Is naturopathic medicine the pathway to healing and improved health? This unique branch of medicine provides whole-person care that takes advantage of your body’s innate healing capacity.
- Natural treatments like diet, exercise and herbal remedies help unlock your body’s potential to heal.
- Removing obstacles to wellness can have a significant impact on your health.
- Pairing naturopathic treatments with conventional medicine can improve the effectiveness of your care.
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Does your medicine cabinet resemble a small pharmacy because of the large number of prescription medications required to manage your health conditions? Are you ready for a change that can improve your quality of life?
Do you need help making lifestyle changes that can improve your health and protect against illness?
Naturopathic medicine may provide some relief.
Naturopathic medicine is a medical practice that treats the underlying causes of many health issues by encouraging your body’s natural ability to heal. It can be used on its own or in combination with conventional medical treatment.
Its practice gives patients, “the best of both worlds,” according to Malea MacOdrum, N.D., LAC, MSOM, with the Providence Zidell Center for Integrative Medicine in Portland. Dr. MacOdrum works primarily with cancer patients, using a blend of natural, wellness-based interventions to help them manage the side effects brought on by illness and treatments.
Although cancer has been shown to have benefits from naturopathic treatment, there are also many other health issues that can use this holistic form of medicine.
“Naturopathy is whole person medicine—including diet, environment, movement, social connection—everything that affects you is considered,” said Dr. MacOdrum. “It’s patient-centered care that takes advantage of your body’s innate drive towards wellness.”
Here’s a look at what naturopathic medicine has to offer.
What is naturopathy?
Naturopathic medicine centers on an understanding of the human body as a interconnected whole. Health and healing can emerge when the entire system is in balance. It focuses on treating you as an individual, not a collection of symptoms and illnesses.
The practice of naturopathy uses evidence-informed medical knowledge applied to herbal therapies, nutrition, and lifestyle changes to boost your body’s natural healing process
The practice uses evidence-informed medical knowledge applied to herbal therapies, nutrition, and lifestyle changes to boost your body’s natural healing process. It can be used on its own or in partnership with conventional medical care.
What are the underlying principles of naturopathy?
A naturopathic doctor (N.D.) operates according to guidelines called the Principles of Naturopathic Medicine.
Do no harm
Naturopathic doctors focus on the least invasive, least toxic methods possible for diagnosis and treatment. They seek to minimize the risk of harmful side effects by acknowledging, respecting and working with your individual self-healing process.
Care is guided by the Therapeutic Order, which outlines how treatment should progress to provide the greatest benefit with the least potential for causing damage. Treatment starts with the least invasive strategies, like lifestyle changes or herbal remedies, and adds more invasive techniques, like prescription medication or surgery, if they’re needed to get the desired results.
Treatment starts with the least invasive strategies, like lifestyle changes or herbal remedies, and adds more invasive techniques, like prescription medication or surgery, if they’re needed to get the desired results.
For example, to treat high blood pressure, the initial care plan could emphasize diet, exercise and adequate sleep. Botanical remedies might be added if lifestyle changes are not enough to keep the condition in check. If after time none of the natural treatments produce the desired results, prescription medication could be added to your daily routine. If you require care to preserve “life, limb or function,” your N.D. will refer you to a doctor who is trained in surgery or other relevant specialties.
Identify and treat the causes
The goal of treatment in naturopathic medicine is to look beyond your symptoms to identify and remove the underlying causes of your illness—including physical, mental or emotional obstacles to your health. Symptom management is a component of naturopathic care but it’s not the primary goal.
Naturopaths conduct a whole-person evaluation including a comprehensive look at your lifestyle and health history. Your first appointment may last as long as two hours, compared to a conventional office visit, which typically averages less than 20 minutes.
Your first visit with an N.D. may include:
- A thorough health history, including detailed questions about any health concerns
- A methodical review of your body’s major systems, including your digestive, skin, musculoskeletal, endocrine and circulatory systems
- A detailed look at any prescription drugs or supplements you’re taking or have taken in the past
- An overview of your lifestyle, including diet, activity level, work and home environment and your support system of family and friends
- A physical exam
- Diagnostic tests, imaging and lab work if needed
Naturopathic medicine doesn’t replace conventional medicine, it works in tandem with conventional treatment to give you holistic care that takes all aspects of your health into account.
Naturopathic medicine doesn’t replace conventional medicine, it works in tandem with conventional treatment to give you holistic care that takes all aspects of your health into account. Many naturopathic doctors collaborate with conventional medical doctors to determine the best complementary care, or help you manage the side effects of a necessary medication or treatment.
Treat the whole person
Care from a N.D. goes beyond what a conventional primary care evaluation might consider relevant. It gives your psychological, social, emotional and personal factors the same importance as your physical factors when evaluating your care options.
