Naturopathic doctors specialize in a drug-free, natural approach to healing the body through diet and lifestyle modifications and the use of natural medicines.
The naturopathic approach combines evidence-based medicine with time-proven healing techniques to create an integrative model of medicine.
Our goal with treatment is to restore normal or optimal function to the body by an assessment of your unique genetic makeup, blood biomarkers, diet and lifestyle, hormonal balance, toxic exposures, immune system function, structural alignment, physical fitness, and mental emotional health.
From this information we determine the most effective, safest, and least invasive treatment. Many times this includes the use of vitamins, minerals, medicinal herbs, homeopathy, and diet and lifestyle changes.
What education is needed to become a licensed Naturopathic doctor?
Naturopathic doctors (ND) attend 4-year post-baccalaureate naturopathic medical schools.
The school I attended was founded in 1956, and is called the National College of Naturopathic Medicine (NCNM), in Portland, Oregon. It is the oldest federally and regionally accredited naturopathic school in the country.
We are trained to become general practitioners (GPs), and similar to other family physicians, we prescribe pharmaceutical medications, order lab work, and perform minor surgery.
What is the difference between a ND (Naturopathic doctor) and a MD (Medical doctor)?
The first 2 years of medical school for both MDs and NDs are very similar and focuses on learning the basic and clinical sciences. In years 3 & 4, MDs learn all of the areas of medical specialization and NDs are trained to become family doctors who specialize in a drug-free, natural approach to healing the body.
The typical treatment options from a medical doctor include drugs and surgery. You may also be told to “watch and wait” if no diagnosis can be found or no treatment is warranted at that time.
A Naturopathic doctor may also recommend that you follow the conventional standard of care treatment, if this is the safest and most effective treatment. However, drugs come with side-effects and varying levels of effectiveness. And many people do not want to take drugs unless absolutely necessary.
Naturopathic doctors have many treatment options to choose from before turning to drug therapy, including lifestyle modifications, botanical medicines, nutritional supplements, homeopathy, and body work.
Did you know?
There are still conventional medical schools in the US that do not have a single class in nutrition. With four years of training in clinical nutrition, this means that Naturopathic doctors are much more qualified to give you advice about your diet.
What is the role of a Naturopathic doctor in your health care?
As a Naturopathic doctor (ND), I specialize in how to keep people well.
Most family physicians are not trained in how to keep people well; they instead specialize in the treatment of disease.
I reserve drug treatment for when diet and lifestyle treatments have failed, or when it is the least invasive and most effective treatment option available for the particular patient.
What is the difference between a Naturopathic doctor and a homeopath?
Homeopathy is one single modality that a Naturopathic doctor may use for treatment. Other modalities include botanical medicine, clinical nutrition, IV therapy, and physical manipulation.
To become proficient in the use of homeopathy, many years of study are required. I have studied homeopathy for the past 10 years and have received certification from the New England School of Homeopathy from the world-renowned homeopaths Drs. Paul Herscu and Amy Rothenberg.
What is the difference between a Naturopathic doctor and a nutritionist?
The training for nutritionists is varied and can be anything from a weekend online course to years of training.
Naturopathic doctors receive 4-years of nutrition training in the classroom and in the clinic with patients throughout their medical education. Because NDs are medically trained professionals, we are the most qualified to give you advice on the best diet for your current health situation.
Naturopathic nutrition advice differs greatly from what you hear in the mainstream media.
The most commonly held myths about Naturopathic medicine…
#1 Naturopathic doctors are anti-drugs, anti-vaccines, and anti-surgery.
When someone asks me if I am against surgery and drugs I often respond with, “If you are in a car accident and you break your neck, don’t come to me.” Go to the hospital where the advances in modern medicine are nothing short of a miracle. Emergency medicine is where conventional medicine shines and it saves thousands of lives every day.
However, if you want to speed up your healing time, ease your pain and suffering from the accident, and strengthen your bones to prevent future breaks, then make an appointment with a Naturopathic doctor.
The same goes for drugs. I prescribe them when they are the least invasive, yet most effective course of treatment for the patient.
