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Naturopathic Medicine: It's About Balance

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Photo by Dane Wetton

Can a Naturopathic Doctor replace my Medical Physician?

Alternative medical practices are becoming more commonplace as patients are expressing increasing dissatisfaction with today’s profit-driven Western medicine. This growing frustration with traditional medical doctors (MDs) has caused many to seek medical advice from sources that appeal to a patient’s desire to be heard. Naturopathic medicine posits itself as a more personalized juxtaposition to your modern MD, claiming to treat illness and disease from a holistic, natural, individualized approach. Its effectiveness is a question of scale. For tips on maintaining day-to-day health and wellness, it can be a great resource but as the seriousness of illness increases, so too should your level of caution. Let’s find out why.

What can I expect from seeing a Naturopathic Doctor?  

Your first visit to a naturopathic doctor (ND) should last somewhere between 60 and 90 minutes, beginning with an assessment of your overall health based on your past medical history, diet, exercise habits and sleep hygiene. You will then have the chance to vocalize any health and wellness goals, which help shape a treatment plan you and your doctor create together. These individualized treatment plans might include dietary changes, exercise plans, physical therapy or herbal supplements and remedies to address a wide range of health concerns. Subsequent visits to your ND will be a bit shorter, but will constantly check in on all areas of your personal health, tweaking your treatment plan as your body begins to change.

Most NDs will also require you to undergo a host of blood tests in order to gain what they claim is a clearer picture of your body’s health. According to those blood tests, NDs will suggest herbal medicines and nutrient supplements to correct any supposed deficiencies.

NDs often use herbs and supplements in place of or in conjunction with prescription medication to help your body operate optimally. That does not mean, however, that herbs and supplements are all you need to be healthy.  Make sure to always ask questions and to weigh the advice of your MD with as much legitimacy as that of your ND. Most importantly, be honest with the severity of your symptoms and don’t be afraid of pharmaceuticals. Instead, try to strike a balance between medication types, taking the best advice from both your ND and MD.


Photo by Cristofer JeschkePhoto by Cristofer Jeschke

MDs and NDs: It’s not about versus, it’s about balance

What Medical Doctors and Naturopathic Doctors have in common

In both professions, practitioners are required 4 years of postgraduate schooling, spending the first 2 years in the classroom learning, and the next 2 in clinical rotations. At the end of these 4 years, both NDs and MDs take the same certification exam that they must pass in order to be certified by a national and state-wide board.

Where Medical Doctors and Naturopathic Doctors Differ

The postgraduate schooling for NDs is packed with other evidence-based subjects--including homeopathy, herbal medicine, botany, chiropractic medicine and acupuncture therapy--that medical schools do not require. After postgraduate schooling ends, MDs are required to complete either a residency or fellowship, which can last from 4 to 8 years, under constant supervision. Only after that time can an MD practice on their own. Naturopathic physicians, however, are not required to complete residencies or fellowships, and instead can see patients straight out of their 4-year medical school.

Finding a Balance

It is important to keep the assessment above in mind when visiting either doctor. In particular, the knowledge NDs have about natural remedies and herbal supplements is something an MD might not be as well-versed in. Because of this, NDs will be able to offer supplemental advice on top of your doctors’ orders that could help improve your overall health in the long-run. For more serious illness, antibiotics and pharmaceuticals are not all bad. Be sure to critically assess any recommendation from your ND or MD and to ask questions when things make you feel uneasy. Most importantly, don’t pit the two against each other: your MD can help you overcome illness and help you feel well, while your ND can keep you feeling healthy every day.

Beware Grandma’s Advice

Home remedies from grandma are not just old wives tales; many of these remedies are actually rooted in centuries of herbal science. In some cases, however, modern science works against these tales. For example, some homeopathy classes teach NDs to treat an ear infection with sliced onions, or that patients should be encouraged to wear wet socks at night to boost their immune system. Beware of home-spun advice not backed by science that makes you think twice and, more importantly, of any practitioner who peddles cures that sound a bit too far-out. The best course of action is to ask how something works if it sounds a bit wonky and to trust your gut when it feels uneasy.

Naturopathic medicine is an attractive medical practice because it encourages you to actively take part in your own medical care. Its focus on overall health and wellness can offer great supplemental advice that your MD might not think of. For this reason, be curious but cautious about the advice NDs give. Most importantly, take charge of your own preventative healthcare and, when problems do arise, don’t choose sides, just do what needs to be done to get healthy. When treating an illness that would otherwise self-correct,--like a spider bite--follow the advice of a naturopath. When dealing with a serious illness or basic infection that will not otherwise go away on its own, like say a chest infection or cancer, listen to the advice of your medical doctor. And when trying to maintain overall health and wellness, take advice from both to find a balance that works best for you.

About the Author

Tony Camme

Tony Camme

Tony has a background in International Politics and Chemistry, guided and inspired by the challenging puzzles each field provides. Traveling ignited a passion for understanding and serving underrepresented populations, calling for economic justice in the field and in writing. When he isn't working in rural Laos as a lead guide and project coordinator practicing asset-based community development, he spends his time between his native New Jersey, USA and Cape Town, South Africa.

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