Naturopathic Medicine on the Health Care Spectrum

Since the dawn of history, you and your health have been the subject of a heated debate: is your body merely a composite of exquisite chemical machines that occasionally need a mechanic? Or do your mind, body, and environment survive and thrive as an integrated whole?


The debate remains active and important today because these two diverse views of wellness provide the foundation for two different views of health care.


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The health care spectrum: miracle medicine


On one end of the health care spectrum are the determined research scientists busily documenting how every gene affects every cell which in turn affects how the body creates disease or maintains wellness.  They identify the microscopic chemical and physical interactions fueling the machine so a substance can be created to interrupt, augment, or change the interaction to cause a favorable outcome. Mostly, they aim at suppressing individual symptoms of diseases with expensive patented drugs. They test for usefulness and side effects, but making the symptom go away is good enough to claim success. Besides, they can build new drugs to control the side effects. You know the drill.


This is our modern miracle medicine, which has curtailed epidemics, cured infections, and increased life spans for millions. It is built on treating diseases with substances that may be quite dangerous, but they are not as dangerous as the symptoms of the disease itself. The key theory behind miracle medicine is that a particular set of physical symptoms can be differentiated among all others to make it possible to identify the existence of a disease of the patient. The disease is given a name and a number (for billing purposes), and a standard treatment protocol is prescribed for the patient.  In many cases, this is good enough and wellness ensues.  Or does it?


The acknowledged weakness of this disease/symptom/treatment approach to medicine is that it never works for everyone. The development and testing of pharmaceutical products is gauged against statistical averages. In every successful clinical trial, there are subjects who improve (or don't improve) on a placebo regimen, those who improve (or don't improve) on the experimental medicine with minimal side effects, those who get well due to the placebo affect while taking the medicine, and, at the bottom of the list, those who suffer mild to severe side effects from the medicine. A positive outcome in a drug trial is to minimize the harm done to subjects relative to the good done to those subjects who were not harmed.  You get the idea: it's really good to be lucky in miracle medicine.


The health care spectrum: naturopathic medicine.


This section of our web site speaks to the other end of the health care spectrum, namely naturopathic medicine.  Admittedly, we began above by doing a hatchet job on "modern miracle medicine" in order to better point out the contrasts with natural medicine.


First, the theory that there exists a singular disease caused by a structural or functional problem within the body that can be fixed with chemical intervention is not dismissed outright, but it is treated with some suspicion. Long before the current list of diseases and conditions were codified based on a mechanical view of health, hundreds of other diseases systems existed based on other theories. So the Naturopath takes great interest in these lists of symptom sets, diseases, and treatments, but within a different framework altogether. Our bodies grow from the smallest spark of life into thriving, reactive beings that have evolved over tens of millions of years to thrive without miracle medicine. So, let's start by supporting all the ways we have learned to survive and thrive before we abandon or interfere with that legacy using invasive interventions.


Second, the natural treatments used by Naturopaths must align with the primary tenet of  the ancient Hippocratic Oath of doctors: first, do no harm. In the black bag of the Naturopath there are no poisons. Treatment is provide primarily through changes to diet and exercise, botanicals and dietary supplements, removing food and environmental irritants, adding other foods, stress reduction, and other methods using light, sound, and touch. Treatment is also provided by paying attention to the patient and helping him or her identify all of the particular symptoms and circumstance, both past and present, that are interrupting their wellness. Moreover, good naturopathy empowers patients with science-based knowledge and the ability to make informed choices -- especially when facing their primary care physician.



The health care spectrum: synergy


We find that most medical doctors support the naturopathic approach to medicine, as long as its scope of practice keeps within the bounds where it is effective. For instance, it will seldom cure cancer, but naturopathic support during conventional cancer treatments is widely recognized as hugely beneficial. By the same token, medical doctors' practices are structured so that there is no time provided to converse extensively with a patient, or to educate and counsel a patient over time. When a patient's condition is fundamentally caused by poor nutrition, improper nutrition, allergens and sensitivities, or social and emotional issues, establishing a long term honest and open therapeutic relationship is essential.



The health care spectrum: primary care


An individual's primary care physician often is in command of every health-related conversation and decision in a patient's life. Only certain therapies -- those that  the physician is trained in, comfortable with, paid for, covered by professional liability insurance, and are within the doctor's scope of practice and standard of care -- are available to the patient. In many instances, therapies such as stress relief, weight loss, and individualized nutritional changes are not made available as accepted primary therapies.  Medical doctors are best at finding out what is already wrong, but not so good at making sure nothing bad is preparing to happen in the future.  For this reason, preventive and maintenance care are often best provided by a naturopathic practitioner who can help identify an individual's particular sickness and wellness patterns and devise plans to avoid or mitigate future health issues.


We at Natural Grocers look to a future where high-tech conventional medicine is adjunct to holistic primary care.  In the long term, the curriculum and training for medical doctors needs to include an understanding of holistic and naturopathic principles. By the same token, the typical primary care physician (and their support staff, such as nurse practitioners) have to allow time and focus to better identify the cause of health conditions over time. Finally, conventional medicine needs to recognize the great value of Naturopathic Doctors and Traditional Naturopaths (and other alternative health care practitioners) in helping the public stay healthy.  We can no longer afford a health care system that only treats diseases, when those very diseases are being caused by diet, environmental, emotional and lifestyle choices.  An informed and empowered citizen, guided by a naturopathic practitioner, is often the most curable patient.



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