What is naturopathic Medicine?

Naturopathic medicine is a unique system of health care that is based on both traditional and scientific methods. It is a system that is rooted in a set of philosophies and principles that emphasizes prevention and a holistic approach towards diagnosis and treatment. 

Naturopathic physicians are trained similarly to medical and osteopathic doctors and undergo a four-year rigorous postgraduate program, providing both academic and clinical disciplines. These naturopathic medical colleges provide instruction in anatomy, physiology, microbiology, biochemistry, immunology, pediatrics, cardiology, gynecology, dermatology, neurology, pharmacology, radiology, minor surgery, psychology, and clinical and physical diagnosis. In addition to being trained in conventional medical therapies, these physicians are also trained in naturopathic modalities, such as nutrition, hydrotherapy, manipulative therapy, botanical medicine, homeopathy, and counseling. 

The relationship between a naturopathic physician and the patient relies on transparency, honesty, and trust, as the physician would want a thorough understanding of the patient's health. The patient would benefit from a thorough understanding of the physician's thinking and reasoning, as well as of his/her own health to make conscious and safe decisions about his/her healthcare. 

Author's note: When the word, "therapeutic agent", is used, it refers to any substance that causes a change. This can include herbs, individual nutrients, homeopathic remedies, pharmaceutical drugs, etc.


Naturopathic principles:

1. Vis Medicatrix Naturae (the healing power of nature):
This is founded on the idea that each person has an inherent self-healing process that is both ordered and intelligent. To a naturopathic physician, disease is an expression of an imbalance in a person's health. By respecting the body's own ability to heal itself, a naturopathic physician will support and augment this process by using various methods and therapeutic agents, in addition to identifying and removing all possible root causes of this imbalance. 

2. Tolle Causam (treat the root cause):
Covering up or suppressing symptoms only masks the problem and can sometimes be dangerous. It is important, instead, to treat the true cause of disease to create a more lasting and thorough effect. 

3. Docere (doctor as teacher): 
"Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime." Naturopathic physicians are as much teachers as they are doctors, and the patient-doctor relationship is a two-way street. An important part of any effective treatment is the patient's education of how to attain and maintain one own's good health. It is, also, equally important that the physician teach the patient about their own disease and/or health process, so that treatment plans are clear and created consensually. 

4. Primum Non Nocere (first do no harm):
Naturopathic physicians keep these three guidelines in mind to create a safe working environment:
a. Being conscious of and minimizing harmful side effects while using certain methods or therapeutic agents.
b. Avoiding any unnecessary or harmful suppression of symptoms.
c. Respecting the body's own innate ability to heal itself and supporting that process. 

5. Prevention:
Prevention of disease entails the identification and resolution of risk factors and susceptibilities towards certain diseases. This is often achieved through establishing and maintaining healthy lifestyle habits. 

6. Treating the Whole Person:
Health encompasses many aspects in a person's life. They can include not just the physical state of an individual, but also the emotional, mental, social, environmental, and spiritual realms. The appreciation of complete health would include addressing and supporting all of these fields. 


The therapeutic order:

The therapeutic order represents an order in a naturopathic physician's rationale in their approach towards diagnosis and treatment. Any or all of these steps could be used at any given time, as appropriate. 

1. Re-establishing the Basis of Health:
As disease is viewed as an expression of imbalance in one's health, correcting that imbalance requires two basic things to create a solid and healthy foundation: the identification and removal of any root causes or obstacles that impairs one's health and implementing healthy regimens in its place. 

2. Stimulating the Vis Medicatrix Naturae:
The Vis Medicatrix Naturae is body's own (rather awe-inspiring) ability to correct any of its own imbalances or disruptions in its health, the force that moves us towards balanced health. Any modalities or therapeutic agents here would engage and stimulate this force. 

3. Addressing Engaged and/or Weakened Organs & Systems:
How one would address certain organs or organ systems would depend if those organs in question require strengthening, tonifying, or sedating effects. For example, if someone has hyperthyroidism, where they have an overactive thyroid, therapeutic agents could be given to sedate the thyroid. On the other hand, if someone has hypothyroidism, where they have an underactive thyroid, therapeutic agents could be given to strengthen or tonify the thyroid. 

4. Correcting Structural Integrity:
Therapies here would include naturopathic manipulations, exercise, yoga, stretching, physical therapy, ergonomics, crania-sacral therapy, etc. These are all therapies in which they correct structures in the body that have been misaligned, and misaligned structures can stunt blood flow, impinge on nerves, and negatively impact adjacent organs. By correcting these structures, you would in turn, correct all the other body tissues that were affected by its misalignment. 

5. Prescribing Specific Natural Substances:
These therapies are targeted towards specific diseases and pathologies. These agents are prescribed when more immediate attention is required, such as for the relief of pain or other difficult symptoms. These therapies are not used for addressing underlying causes of disease, but they may help prolong the available time to seek and resolve these underlying causes. An example of this would be if someone were experiencing the excruciating pain of having kidney stones. Therapeutic agents would help at this time to alleviate pain and pass the stones, and the underlying cause for the kidney stones would be sought either during this time or after. The attention towards the pain and passing the stones would be, however, more immediate than towards the underlying reasons for the stones. 

6. Prescribe Specific Pharmaceutical or Synthetic Substances:
This is similar to the step above except that in these situations, pharmaceutical agents are utilized instead of more natural agents, such as herbs or specific nutrients. There are situations that would warrant the use of conventional treatments or interventions, such as in life-threatening infections. 

7. Using Higher Force Interventions:
Higher force interventions are utilized for the same reasons that are found in the step above and can be used as a last or primary acute intervention, such as in life-threatening trauma or cancer. Therapies here include surgery, suppressive drugs, radiation, and chemotherapy. Other gentler interventions can and are often used in conjunction with these higher force interventions.