Naturopathic Medicine is an approach to healing which makes use of "natural" substances such as herbs and foods. It began in the 19th century, and is now becoming increasingly popular with the public's renewed interest in holistic health care. Naturopathic doctors are experts in natural medicine.
Naturopathic doctors (ND's) are trained in all of the conventional medical sciences, and take additional hours in nutrition, botanical medicine, homeopathy, and physical medicine. They are educated at one of 6 U.S. naturopathic medical schools. The schools are regionally accredited, recognized by the U.S. Department of Education, and provide 4 year doctorate level programs resulting in the degree Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine.
ND candidates have the same undergraduate pre-requisites (Biology, Chemistry, Physics, etc.) and study the same basic sciences (Anatomy, Physiology, Pathology, etc.) and clinical sciences (Cardiology, Pulmonology, Neurology, Oncology, etc.) as their conventional medical peers.
Naturopathic doctors are currently licensed in 17 states, Washington D.C., and the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. In these states, ND's must pass both basic science and clinical board exams to become licensed. Licensing legislation is being pursued in most other states at this time.
People often associate naturopathic medicine with certain therapies such as specific diets, botanical medicine, homeopathy, etc. While ND's do utilize these methods, what defines naturopathic medicine is not the modality used but the way it is used. The following 6 precepts represent the official philosophy of our profession:
- Primum non nocere - First, do no harm. This principle is obvious to most people and is embraced by most healing professions. One of naturopathic medicine's great strengths is that the majority of therapies have very little potential to harm. That being said, sometimes harm can occur by failure to use stronger medical interventions (e.g. drugs or surgery) when they are called for. Naturopaths are well-trained to identify such situations and are also well-versed in drug-herb/nutrient and sugical-herb/nutrient interactions.
- Vis medicatrix naturae - The healing power of nature. This is what distinguishes naturopathic medicine most significantly from conventional medicine. The "healing power of nature" really refers to the healing potential of the human body. Naturopaths approach healing with the idea that the body is often the best weapon against disease. If the body can be sufficiently supported and balanced, it usually knows how to heal itself. However, there are situations in which this is not the case, and where more forceful interventions are needed.
- Tolle causum - Treat the cause. Naturopathic medicine strives to get at the root of the problem. Sometimes this approach can take longer and demand more of the patient than simply treating symptoms. However, restoration of health is often more complete. This is especially true in chronic disease.
- Tolle totum - Treat the whole person. People are complex and can not be reduced to bio-chemical reactions (as powerful as biochemical knowledge is). People have emotional and spiritual energies which greatly influence physical health. Additionally, all parts of the body influence each other, so that a problem often can not be sufficiently addressed in isolation. All of this means that people are best addressed as whole and complete beings.
- Docere - Teach. Naturopathic doctors strive to empower people on their journey to health. This requires people take responsibility for the choices which affect their health. It also requires that ND's educate in how best to go about this. A good naturopath encourages people to ask questions and gives them feedback on research they may have done. The idea is that of doctor as partner.
- Prevenir - Prevention. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Naturopaths have many tools available to help people minimize their risk of future illness. Many naturopathic therapies are non-specific and strengthen the person as a whole, lowering their susceptibility to future illness. Additionally, ND's are trained to look for subtle clues indicating the potential for problems which are sometimes years away.
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