A few weeks ago I wrote a post to help people understand a bit more about what naturopathic medicine is. You can read that here. Judging by the response, it is definitely a point of interest, so I thought today I would expand a little on the six principles of naturopathic medicine. These underpin everything we do in our practice; our practice is so much more than choices of natural modalities versus pharmaceutical, it’s really a whole philosophy of medicine.
The Six Principles of Naturopathic Medicine
Naturopathic physicians practice the six fundamental principles of naturopathic medicine:
The Healing Power of Nature
Trust in the body’s inherent wisdom to heal itself. The premise of this part of the philosophy is that the body can heal itself if we remove the obstacles to healing. Those obstacles may be infections, they may be toxins, they may be dietary sources of inflammation, they may be emotional blocks. Our job is to find out why the body is struggling, and help to clear those road blocks. I have seen bodies be so resilient, and so strong in their own healing power, once we get out of their way! We have so many self-healing mechanisms built in to our bodies, it’s incredible to see those processes in action. But sometimes they do need a bit of extra help.
Identify and Treat the Causes
Look beyond the symptoms to the underlying cause. Syndromes in particular as frequently talked about the diagnosed in recent years – fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome. These are primarily descriptive terms, they don’t really address what is going on at the root of it. I have had patients (many patients in fact) diagnosed with fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome and even multiple sclerosis, when really what they had was Lyme disease. Chronic infection was at the root of their issues. I have found patients with irritable bowel syndrome can sometimes have intestinal parasites, gluten intolerance or other causes of inflammation in their gut, which then leads to symptoms. Even things like headache, migraine and general fatigue have underlying causes – we just have to take the time to find them.
First Do No Harm
Utilize the most natural, least invasive and least toxic therapies. This might seem obvious, to not do harm; but what this principle really implies is the commitment to start with the least invasive therapy and work up as needed. For us at naturopathic doctors, drugs and surgery are not inherently bad – they’re just at the end of the road for us, rather than the first choice. We will try to use nutritional changes, supplements, herbs, homeopathy and other natural modalities to affect change. If absolutely needed, we are not opposed to more invasive measures, and see that there is a time and place for everything. We just don’t start there.
Doctor as Teacher
Educate patients in the steps to achieving and maintaining health. When I’m with patients, I try to give them enough information so that they understand why I am recommending a certain course of action. I want them to be a partner in their health decisions, and be fully informed. I would never just say “we’re going to do this because I say so”, that’s not the kind of relationship I want with my patients. Part of being able to educate people is being able to spend more time with them than some doctors who are practicing in the insurance model and simply don’t have the time to spend with every person. For me writing my books and giving lectures is part of my desire to help educate my patients so that they feel empowered in their own health care.
Treat the Whole Person
View the body as an integrated whole in all its physical and spiritual dimensions. Modern medicine today often segments the body. Internists and primary care doctors still see a multitude of different health issues, but specialists are really honed in on one system of the body – rheumatologists look at muscles and bones; neurologists look at the nervous system; psychiatrists look at mental health issues, and so on. Frequently, health issues span several systems, creating such importance to see the body as a whole unit, rather than breaking it down by system. Treating the whole person also means looking at the emotional and spiritual dimensions of illness, not just the physical.
Focus on overall health, wellness and disease prevention. Most naturopathic doctors graduate thinking they would love a practice based on preventive medicine – that is, people who are proactive about their health and just want to make sure things keep running smoothly and efficiently. In reality, very few ND’s get a whole practice based on that! However, we do emphasize the importance of prevention, and the importance of having a strong foundation of health, using tools such as nutrition, lifestyle factors especially sleep and exercise, emotional states/ stress management techniques etc. We do not operate solely in the disease model, where people come to us only to fix symptoms and then go on their way again; rather we work with people to help them get that strong health foundation which will prevent further issues down the road.
These principles are the guiding philosophies of naturopathic medicine. Our education process gives us a solid grounding in these – it is much more than just choosing a natural tool kit over a pharmaceutical tool kit. It is exciting to me to see the growth of our profession as more and more people are seeking out a different set of options for their health concerns, and a different set of priorities for their family’s health care.