Popping a pill and seeing a doctor may be how the majority of us treat illness. What if we flipped that way of thinking and harnessed our body’s natural ability to heal by treating the whole person, rather than just one symptom?
That’s the theory behind naturopathic medicine, a way of caring for patients holistically to naturally restore the body’s healthful balance. Whether you’re looking for the root cause of a current problem or interested in preventative care, could a naturopathic doctor (ND) be your best first line of defense?
“People are often reduced to their symptoms or their diagnosis or their lab results” when seeing a conventional medical doctor, says Dr. Holly Lucille, a Los Angeles-based ND in private practice.
“Our job (as NDs) is to think things through and understand what the obstacles to a cure are,” she explains. “What’s in the way of that self-healing process? There are many things we can do before drugs and surgery.”
Seeing a ND doesn’t mean you have to forego your relationship with your conventional medical doctor, however. NDs refer to MDs as needed, while continuing to work with the patient to meet a wide range of needs.
“This is a patient-centered process and we can be part of a health care team,” says Lucille, who is also on the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP) board of directors.
She shares the example of sending a patient with high blood pressure to an MD so that person could immediately get on blood pressure-lowering medication. “Then I could look at why the blood pressure was that high in the first place,” Lucille says.
Naturopathic doctors suggest overall lifestyle modifications to improve health such as dietary changes, while also acknowledging stressors that might impact a person, like environment and relationships. Treatments may include things like home remedies, botanical medicines, cleanses or acupuncture, with some variation from state-to-state depending on each state’s licensing rules.
Shopping for a Naturopathic Doctor
Currently, 16 states plus the District of Columbia have licensing laws for NDs that require graduation from an accredited four-year, residential naturopathic medical school, according to the AANP. Those states also require NDs to pass an extensive postdoctoral board examination.
No matter where you live, if you’re looking for a ND, be sure to ask whether that care provider attended a four-year program versus online training, Lucille says. Graduates of online programs are not eligible to become licensed and do not have patient contact or clinical lab opportunities, according to the AANMC.