Wednesday, September 9, 2009

WANTED: True Health and Healing

When I am asked what I do, I often have to ask myself, how much time do I have? I will reply, “I am a naturopathic medical student,” most people look a little confused or thoughtful and then ask some more questions. I too was one of these perplexed and intrigued people when stumbled across a naturopathic doctor in my hometown on my quest to find my calling in life. I had planned throughout college to go to medical school, but naturopathic medicine really caught my eye. I wondered if it could be true-- a healing profession based on treating the whole person? Finding the underlying cause of disease? Focusing on nutrition, mental health and physical health all in one place? I knew that combination of theory all bundled up into the term “doctor” would be the recipe for my success in life.

Defining naturopathic medicine quickly and easily is somewhat difficult. As students, we are often given the task to create a quick introduction speech or tagline to sum up our profession. Mine frequently goes something like this, “naturopathic medicine is a form of medical practice that integrates conventional and alternative medical therapies to provide patients with the best care possible.” If there is more time to talk, I might go on to say, “we are trained to diagnose like any other doctor, but we utilize things like nutrition, supplementation, homeopathy, botanical medicines, acupuncture and physical medicine instead of drugs or surgery to promote the body’s own healing ability.” Those brief explanations ring true to me, but ask anyone else in the profession and you will likely get a different answer.

Here are a few highlights of naturopathic medicine that I would like to elaborate on:

  1. We are experts in alternative medical therapies. We study an array of methods used to treat both acute and chronic disease conditions. Our therapies can be and are often used in combination with pharmaceutical drugs, surgeries, or other procedures. Utilizing alternative medicines when going to a surgery, for example, may help speed recovery time and minimize adverse effects. With more and more consumers looking for different answers to their healthcare and more healthcare practitioners working in an “integrative” setting, I believe alternative medicine is becoming more and more mainstream.
  2. We take time to get a thorough medical history. Most initial visits to a naturopathic doctor are in the range of one hour in length. This time allowance provides an opportunity to get to see a more complete picture of a problem. Doctor and patient can have a deeper conversation about all issues that may be contributing to a health problem. The intake is patient focused, not problem focused. The doctor has the time to educate the patient about how they can play an active role in their healthcare.
  3. We treat the whole person. For example, a patient who has a chief concern of eczema. I won’t elaborate on a medical history, but just ask the end question: do I simply treat the eczema that presents on her skin and send her away? In most cases, not necessarily and not directly. We consider all of the factors that might have caused it. Depending on the patient history, nutrition, environmental factors, and mental/emotional factors may all have a role in the treatment plan. The patient might leave the visit with a supplement of immune boosting vitamin D, a plan to address the toxins that she encounters in her home, a schedule for weekly acupuncture treatments and a homeopathic remedy to help her cope with the loss of her father that happened to occur the same time as her most recent eczema breakout. Before the next follow up visit, labs like food allergy or stool parasitology may be ordered in addition to standard screening blood work like CBC/CMP, thyroid, and lipids. The treatment plan is designed to treat underlying factors and not just what is on the surface.

I have recently been assigned an excellent book to read for class. It is titled, “Integrative Rheumatology—Concepts, Perspectives, Algorithms and Protocols” by Dr. Alex Vasquez. I especially enjoyed chapter two of this book because it goes into great detail about how to re-establish our basis for health, as the chapter title is appropriately named. One quote sums up the theory of naturopathic medicine beautifully, “Health will occur when the conditions for health exist. Disease is the product of conditions which allow for it.” (Dr. Jared Zeff) Too often we allow ourselves to be trapped by disease. By removing obstacles that allow the body to be diseased, true health can be found.

Here is a link to a great article about how a naturopathic physician can play a role in the care of diabetes:

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