Naturopathic medicine is a comprehensive medical system that integrates conventional medical training with natural therapies and physical techniques in the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of disease. It uses naturally occurring substances and establishes therapies to stimulate the body's own immune and healing properties. Its fundamental principle is to find the cause of a disease, rather than to treat symptoms. In doing so, Naturopathic medicine considers the psychological and spiritual, as well as physical elements of a disease, in the pursuit of treating the whole person. Thus individuals are treated according to their own needs, rather than applying a standard, rote treatment. Many different types of therapies can be utilized including:
1. Clinical Nutrition
Nutrition is vital as it provides us with the building blocks for our body. Many nutrients are needed to make sure our biochemical pathways function properly. Conventional medicine uses drugs to affect our body's natural processes. Nutrition can be used therapeutically to strengthen and support these same functions. This can be done by making specific dietary changes, as well as by using specific nutritional supplements (also known as nutraceuticals). For example fish oils and other essential fatty acid can be used to promote the same anti-inflammatory pathways as drugs such as Celebrex and Vioxx, without harmful side effects. There are a wide variety of diet protocols, which can also be used to help the body cleanse and heal itself. Each of these is tailored to the individual based on their current needs and personal health history.
2. Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine
Acupuncture uses very fine needles to stimulate energy channels of the body. Oriental herbs can also affect these channels, which help to balance and heal the body. Diet and lifestyle are also important considerations in this type of medicine. This system has been practiced for thousands of years, and is one of the oldest forms of medicine. Classical training uses the '5 Element Theory', which classifies the properties of water, earth, air, fire and metal in order to diagnose and treat disease. The concepts of Yin, yang, blood and Qi (Chi) are regulated by classically trained practitioners using a combination of acupuncture and herbs. As acupuncture is unregulated on its own, many 'acupuncturists' have not studied this '5 Element' diagnosis system and, as such, do not tailor an acupuncture treatment to the specifics of an individual patient. Naturopathic Doctors have studied Traditional Chinese Medicine and diagnosis for 4 years and are able to treat patients in an individualized manner. The difference is often displayed in the results of the treatment.
3. Botanical Medicine
Botanical, or herbal, medicine uses specific parts of plants to strengthen, support and nourish the body. Herbs can be used alone or in combination to promote the same pathways that conventional drugs do. Therefore it may be used to treat as well as prevent disease. Botanicals also have a specific energetic quality or 'personality' that is matched to the individual. Botanical medicines have been used for centuries as a primary method of health care and were, until the evolution of the pharmaceutical industry, a primary treatment option in all forms of medicine. In fact many herbs are still taught in medical schools, used in emergency rooms and prescribed in clinical practices in developed countries around the world. For example, emergency rooms in Germany still routinely use milk thistle (Silybum marianus) intravenously for patients who are experiencing alcohol poisoning or drug overdoses, in order to protect liver function. Another example of use in North America is the herb fox glove which is used to make Digitalis, the heart medication. In fact, the great majority of our modern pharmaceutical medications ( from Aspirin to cancer and heart drugs) are mere extracts of traditional plants. There are many different philosophies for combining and employing herbs. In North America we draw upon a combination of traditional Native American teachings and Eclectic (British / European) methods in determining appropriate treatments. The results is an individualized medication which considers not only the patient's condition, but their personality, emotional state and health status.
4. Homeopathic Medicine
Modern Homeopathy is a form of medical treatment and philosophy pioneered by Samuel Hanneman, amongst others, in the early 1800s. Hanneman found that symptoms or conditions caused by a particular substance in large doses could also be healed when the same substance was given in a specially prepared and exceptionally small dose. Hanneman then surmised that whatever the cause of a symptom, if they were similar to those produced by a substance in large dose (a skin condition similar to but not caused by poison ivy), his homeopathic dose would correct the symptom. While being a crude anaology, this 'Law of Similars' is somewhat similar to the concept of allergy shots and vaccinations used in allopathic medicine. Homeopathy allows the body to heal itself using it's own innate abilities, rather than simply masking the symptoms. Homeopathy views symptoms and/or pathological conditions as the body's effort to overcome a disease process. Accordingly, these symptoms are explored by the practitioner, prioritized and then employed in determining the remedy specific for the individual. The remedies are made from a variety of natural substances and have no harmful side effects. Thus they can be safely used during pregnancy and with children. While also one of the oldest forms of medicine known, Homeopathy is still the most frequently used type of medicine in the world, taught in conventional medical schools in such countries as Germany and India. Oriental medicine is the second most widely used form of medicine and Allopathic (i.e. conventional) medicine is the third. A similar approach to medicine was also used by the ancient Egyptians, Chinese, Incas, Aztecs and Native Americans.
This method of treatment uses hot and cold water to improve blood flow and promote healing in organs and tissues. Water at varying degrees of temperature can be applied directly on their own or in combination with herbs. Sizt baths and mustard plasters are some of the more common forms of hydrotherapy. However many spas are once again making salt glows and showers a fashionable and truly therapeutic practice in hotels around the world. Hydrotherapy can be applied locally or used constitutionally as a gentle and cleansing method of healing.
6. Spinal and Joint Manipulation
Similar to your Chiropractor, Naturopathic medicine encompasses a variety of spinal and joint manipulations. This allows for increased mobility and functioning of the skeletal and nervous systems, as well as decreased pain and spasm of the surrounding muscles.
7. Lifestyle Counseling and Stress Management
Many diseases have been linked with poor exercise habits, stress and in general our polluted environment and way of living. By gradually improving our daily habits, we can increase our energy, improve our overall health and prevent disease from occurring. Physical wellness is also correlated with emotional health. We now know that negative emotions cause the release of hormones and chemical messengers, which can be harmful to our bodies if continued over time. This concept has been inherent in many traditional forms of healing. For example in Oriental medicine the emotion of anger, when not expressed properly, can effect the liver resulting in several possible conditions. Accordingly, Naturopathic Doctors explore and seek to treat emotional issues and lifestyle habits as an integral part of the treatment plan. Indeed, visit often evolve into emotional counseling as directed by the patient.
8. Other Physical Therapies
The use of heat, cold and mechanical devices can also be used in combination with the above mentioned modalities. Mechanical devices include electrotherapy ultrasound and non-ionizing electromagnetic radiation. Massage and therapeutic exercises (stretching, yoga etc.) may also be recommended.