Naturopathic Medicine: the medicine of the future

After several years of being in practice as a Naturopathic Doctor, I am more and more certain that this is the way that medicine will be practiced in the future.  Ironically, much of the practice of naturopathic medicine involves a return to the way things used to be – doctors who actually listen to their patients and take time with their patients, therapeutic modalities that are in harmony with the body’s natural healing processes, and a philosophy of medicine that respects the body’s ways and puts patient and doctor together as a team.

Naturopathic Doctor San DiegoI am not categorically opposed to Western medicine, nor am I for a minute implying that allopathic doctors do not care as much about their patients or the practice of medicine.  I do believe, however, that the rise of managed care, accelerating costs of health care to both provider and consumer, and the enormity of the pharmaceutical industry have impaced the way medicine is practiced.  Naturopathic medicine is in a unique position to get us back to the way it used to be, without throwing out the advances and benefits of western medicine.

At face value, the major difference between naturopathic and allopathic medicine may appear to be in the therapeutic modalities.  Allopathic medicine relies more on drugs and surgery, while naturopathic medicine utilizes more natural means such as herbal medicines, nutrition and homeopathy.  But the differences run much deeper than that.

I believe the most significant philosophical tenet of naturopathic medicine is the drive to find the underlying cause of disease or dysfunction, not just suppress the symptoms.   Not only does this allow for deep and lasting healing, but it also opens up the potential for fully seeing the person as a whole – factoring in physical, mental, emotional and spiritual imbalances as potential causes for disease.  To be fair, a naturopathic doctor could treat symptoms and ignore the underlying cause just as easily as an allopathic doctor (we call this “green pharmacy”), so it’s not just about modalities used – it’s about the way we look at our cases, the totality of their picture, not just breaking a person down into systems or organs.  This is a philosophical difference, and in my opinion one of the most important facets of medicine.

In my practice, I work with chronic Lyme disease, and many of my patients are prescribed antibiotics, often several at a time, and often long term.  So clearly I am not opposed to using western medicine where appropriate.  But at the same time, I am looking at their nutrition, their adrenal function, their heavy metal levels, their support systems in their community and family, any underlying stressors or traumas that may be affecting their ability to fight the illness.  These are all-important and must be taken into account.

Autism, an ever-increasing syndrome that western medicine regards as having no real cure or treatment, can be reversed in many cases by correcting the underlying physiological imbalances that impact cognitive and behavioral processes.  Food sensitivities, yeast and bacterial overgrowth in the gut, inflammatory processes, and nutrient support of specific biochemical pathways, can bring a child back from autism into more neurotypical function.

Hormone issues in men and women can be treated using bio-identical hormone replacement, but again, we must look deeper into adrenal function, thyroid health, nutrition and toxicity to see where the imbalances started.

Naturopathic doctors in California are fortunate in that we have the authority to prescribe certain medications, hormones, and injectible substances, along with our more traditional modalities of nutrition, herbal medicine, detoxification etc.  This gives us the best of both worlds and allows us to offer comprehensive, truly integrative care to our patients.

Medicine is about so much more than taking away symptoms – it’s about treating the person as a whole person, not just a set of parts; about respecting every aspect of their being and the interplay of thought patterns and emotions on health; about educating people to be empowered to make their own decisions in concert with their doctor, not being told what to do; and it’s about listening, being compassionate and treating every patient as we would want our closest friend or loved one to be treated.  Modern medicine has much to offer, but the medical system is fraught with problems.  Naturopathic medicine is the way of the future, to blend the best of western medicine, with the holistic philosophies and modalities of traditional medicine, providing the very best in patient care.