Wait… What is Naturopathic Medicine?

naturopathic-careWhen I first learned about what a naturopath does, long before I was one myself, I thought, “Well of course, that just seems reasonable. This is what I want my doctor to do!”

Now that I have spent many years deeply studying Naturopathic Medicine, I have a bit more nuanced view.  But the core truth is still the same as above:  Because my emotions, stress, food and lifestyle habits all effect my health, I want my doctor to assess these when providing me care. 

There are many brief descriptions out there for Naturopathic Medicine that use buzz words like “holistic” or “wellness” or “optimal health.”  Also, there is often much attention to repeating the six principles of naturopathic medicine. These descriptions are all very much true, but I often I find the heart of their meaning is lost because we have all been desensitized to core definitions and values of these words.

This is the way I think about Naturopathic Medicine:

You are asleep in your bed.  Comfortable, content, safe.  Suddenly, the smoke alarm starts to sound.  BEEP… BEEP… BEEP.  It wakes you.  Groggy and frustrated, you don’t really want to get up, go down stairs and address the real problem; the small fire smoldering slowly in the kitchen.  BEEP… BEEP… BEEP.  In that moment what you want is to just shut the noise off and go back to sleep.  BEEP… BEEP… BEEP.  So you get up, take a few stumbling steps and just pull the battery out of the smoke detector to stop that infernal racket.  Ah… silence, relief.  Now you can go back to comfortable, pleasant sleep.

But what about that fire? It’s still burning. And now the one tool we had to warn us about the impending inferno has been silenced.  Sure, the immediate goal of have the beeping stop has been achieved, but was that really the best course of action?

The symptoms our bodies gives us: a rash, a pain, fatigue, digestive upset; are alarms. And, yes, these symptoms, these alarms, are annoying. We want them to stop.  So many conventional treatments focus simply on removing the battery from the alarm. They suppress symptoms.  They are anti-inflammatories, anti-biotics, anti-histamines, anti-nausea, anti-psychotics, anti-coagulants etc… Thus, the annoying symptom is relieved. But the underlying cause is not addressed.  This is why people become stuck taking medications long term and/or dealing with recurrences of symptoms/disease.

herbs

Naturopathy strives to both relieve immediate symptoms and to get at the root cause and actually put out the fire.  The smoke alarm, the symptom, is a valuable signal to be lauded, not one to be sidelined and ignored.

Take for example high blood pressure…

Blood pressure is important for the body to regulate.  Too low and the brain doesn’t get enough blood and we will pass out.  Too high, especially chronically high, and damage can be done to blood vessels causing heart problems, kidney problems, or even a stroke.

Because these outcomes are severe, medical doctors will give pharmaceuticals in order to lower blood pressure.  The numbers normalize and the patient is cured, right?

Well it depends on what you mean by cured.  If the patient can only maintain healthy blood pressure by taking a pharmaceutical, they are not curedbecause their tendency to manifest high blood pressure is still present.  If they were to stop taking their pharmaceutical, the blood pressure would return to its high and risky state.  Interestingly enough, with some circular logic, a person can be diagnosed with “high blood pressure” simply based on the fact that they are currently taking blood pressure lowing medication, even if their current blood pressure readings are normal.

Naturopaths certainly don’t deny the risk of high blood pressure. And we also recognize sometimes it is necessary for the patient to use pharmaceuticals prudently as the tools they are in order to control numbers (ideally in the short term).  But rather than stoping there and being satisfied with a small “band-aid” we work with our patients to figure out: why they have high blood pressure in the first place and what (if anything) can be done to change that tendency.  Is it high because of poor diet? kidney disease? obesity? genetics? stress?  nutritional deficiency? food sensitivity? Finding out this answer is what I mean by, “Naturopaths treat the root cause.”

As a naturopath, I trust that the body has the ability to heal. And (just like they say in Jurassic Park) given the right conditions, life will find a way.  If you are sick of battling with your body and your symptoms and are ready to start down the path of healing and restoration of health; find a naturopath in your area and call today!

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