Naturopathic treatments can be tailored to complement those of conventionally trained medical doctors. N.D.s are knowledgeable about possible contraindications between naturopathic remedies and traditional medications. They can work in partnership with conventional physicians and make referrals for treatment when appropriate. Emergency, or acute conditions such as heart attacks or broken bones, however, should always be handled by a traditional M.D.
A myriad of healing traditions
Depending on the individual needs of each patient, practitioners draw upon a repertoire of age-old and modern therapies including:
- Clinical nutrition (whole foods and nutritional supplements as medicine)
- Botanical medicine (plant medicines)
- Homeopathics (gentle medicines based on the principle of "like cures like")
- Chinese medicine (acupuncture and other oriental modalities to stimulate the flow of energy)
- Hydrotherapy (an ancient treatment involving the use of water to maintain health [whirlpool, sitz bath, poultice, etc.])
- Physical medicine (the manipulation of muscles and bones through a variety of techniques)
- Psychological medicine (counseling, stress management and other therapies to help patients heal psychologically).
Many naturopathic doctors also perform minor office surgeries, such as removing cysts and treating superficial wounds. Most offer obstetrics services, including prenatal and postnatal care outside of the hospital. Practitioners are also trained in modern methods of diagnostic testing and imaging techniques such as X-ray and ultrasound.
Side effects to naturopathic treatments are rare. The emphasis on gentle, non-toxic remedies and non-invasive therapies has helped earn naturopathic medicine an excellent safety record.
What to expect from a visit to a naturopath
Generally, an office visit lasts about an hour. During the first consultation, the practitioner will record a thorough health history, gathering information about past surgeries, family illnesses, diet, stress factors and work environment. He or she may then use a combination of standard (blood test, urine analysis, physical exam) and holistic diagnostic techniques to evaluate a patient's health.
Following the exam, the N.D. determines the appropriate treatment. Since each patient is unique, treatment regimens are too "One of the most valuable things my N.D. did was to help me understand the connection between my pain and the stress in my life," said Jackson.
"He supported me in making some attitude and lifestyle changes that have been incredibly rejuvenating. Naturopathy has forever transformed the way I treat my body."
The future of naturopathy
Today, naturopathic physicians are enjoying success in a number of realms. Some are playing leading roles in medical research.
Others are developing nutritional supplements and botanical medicines. Some naturopaths are prominent authors, while others are exerting influence in the political arena. The future looks promising.
Society's reawakened interest in natural medicine represents a paradigm shift in healing, particularly as health care costs soar. In this new model, prevention is paramount and patients take responsibility for staying healthy.
Surprisingly, even as early as 1990, some 425 million people visited naturopathic physicians, acupuncturists and other "alternative" specialists, according to a report in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1993. In comparison, there were 388 million visits to primary care M.D.s that same year.
If the current popularity of herbal and nutritional supplements and the prevalence of natural health care books and magazines are any indication, natural medicine is ever more in demand.
With its patient-centered approach, gentle treatments and clinical successes, naturopathy's growing popularity is well deserved.