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Treatment Methods of Naturopathy

Naturopathy draws upon a variety of modalities, combined to fit the needs of the individual patient. None of these modalities is unique to naturopathic medicine.

Any one of the following modalities can become an area of specialization for a naturopath. Naturopathic colleges offer advanced training in a number of them, leading to specialized degrees. Practitioners may also specialize in a specific problem area, such as pediatrics, family medicine, or allergies.

  • Clinical nutrition. Therapeutic use of nutrition and diet is the cornerstone of naturopathic medicine. Naturopaths may make dietary recommendations and suggest nutritional supplements, including herbs, vitamins, and minerals. They may order laboratory tests to determine a patient's nutritional status and to monitor changes in his or her condition.


  • Physical medicine. Naturopaths often use hydrotherapy; exercise; massage; naturopathic manipulation techniques, which are somewhat similar to chiropractic; immobilization, by using braces and splints; ultrasound, diathermy, or heat therapy; electrical stimulation; and light therapy.


  • Homeopathy. Homeopathy, discussed in detail in another chapter, is a frequent area of specialization among naturopathic practitioners, and is a healing system that stimulates the body's own natural force.


  • Botanical medicine. Naturopathic physicians are trained herbalists who believe that using whole plants is generally more effective and less harmful than using either isolated chemical substances derived from plants or drugs that are synthesized from plants. Medicinal herbs, when properly used (either alone or in combination), address the underlying problem that caused the patient's symptoms, and are used in a way that minimizes undesirable side effects.


  • Natural childbirth. Studies of naturopathic obstetrical care have demonstrated that naturopaths achieve much lower complication rates during and after childbirth than conventional care.


  • Traditional Chinese medicine. A common area of specialization among naturopaths is traditional Chinese medicine, which includes the use of Chinese herbs and acupuncture. (TCM is described in Chapter Four.)


  • Ayurveda. Originating in ancient India, Ayurvedic medicine is the world's oldest organized system of natural medicine (discussed in Chapter Ten). Bastyr University, a naturopathic college in Seattle, now offers a specialization in Ayurveda, leading to the degree N.D. (Ayurveda).


  • Counseling and psychotherapy. Naturopaths are trained in counseling, psychotherapy, behavioral medicine, hypnosis, stress management, and biofeedback, and use these techniques, in part, to motivate patients to comply with lifestyle changes.


  • Minor surgery. Naturopaths are trained to perform a variety of minor surgical techniques (which are done in the office under local anesthesia), such as superficial wound repair, removal of foreign masses, sclerosing therapy for spider and varicose veins, minor hemorrhoid surgery, circumcision, and the setting of fractures.

An initial appointment with a naturopathic physician takes about an hour, though patients may fill out a questionnaire ahead of time. The naturopath takes a complete medical history and evaluates the patient's lifestyle. Diagnostic procedures may include a physical examination, conventional blood and urine tests, and tests that are not used in conventional medicine, such as the urine indican test (to determine the degree of intestinal putrefaction, a cause of toxemia), or the Heidelberg test (to measure stomach acidity). Using all of this information, the naturopath arrives at a functional and constitutional assessment, as well as a conventional disease diagnosis.

Treatment is individualized, generally using a combination of therapies. A significant amount of time is spent on lifestyle counseling, and recommendations are made on diet, exercise, and stress management. Follow-up visits typically average about half an hour. Naturopaths monitor the progress of their patients through their own observations, the patient's reports, and laboratory tests.

Naturopathic practitioners can prescribe certain classes of drugs in some states, but they do not generally have prescribing privileges. In the state of Washington, naturopaths are allowed to prescribe antibiotics, thyroid medication, progesterone, and selected other drugs.

Naturopaths treat a variety of disorders, but the most common complaints they treat are allergies, fatigue, colds, headaches, digestive problems, middle ear infections, menstrual problems, chronic pain, upper respiratory infections, sinusitis, and hormonal imbalances (including menopausal problems). They also often work with allopaths in treating thyroid problems, irritable bowel syndrome, cancer, heart disease, and high blood pressure. Naturopaths also offer natural obstetric care, and their prenatal and postnatal care employs noninvasive, drugless treatment.

A naturopath's treatment may reflect his or her specialty, such as traditional Chinese medicine or homeopathy. In addition, some naturopaths try to cure illnesses by aggressively stimulating general health; this is called the "vitalistic" approach. Most naturopaths, however, seek to remedy the specific biochemical factors that are causing an illness, using particular herbal medicines and other interventions that are especially tailored to the illness.

Because naturopathy focuses relatively more on the whole person than the treatment of isolated disease entities, practitioners tend to employ highly developed counseling and communication techniques. At Bastyr University, students study counseling almost as much as nutrition. Patients generally benefit greatly from these communication skills.

Naturopathy is particularly strong in the areas of preventive medicine, treatment of acute illness, and in chronic and degenerative diseases that may not have responded to other forms of treatment.

However, naturopathic practice does have its limitations. Naturopaths acknowledge that conventional medicine excels in the treatment of acute trauma, childbirth emergencies, treating broken bones, performing corrective surgery, and treating acute, life-threatening illnesses. Nevertheless, naturopaths can provide excellent supportive treatment for all these conditions.

Naturopathic methods have also been used successfully in the treatment of cancer. Thousands of patients have reported astonishing recoveries from cancer using naturopathic methods, such as fasting, therapeutic diet, hydrotherapy, herbal formulas, and other health-building techniques that stimulate immunity. However, naturopaths are often reluctant to publicize such successes because in many states only allopaths are allowed to treat cancer. Even so, naturopaths may work collaboratively with oncologists, especially to ameliorate side effects from cancer treatment.

Collaborating with conventional doctors is, in fact, one of the most valuable services that naturopaths provide. Their solid grounding in biomedical sciences prepares naturopaths to recognize dangerous conditions that require conventional medical intervention. Also, naturopaths often help patients to recognize the potential dangers of some of the popular forms of self-treatment, such as the use of powerful herbs.

Naturopaths are certainly sufficiently trained to work alongside conventional doctors. Naturopaths and allopathic physicians receive similar training in anatomy, cell biology, physiology, pathology, neurosciences, clinical and physical diagnosis, histology, genetics, biochemistry, pharmacology, laboratory diagnosis, pharmacognosy, biostatistics, and epidemiology. Two of the most prominent naturopathic schools, the National College of Naturopathic Medicine and Bastyr University, require more hours of training in these subjects than many allopathic medical schools. In addition, naturopathic students also receive training in botanical medicine, homeopathy, traditional Chinese medicine, hydrotherapy, and naturopathic manipulative therapies, none of which is taught by conventional medical schools. Naturopathic schools also require significantly more training than medical schools in nutrition and in psychological counseling.





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Copyright © 2000 by Dr. Kenneth R. Pelletier, Inc.

Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc., New York, New York.


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