelor of Health Sciences degree from Western University prior to studying naturopathic medicine. She is registered with the College of Naturopathic Doctors of Alberta (CNDA) which is regulated by the government of Alberta.