Naturopathic Medicine 101
- Wednesday, 24 December 2008
During my yoga class while in the downward dog position, I humbly succumb to the idea that the “upside-down” view of the world is not unlike the manner in which the public unwittingly may perceive my profession of naturopathic medicine. My mind wanders to review events of the previous night, which confirm my suspicions…
At a neighbor’s party, I awaited the inevitable question. It was not long before I heard, “So Odessa, my friend tells me that you practice naturopathic medicine. What do you do exactly?"
There it is! With pride, I replied that naturopathic medicine is a system of medicine that focuses on prevention of illness and the use of natural therapies, seeking to preserve the knowledge of healing wisdom from many countries. I informed her that it is not a new type of medicine as its philosophies date back thousands of years. The term “naturopathy” was coined in 1890 by Benedict Lust, a physician who founded the first US college of naturopathic medicine in the year 1902.
To the gathering crowd I explained that more individuals are turning to complementary and alternative (CAM) therapies for their healthcare. As a naturopath, I employ many therapies: clinical nutrition, botanical medicine, homeopathy, hydrotherapy, lifestyle counseling, acupuncture, Asian medicine, and other physical modalities.
I clarified that naturopathic doctors (NDs) usually begin their assessment with a lengthy first visit to learn about an individual’s past medical history and any current symptoms. Subsequent visits may range from half an hour to one hour in length, reviewing treatment protocols.
I again became attuned to people’s bewilderment concerning naturopathic medicine when asked, “So how are you different from a homeopath?” Good question. I replied that homeopathy is a system of medicine whose fundamental principle is “like cures like.” It involves the use of minute doses of plant, animal, and mineral substances for treatment and prevention. The basis for confusion probably lies with the ND’s inclusion of the practice of homeopathy.
The next inquiry from the growing pool of questions involved the training of NDs. I explained that licensed naturopathic doctors obtain a minimum of three years of pre-medical studies at university and then enter an accredited naturopathic medical college for four years of study. An ND’s training involves studying the basic medical sciences and the various naturopathic medicine treatment modalities with at least 1500 hours of supervised clinical experience. Upon graduation, an ND must pass rigorous written and practical examinations to obtain his or her license.
At this point, one of my new friends asked me to explain the kinds of health concerns treated by NDs. The most common complaints addressed by NDs include, but are not limited to:
• Food intolerances
• Skin disorders
• Weight management
• Chronic fatigue syndrome
• Colds and flu
• Acute and chronic pain
I emphasized further that it is the goal of the ND to assist each individual in obtaining optimal wellness. Therefore, even in the absence of illness or disease, an ND can help an otherwise healthy individual maintain vitality and focus on prevention of illness. This is in accordance with the World Health Organization’s definition of health as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”
On my way to the snack table, I noticed many anxious eyes eagerly awaiting my pick. With a plate of veggies and some tortilla chips on the side, it was clear that I had disappointed some guests. I replied that NDs do allow for some treats every now and then. That was how the lecture ended and the partying began.
Now at the final meditation of my yoga class, I am brought back to the present, lying flat on my back in Savasana pose. I am still, calm, and relaxed. With soothing sounds in the background, to the forefront comes the reality that it is my duty to educate those around me about their alternative healthcare options. And with that pledge, there is acceptance of the fact that some will prefer to keep their “upside-down” views regarding CAM therapies. At the end of class I feel awakened, ready to forge a new path, perhaps the least traveled one…
Murray M, Pizzorno J. Encyclopedia of Naturopathic Medicine. California: Prima Publishing, 1998.