“I help people engage with their own health and their own treatment. If you provide the right input the conditions for health will arise,” said Dr. MacOdrum. “No matter what your condition, there’s always the possibility for movement and growth.”
The healing power of nature
Naturopathic doctors emphasize your body’s innate ability to heal itself. Your body naturally strives to self-repair and regenerate. For example, when you cut yourself and begin to bleed, your platelets clump together and form a clot to protect the wound. Fresh nutrients and oxygen are transported to the area through your blood vessels, which carry white cells to prevent infection and red cells to build new tissue. The process continues until the injury is healed.
Naturopathic doctors emphasize your body’s innate ability to heal itself. Your body naturally strives to self-repair and regenerate.
Naturopathic medicine strives to identify and remove all the factors blocking your healing and recovery to increase your chances for optimal health.
“When you remove the obstacles to a cure, like smoking, social isolation, eating too much, etc., you help remove the obstacles to health,” said Dr. MacOdrum.
The physician as teacher
Education and personal responsibility are stressed by naturopathic physicians who believe that knowledge, guidance and support are vital to the healing process and improvement to your overall health and wellbeing.
Preventing current health issues from becoming worse or stopping future issues from happening at all is a key component to naturopathic medicine. Your doctor will assess your risk factors, health history and heredity, and develop a care plan that stresses overall health, disease prevention and wellness.
Because naturopathic medicine does such a deep dive into your physical, mental, spiritual and emotional characteristics it can often identify health concerns before they become health emergencies and give you a way to get and stay healthy.
What conditions does a naturopathic doctor treat?
Although naturopathic medicine can be used for a broad range of health issues, it “really shines when treating chronic conditions,” according to Dr. MacOdrum. This type of care is not typically appropriate in an emergency situation, and it doesn’t replace conventional care for serious conditions like heart disease or cancer.
Some of the conditions that respond well to naturopathic care are:
- Allergies and asthma
- Autoimmune conditions like lupus or thyroid disease
- Chronic pain or headaches
- Digestive issues
- High-blood pressure
- Mental health concerns
- Side effects of cancer
- Skin disorders
- Stress-related issues
- Weight problems
What does treatment from a naturopath look like?
Although the main goal is to use natural substances when possible, naturopathic doctors may also use conventional pharmacology if your care requires prescription medication. Depending on their state’s licensing parameters, they can either prescribe medication or refer you to a conventional physician for further treatment.
Naturopathic doctors can order standard lab and imaging tests to aid diagnosis and treatment. They can perform minor procedures like stitches or cyst removal but they don’t do major procedures.
Naturopathic doctors can order standard lab and imaging tests to aid diagnosis and treatment. They can perform minor procedures like stitches or cyst removal but they don’t do major procedures. “I’m not trained in major surgery but I can stitch up a cut,” said Dr. MacOdrum.
- Dietary and herbal supplements
- Dietary and lifestyle modifications
- Exercise therapy
- Massage therapy
- Psychotherapy and counseling
- Spinal manipulation
- Stress reduction
In emergency situations, or for serious life-threatening conditions or injuries, naturopathic doctors will typically refer you to doctors trained to in the related conventional medical specialty. Naturopathic doctors may then provide complementary treatment to minimize side effects and maximize the effectiveness of more invasive care.
For example, if you’re undergoing chemotherapy for cancer treatment, your N.D. may prescribe a special diet to combat the nausea, massage to alleviate your pain and stress, and herbal remedies that work alongside your prescription medication to boost its effectiveness.
What kind of training and education does a naturopathic doctor complete before practicing medicine?
Accredited naturopathic doctors complete a four-year undergraduate degree followed by four years of medical training at an accredited naturopathic medical college. Training includes hands-on clinical training combined with education in both biomedical science and natural approaches to care. Students gain expertise in a variety of disciplines including acupuncture, clinical nutrition, counseling and botanical medicine that uses herbs and plants to treat or prevent disease.
Accreditation for naturopathic practice is overseen by the Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges (AANMC).
How do I choose a naturopathic doctor?
Look for a licensed naturopathic physician who attended an accredited naturopathic medical school. This indicates a health care provider who has graduated from a four-year professional-level program at a federally accredited institution and passed national board exams.
“My philosophy of care is that all people have an innate capacity to achieve a sense of well-being at all stages of life. Naturopathy helps them achieve their full potential,” says Dr. MacOdrum.
“What I most enjoy about being a naturopathic care provider is learning about patients’ unique health journeys and working with them to identify and treat their underlying causes of disease,” said Dr. MacOdrum. “My philosophy of care is that all people have an innate capacity to achieve a sense of well-being at all stages of life. Naturopathy helps them achieve their full potential.”
Find a doctor
The naturopathic doctors at Providence see you as a whole person, not a collection of symptoms. They work with your care team to help you unlock your natural power to heal. Find a doctor using our provider directory. Or you can search for a primary care doctor in your area.
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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional’s instructions.
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