Once upon a time, health care was much simpler. Family doctors provided most medical care and visited patients in their homes. Now we fly across the country to see specialists and have so many practitioners on speed dial that we tend to lose count. Primary care physicians are still an important part of our health care team, but so are physician specialists, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, psychologists, acupuncturists, herbalists, nutritionists, physical therapists, chiropractors, and naturopathic doctors. The more choices that patients have, the more individualized care they receive because different practitioners bring different skills to the table. Naturopathic doctors are trained in both conventional medicine and natural therapies, so they are uniquely qualified to bridge any gaps between conventional and alternative providers. But the benefits are bigger than that. Here are five more reasons you need a naturopathic doctor on your health care team.
#1 | Naturopathic doctors are the leading experts in natural medicine.
Naturopathic doctors are trained as practitioners of the most comprehensive of alternative medicine disciplines. In the United States, licensed naturopathic doctors attend a four-year naturopathic medical school with admission requirements and coursework comparable to those of conventional medical schools. Naturopathic doctors are educated in the same basic and clinical sciences common to all medical education—from biochemistry and pharmacology to cardiology and oncology – but they also study natural therapies. These include botanical (plant-based) medicines, diet and nutrition, homeopathy, hydrotherapy (the therapeutic use of hot and cold water), exercise therapy, psychology, counseling, and stress management. Naturopathic doctors are given the title ND and some pursue additional studies to practice Chinese medicine, acupuncture, and/or natural childbirth.
#2 | Naturopathic doctors start with the least invasive therapies.
Because naturopathic doctors are trained in both conventional and alternative medicine, they can offer patients a wide range of treatment options. Based on each patient’s individual need, naturopathic doctors start with the least toxic and most gentle form of medicine that would effectively resolve a problem. For some patients it means optimizing the foundations of good health like diet, digestion, exercise, and sleep. Other patients may need to take supplements to see improvement. In some cases, prescription medications, intravenous therapy, or minor surgery may be required. (The scope of practice of naturopathic doctors varies from state to state, so not all naturopathic doctors write prescriptions or perform IV therapy and minor surgery.) Whenever necessary, naturopathic doctors refer patients to other practitioners.
#3 | Naturopathic doctors address the underlying causes of disease.
While conventional medicine tends to address the symptoms of disease, naturopathic medicine focuses on addressing the underlying factors of disease. Relieving acute symptoms may be necessary, especially after injuries or in cases of moderate to severe discomfort, but the long term goal is always to address the underlying cause. Naturopathic doctors are well-equipped to do both.
#4 | Naturopathic doctors consider the whole person.
Conventional medicine tends to compartmentalize health care. Patients see cardiologists to treat their high blood pressure, endocrinologists to treat their diabetes, and gastroenterologists to treat their reflux. Instead of separating symptoms and conditions by specialty, naturopathic doctors, who are trained as primary care physicians, treat the whole person. Patients with irritable bowel syndrome may also have anxiety or asthma. Those with liver disease may also have dermatitis or depression. Naturopathic doctors don’t treat diabetes separately from heart disease, or allergies separately from autoimmune disease. They take all conditions into account and look for common ways to restore function to the entire body.
#5 | Naturopathic doctors are experts on supplement safety and interactions.
It’s a common misconception that if supplements are natural, they must be safe. Many natural medicines are made from plants, and some plants are toxic. Some supplements are unsafe for certain people, like children or pregnant women, or in certain conditions, like autoimmune disease or cancer. Others may be unsafe in certain doses or in certain combinations. Some supplements interact with other natural medicines and some interact with prescription medicines. Some interact with both. Naturopathic doctors are trained in the use of both supplements and prescription medicines, so always consult your ND before taking any new medicines.
What to Look For in a Naturopathic Doctor
Before you start working with a naturopathic doctor, make sure that she or he is a licensed ND. Licensed naturopathic doctors must graduate from a four-year naturopathic medical school accredited by the Council on Naturopathic Education. They pass extensive post-doctoral board exams and are subject to review by a State Board of Examiners. Not all states license naturopathic doctors at this time. In states that don’t license NDs, there are no educational requirements or standards and some individuals who use the title “ND” or “naturopath” may not have attended an accredited naturopathic medical school nor passed national board exams and they would not qualify for licensure. If your state doesn’t license naturopathic doctors, look for one with a license from another state so you know that she or he is a legitimate physician.
Sarah Cimperman, ND is the author of the new book, The Prediabetes Detox: A Whole-Body Program to Balance Your Blood Sugar, Increase Energy, and Reduce Sugar Cravings. She graduated from NCNM in 2002 and has a private practice in New York City. Her expertise has been featured on Fox News and Huffington Post and in Natural Health magazine, Whole Living magazine, and the Well Being Journal, among other publications. Dr. Cimperman also writes two blogs, A Different Kind Of Doctor and The Naturopathic Gourmet.