Vaccinations are a very big topic for another blog post. However I will say that it is not as black and white as the mainstream media would have you believe.
Vaccinations have also saved many lives. I support better studies of the long-term safety of each vaccination, as well as alternative schedules that fit the individual needs of each patient.
Bottom line- A more informed public is demanding the safety information of vaccinations and this is a good thing. We want to do what is best for our families and the population at large.
And this is what creates advancement in medicine.
#2 You have to choose between seeing an MD or an ND.
I frequently collaborate with MDs, DOs, DCs, acupuncturists, personal trainers, massage therapists, ect.
Cardiologists specialize in the heart, Gastroenterologists specialize in the gut, and Naturopathic doctors specialize in complementary and alternative medicine. If your ND is telling you not to see a MD, or your MD is not open to working with your ND, then it’s time to find a new doctor that is better suited to your needs.
Gone are the days of thinking your doctor’s word is set in stone. You are free to question, seek second opinions, and find a new and better doctor at any time!
#3 Naturopathic doctors can be trained online through correspondence courses.
To become a licensed ND you must attend a federally accredited 4-year post baccalaureate naturopathic medical school, as well as pass the national board exams. There are a total of 8 schools in North America that have the Naturopathic doctor degree.
However, the confusion lies in the fact that there are still some states that do not regulate who can call themselves a Naturopathic doctor. It is important to know that there are online learning Naturopathy programs that teach nutrition and other healthy living principals. But other than bearing a similar name, there is no similarities or connection between the programs or degrees.
#4 Naturopathic medicine is not scientific.
Naturopathic medical schools teach an evidence-based medical approach, just like any other medical program.
We follow conventional medical guidelines when we perform physical exams, order blood work, and make diagnoses for our patients. We are taught to follow the standard of care in medicine, consult medical journals, and look through the current research when determining a patient’s treatment plan.
The medical school I attended has a complementary and alternative medicine research institute and offers a Masters of Science degree in Integrative Medicine Research.
When approaching a patient’s case I use three types of information to guide my decision making: modern research, traditional wisdom and evolutionary biology, as well as my clinical and personal experiences.
Does this mean that every treatment I recommend is double-blind placebo studied, or soundly backed by science?
Nope. And this applies to both naturopathic and conventional medicine practices.
Sometimes in medicine we have the experience that a treatment works, before we have the solid supportive evidence in research. Observations such as these are often how we determine what to research. As doctors, we recommend what we believe to be the best treatment for each patient, and our recommendations evolve and improve over time.
Another important note is that scientific research is fallible. There have been many times in history that the previous interpretation of the research turned out to be wrong.
John Loannidis, a researcher and big proponent for good quality scientific research, highlights this by saying, “Moreover, for many current scientific fields, claimed research findings may often be simply accurate measures of the prevailing bias”, in his paper Why Most Published Research Findings Are False.
Let me give you the example of the old recommendation to take a baby Aspirin a day to prevent heart disease.
For years doctors were recommending people over a certain age, without previous history of cardiovascular disease, to take a baby Aspirin a day to prevent their first heart attack or stroke. However, it turns out that this was not a well-researched recommendation and was doing more harm than good.
The current research now tells us that 1,667 people would need to be treated before 1 person would see benefit with the baby Aspirin a day treatment. And after 1 year of continued treatment, 0 deaths were prevented.
While there is no benefit to the Aspirin treatment in people without prior history, it will slightly increase your risk of stroke or a gastrointestinal bleed. And although the increased risk is small, the consequences of these problems can be severe and result in death.
So if there was no benefit, and the treatment caused more harm than good, why were doctors recommending it? Well, because this was the recommendation based on the interpretation of the data at the time, and it turned out to be wrong.
This same misinterpretation of the research applies to the cholesterol lowering medications called statin drugs.
For years well intentioned doctors were writing thousands of prescriptions for statin drugs for people with no prior history of heart disease. These prescriptions were given as a preventive measure, or to lower already elevated cholesterol levels.
