What Naturopathic Medicine Is & Why It’s So Effective

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What Is Naturopathic Medicine?

Naturopathic medicine has a wide range of treatments you may not know about.

You might be familiar with the medical abbreviations MD, DO, NP, or PA, but one abbreviation people don't recognize is ND, for Naturopathic Doctor.

In fact, many people are unfamiliar with naturopathic medicine and how it's different than traditional modern medicine.

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Naturopathic doctors and accredation. 

Not every state has protected terminology, and you might find a "naturopath" who took a 100-hour online course and is now advertising themselves as such.

Because naturopathic doctors are licensed on a state-by-state basis right now, it's up to your legislature to advocate for protected terminology and licensing. Not only does it allow credible doctors to practice in your state, but also protects you from going to an under-qualified person.

To see if your state or province is licensed, click here to find a licensed naturopathic doctor or find your state association.

Every type of doctor has a time and a place.

If I'm in a car wreck, please take me to the ER and not a naturopathic doctor. That isn't where naturopathic medicine shines.

There are a few exceptions, but for the vast majority, NDs are here to treat chronic diseases or diseases of lifestyle. For example, if you go to your regular doctor and complain of constipation, excessive gas, and bloating, they might put you on a laxative or stool softener.

When an ND sees that presentation, we ask about your emotional health and stress levels, your antibiotic use, your diet, sleep, exercise, and more to get an idea of how the whole body is functioning together.

When someone complains of knee pain, an ND won't just give you a steroid injection to mask the pain. A naturopath's whole approach to patient care is different. And it's allowed to be different because we aren't dealing with life or death situations.

Naturopathic medicine isn't "sexy," and we don't give you a pill that makes it go away over night. We're partners here to guide you through a healing journey, so you can have your optimal health back.

Part of what makes naturopaths different is our guiding principles.

When I was going to school, as soon as you walked into the academic building, you saw flags hanging with Latin phrases describing the seven principles of naturopathic medicine. These include many similarities to the medical doctor's Hippocratic Oath, like "do no harm."

It also includes tenants for us to use the healing power of nature and reminders to treat the whole person, not just their symptoms.

When it comes to care, the more options an ND has at their disposal, the more diversely they can see their patient.

Here are 10 factors involved in naturopathic medicine.

1. Nutrition.

This might be obvious, but if you put something into your body, it will either help you or hurt you.

We help you realize it's not just quantity but quality, and will direct you in making more empowering food choices.

2. Hydrotherapy.

Applying hot water vasodilates (enlarges in diameter) the blood vessels, and applying cold water vasoconstricts (makes them smaller). This acts like a pumping system for the blood.

This is just as if you were working out, minus the whole "fight or flight mode" aspect, which counteracts healing. Having the calm, healing, parasympathetic stimulation is good for the body.

3. Botanical medicine.

An ND has years of herbal training under their belt. They know how herbs interact with medications, how they interact with each other, and who is a candidate for herbal medicine.

We use herbs topically, in tinctures (alcohol-based solutions), capsules, and in our diets.

4. Environmental medicine.

This is where we look at your exposures to see what invisible burdens your body may be struggling with.

This category includes everything from polluted water, foods that absorb the most pesticides, mold exposures, and connections to things like Lyme disease, PANDAS, and other stealth infections.

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5. Mind-body medicine.

You are not a body; you are a soul inhabiting a body. We recognize the power of thoughts and emotions, and the either detrimental or beneficial effect on your health.

We also realize that you make neurotransmitters in your gut, and if you have poor digestion, you might also have anxiety or depression. We don't go after one of those issues without addressing the other.

6. Acupuncture.

This ancient form of Chinese medicine uses very thin needles to move the Qi (pronounced "chee") and eliminate negative energetic patterns in the body. In other states, a ND may or may not be allowed to do this.

Dry needling is a common practice used in the sports medicine world, but it's not the same practice. True acupuncture treatments might only use points on your hand or legs to treat pain in your back, or on your shins for stomach ailments.

7. Physical medicine. 

We do learn manipulations to realign the spine. Some doctors specialize in this, while others don't touch it with a 10-foot pole.

I am a firm believer in "function follows structure," and if we're out of alignment things simply can't fire correctly.

8. Homeopathy. 

This follows the premise that "like cures like." So, if I have a bug bite, I would take the remedy that causes that. For example, Apis is from bees. If I have a bee sting or a spider bite, I might use that because it treats a red, hot, itchy, possibly tender area.

Homeopathy is not a magic bullet and requires lots of practice of a practitioner to get the correct remedy that matches the person's presentation.

9. Minor surgery. 

Some states allow NDs to have training in this, and we are allowed to make an incision that does not invade a body cavity. So, we can do cosmetic things like remove skin tags or lipomas. This is generally an area that a ND sees on a regular basis.

10. Women's health. 

We spend time learning how to do proper breast and pelvic exams (aka, a pap smear). But again, due to cost of equipment, not every ND does these, so check with your doctor before trying to schedule one.

Having such expansive training allows naturopaths to make the most customized treatment plan for our patients. While there are certainly trends in what I see on a day-to-day basis, not every patient's treatment is the same.

Naturopathic doctors are experts at assessing where you're at in life and what the most effective approaches would be for you.

So, instead of changing your diet when you get diagnosed with diabetes or some other disease, we work with you where you are now to give you the most longevity.

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Dr. Kelly Winnett is a naturopathic doctor who specializes in diabetes, fertility issues, and other health and wellness problems in Arizona. For more information on how she can help you, visit her website here.

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