What is Naturopathic Medicine?

Naturopathic medicine has developed over many centuries from many different cultures and medical traditions, with consistent philosophical foundations: the body has the potential to heal itself given the right tools and support, and each patient has their own unique needs. The selection of treatments is based on the physician’s assessment of these needs and the underlying causes of illness for each individual patient. Treatments may include the use of botanical medicines, nutritional support, lifestyle counseling, homeopathy, physical medicine, and other supportive interventions. A naturopathic physician’s approach is to help the patient heal themselves with appropriate natural medicines and activities that do not cause harm to the patient.

What type of education does a naturopathic physician receive?
A licensed naturopathic physician (ND) attends a four-year, graduate-level naturopathic medical school and is educated in all of the same basic sciences as a conventional medical doctor, but also studies holistic and non-toxic treatments with a strong emphasis on disease prevention and optimizing wellness. In addition to a standard medical curriculum, the naturopathic physician is required to complete four years of training in clinical nutrition, acupuncture, homeopathic medicine, botanical medicine, psychology, and counseling (to encourage people to make lifestyle changes in support of their personal health).

What kind of license does my naturopathic physician receive and what do they have to do to maintain it?
Naturopathic physicians are licensed in sixteen states, including Oregon, and must complete a four-year graduate-level medical degree program at a federally accredited naturopathic medical school. Graduates must pass a national biomedical and clinical science licensing examination in order to become licensed in all states that license NDs. A licensed naturopathic physician is responsible to their licensing board for the quality of their work, and is required to continue lifelong learning. This protects the public and allows for confidence that the physician has satisfactorily completed an education that has been approved by the United States Department of Education (USDE).

What can I expect at my first visit?
A naturopathic physician takes a complete history at the first visit, and performs any necessary physical examination. Often, the questions that a naturopathic physician asks may be more detailed than those of other providers, in an effort to get a picture of the patient that has the illness, not just the illness that has the patient. Patients can expect a longer visit as their physician gathers this information. Laboratory evaluations may be performed when needed, as well as other diagnostic procedures.

A naturopathic physician may ask you about aspects of your history that may surprise you. It is not always what you are experiencing physically that needs clarification, but what may be an underlying cause of your problem that has never been determined. This can be especially true in chronic conditions, where the illness itself can impact many areas of life. Your naturopathic physician may talk with you about physical, mental, emotional or spiritual aspects of your being, and support you in recognizing whether there are connections in those areas that might be affecting your health.

Most importantly, the goal is to identify the cause of your disease or discomfort, utilize safe and effective natural means of treating your symptoms, and help you make sustainable changes in your life to prevent further problems.

How long will I need to continue seeing my naturopathic physician?
Some patients may choose to have a naturopathic physician as their primary care provider. Others may see a naturopathic physician for a specific condition. Regaining and optimizing health can be time consuming and takes work. The support of a naturopathic physician makes it easier and more effective. There may be times when your naturopathic physician will need to work in cooperation with your other doctors. They are skilled in working with conventional medical doctors, chiropractors, acupuncturists, and other medical providers as a team when this is warranted. This will deliver the best of integrated care when you need it.

What kind of conditions does a naturopathic physician treat? What types of treatments do they prescribe?
A naturopathic physician is experienced in doing full physical and diagnostic evaluations, including annual examinations for women and school and work physical examinations.

Treatments may include the use of botanical medicines, or herbs. These have been used since society started treating illness, and there is a wealth of research on the efficacy as well as rich historical use of botanical medicines. They can be used in the form of teas, alcohol extracts called tinctures, or in capsules and tablets. Generally, herbal medicine takes time to work and requires regular treatment. Herbs are not simply substitutes for a drug that is meant to treat the same symptoms. The quality of herbal medicines is important, and your physician is trained in assessing quality botanical medicines and their use.

A good diet is essential to life and will be part of your treatment plan. With today’s preponderance of fast food, processed, and genetically modified foods, establishing and maintaining the most healthy and individualized diet can be difficult. Dietary assessment and optimization is an important part of healing and maintaining health. Your naturopathic physician can assess your current diet, and find ways to assist you in making needed changes that are sustainable in your life.

Other treatments could include the use of exercise prescriptions, lifestyle counseling, personal counseling, physical medicine for musculoskeletal problems, and the use of homeopathic medications. Some physicians use intravenous vitamin and mineral therapies or massage and body work as therapies, depending on your needs. Regaining health is not just about taking medicines but about changing what is the cause of the problem in the first place.

In several states, naturopathic physicians are licensed to prescribe some or most prescription medications when needed, and sometimes a drug is the best choice at certain stages when a patient is making the journey back to health.

Where can I learn more about naturopathic medicine?
We have included links to useful information below:

www.naturopathic.org - American Association of Naturopathic Physicians
nccam.nih.gov - National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, a division of the National Institutes of Health