It turns out that ZERO lives were saved with this recommendation, while 1 in 50 people were harmed by developing diabetes or muscle damage.
Therefore statin drugs are no longer recommended as a preventive treatment, or in people with elevated cholesterol but no other risk factors for heart disease.
*Do not make a change to your medication without first talking to your doctor about how to do it safely.
#5 Naturopathic medicine uses treatments that are not FDA approved.
TRUE, and this is why…
A Naturopathic doctor may recommend both FDA approved and non-FDA approved treatments for your care.
Conventional medicine also uses drugs for purposes that are not in the approved labeling. This is called an off-label use of a drug.
Doctors get into medicine to help their patients, and this includes recommending treatments that they have observed from clinical experience to work.
With that said, some natural cures and treatments are not patentable. And non-patentable treatments are not as profitable as drugs. Often the FDA will not spend the money needed to put it through testing, especially if there is no evidence suggesting it is dangerous.
#6 If natural medicines are so effective than drug companies would be using them.
They already do. The fish oil medication called Lovaza is one example.
It is estimated that 25% of modern prescription drugs contain at least one compound now, once derived, or based on compounds derived from plants.
Take the opium plant in the development of the painkiller morphine, as one example.
So if natural medicines are so effective, then why are pharmaceutical companies not making a drug out of every natural product out there?
The biggest problem is that nature cannot be patented. Not unless you alter it chemically in some way. And non-patented products make much less money.
This is also why there may be less incentive to put money into the research of naturally occurring products. There is just not as much money to be made in natural medicines, as compared to pharmaceuticals.
#7 Modern medicine believes natural medicine is not worth studying.
Many conventionally trained doctors have started to use natural therapies in their practices because patients are asking for alternatives to drugs, and because there are many natural medicines that are safe, gentle and effective.
The NIH (National Institutes of Health), one of the world’s foremost medical research centers, has a dedicated institute to conduct and support research on complementary health products and practices.
The Institute for Functional Medicine has been created to train all types of physicians in the art and science of better medicine through addressing the underlying causes of complex chronic diseases and functional disease, with dietary and lifestyle modifications that prevent them.
According to a 2007 survey, Americans spent $33.3 billion dollars out of pocket for complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) practitioners. Clearly there is an interest in CAM, and there is an increasing need for research to improve treatment protocols and our understanding of alternative therapies.
#8 I’ve seen a Naturopathic doctor and it didn’t work, therefore naturopathic medicine does not work for me.
There are good doctors and bad doctors. There are doctors that are a good fit for your needs, as well as those who are a bad fit. The same could be said for mechanics, or wood workers, or plumbers, or lawyers, or architects, or, or, or… you get my point.
And because there are many different treatment modalities in natural medicine, all Naturopathic doctors practice differently.
I urge you to do your do your research, get a recommendation, and find a doctor that will fit your needs.
Why do I need a naturopath when I can go into a health food store or consult Dr. Google?
Contrary to popular belief, just because something says it is natural, does not mean that it could not be harmful to you when taken incorrectly.
For example, taking large doses of iron, calcium, or vitamin D when you do not need it, can create negative or toxic effects. And of the billions spent on supplements each year, much of if is just very expensive urine.
People take supplements based on something they read on the internet, the recommendation of a friend, or otherwise unqualified person, rather than seeking the advice of someone who specializes in the use of natural medicines.
Can you imagine if everyone took pharmaceuticals in this way? (“Well my friend Sally told me that her aunt Clara’s hair stylist takes Abilify for that”) Yikes!
It’s important to know what the unique needs of your body are, the products that will put your body into balance, and how to track the process with the changes you have made.
Also, the supplement industry is poorly regulated. So it is very important to know the quality and safety of the products you are taking. What is on the label is not what is always in the bottle!
This recent investigation, done by the New York State Attorney General’s office, exposed some major retailer brand supplements on this very topic. “The New York State attorney general’s office accused four major retailers on Monday of selling fraudulent and potentially dangerous herbal supplements and demanded that they remove the products from their shelves.”
Buying from unknown sources online also puts you at risk for taking counterfeit or improperly stored products.
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