A holistic (whole-istic) approach
This distinctly natural approach to wellness differs from conventional or allopathic medicine by emphasizing the whole patient when treating illness, not just the symptoms.
"Allopathic physicians usually look at the patient's chief complaint and try to treat that directly with medication or by other means, but very rarely look at the person in totality," according to Dr. Marian Small, a Seattle-based naturopathic doctor specializing in family practice and oriental medicine.
Naturopathic physicians, she noted, search for the underlying physical, emotional, environmental, genetic and social factors that contribute to dis-ease or imbalance. They then select treatments that stimulate and enhance the body's natural healing mechanisms.
Much like detectives, naturopaths follow a series of clues (a patient's symptoms, history, etc.) to unravel the mystery of illness. This approach — combined with a variety of diagnostic techniques — has enabled practitioners to better understand some conditions that have long vexed mainstream medicine.
Some N.D.s theorize, for instance, that Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder — a common condition that plagues children and adults alike — may stem from an inability to absorb omega fatty acids.
Likewise, food allergies have been implicated in illnesses from schizophrenia to arthritis to sinus congestion and chronic infections may be triggered by low-grade allergic reactions. In some cases, the solution is as simple as making dietary modifications.
"Often times, even though the problem is one place, we might focus our therapies in another area," said Dr. Small. "For instance I have good success with stubborn sinus problems, and I almost always find that treating the digestive organs is the key to resolving those problems."
What conditions do naturopaths treat?
Naturopaths are trained as primary care doctors. In other words, they are the first doctor a patient would see for non-emergency care. N.D.s are skilled at diagnosing and treating a broad spectrum of ailments and illnesses, including fatigue, allergies, menopausal/PMS symptoms, gastrointestinal problems, headaches and migraines, musculo-skeletal complaints, depression and anxiety, respiratory ailments, sinus infections, fibromyalgia and more.
"Most of my patients first come to me for a specific problem or complaint," according to Dr. Small. "But after we get that cleared up and they get a glimpse of the scope of this medicine, they begin to recognize what it can do. They learn to recognize when something starts to get out of balance and want to prevent it from taking hold."
An integrative approach
In many instances, people are seeking a more integrative approach — that is — a combination of naturopathic and traditional medical care. "This is especially true," say doctors Murray and Pizzorno, "with more severe illnesses that require pharmacological or surgical intervention, such as cancer, angina, congestive heart failure, Parkinson's disease and trauma."