What does your Naturopathic Doctor actually do?
For some, a Naturopathic Doctor is exactly what they have been looking for but, maybe didn’t know it.
Ask yourself – when was the last time you felt completely normal? When was the last time you slept easily and deeply? Woke refreshed? When was the last time you had a good appetite for healthy food that went down your belly with no problems? When was the last time you had energy to accomplish the tasks in your day and felt a good kind of tired that comes from having moved just the right amount? This is the place we try to get people. However, it’s not always a quick process. It can take years of work. There is no set formula for happiness and health. A lot of the process of Naturopathic medicine involves trial and error, and paying attention to your body’s reactions, like anything else.
A Naturopathic Doctor would be a good match for those who are looking to catch early symptoms, or are interested in finding the root causes of their illnesses. Naturopathic medicine would be a good match for those who are looking to explore diets and their effects on the body. If you are looking for expert advice on supplements, a Naturopath would be your best bet. If you are struggling with environmental toxins, or hormonal issues, or mysterious chronic illnesses, you may try to enlist the services of a Naturopathic Doctor.
First and foremost, our goal is to help you to see the bigger picture when it comes to your health. We do this through looking at blood work, and picking up patterns that western MDs are not looking for. The thoroughness of a Naturopathic intake is extensive. We use many aspects of people’s lives to get a diagnosis and aim to go beyond the lab work.
There is a lot more to Naturopathy than that, though. So, let us dive in a littler deeper.
Naturopathic Doctors (NDs) receive basic standard medical training. This including topics such as Anatomy, Physiology, Cardiology, Urology, Gastroenterology, Gynecology, Immunology, Microbiology, Pharmacology, Pathology, etc. We are trained to draw blood, and perform other laboratory tests as well as interpret imaging and lab results. We even spend time in cadaver labs. In states where we are licensed to do so, we do standard physical exams, including gynecological tests, and we perform minor surgery. Some of us have additional training in Naturopathic Obstetrics and can deliver babies.
What really separates a Naturopathic Doctor from a Western MD is the way we think. In other words, the lens through which we interpret medical information is vastly different. When we are given lab work with standard tests, we think preventatively. We look for slight deviations from normal, or even suboptimal results within normal ranges. Sometimes called a functional analysis, we can spot tendencies towards imbalance when they might manifest as only slight discomforts that we put up with in our lives. We catch these patterns before they become obvious diseases and we tailor preventative advice based on these individual tendencies.
The way we approach illness is rooted in our philosophical outlook on Nature, which is reflected in the six formal tenets of Naturopathic Medicine:
- First do no Harm
- Identify and treat the Cause
- Doctor as Teacher
- The Healing Power of Nature
- Treat the whole person
We hold true to each of these tenets during every session. To illustrate how this might be applied, let us consider, for example, how a Naturopath would interpret lab results.
When we are given lab work with standard tests, we think preventatively. We look for slight deviations from normal, or even suboptimal,results within normal ranges. We can spot tendencies towards imbalance when they might manifest as only slight discomforts that we put up with in our lives. We catch these patterns before they become bigger issues, or worse, a disease. We then tailor preventative advice based on these individual tendencies.[pq]When a Naturopath sees a patient who has a chronic illness, or an abnormal result on a lab, we are trained to ask why?[/pq] We seek the root cause of dysfunction and we don’t give up until we find it. For example, if someone is diagnosed with a thyroid disorder, we don’t just take that at face value and treat the thyroid. We ask, why? Is it because the immune system is attacking the thyroid? Is it because stress is creating too much cortisol and preventing proper activation of thyroid hormones? Is it because the liver is inflamed and not allowing enough hormone activation? Depending on the root cause in the above example, we would treat the immune system, or the stress, or the liver in order to normalize the thyroid. Once we have established why – there are several different approaches we are prepared to take in order to rectify or prevent a condition.
When we do decide on a course of treatment, we try to work with diet first. We tailor diets to the individual. I often work hand in hand with our Nutritional Counselor, Carlin, in order to create a beneficial food regiment for our patients. After all, there is nothing more basic than wisely choosing what food we eat. That doesn’t mean protein and greens for all! It means, yes, some people might do poorly with broccoli, others will do poorly with sugar, others need to lay off the grains, and so on. We know that there’s no diet that fits everyone and we help people find the diet that for them.
If diet is not enough, we try to choose medicines that are natural and will not have harmful side effects. We use substances like herbs, vitamins, homeopathic remedies, and other supplements to help support the body’s natural functions. We know how to differentiate between the vast array of supplements that are on the market today and we are able to use them to try to coax the body to heal itself, rather than suppress symptoms (although there is a place for that approach as well).
Many naturopaths are also trained in various physical medical techniques. We were taught hydrotherapeutic techniques, and physical manipulation techniques, or, various forms of bodywork. In my personal case, out of a love for hands-on treatments, I continued my training in body work. I went on to learn visceral manipulation, a gentle technique that can free the internal organs from restrictions and pain. I trained in myofascial release and CranioSacral Therapy. I learned Bowen technique, Strain-Counterstrain, and various other gentle forms of physical manipulation, recognizing the value and power of placing my hands on patients.
Nevertheless, the mainstay of a Naturopathic practice frequently ends up being dietary and supplement advice. While we often prescribe supplements, we also realize that attaining health and vitality is not a matter of simply taking just the right kind of B vitamin. Attaining health is a process of balancing all the aspects of one’s life. It’s a matter of reducing stress and eating what feels right to your body and exercising or moving and figuring out what empowers you and gives you enjoyment, and learning to respect your needs enough to go to bed when you need to. Naturopaths are teachers and coaches. We hold the space for you to reconstruct your life in a way that works for you, that gives you energy, rather than depleting yourself. By looking at all of these aspects that contribute to health, we treat the whole person.