About Naturopathic Medicine

Incorporating Naturopathic Medicine into Your Healthcare

May 20, 2013 By Carrie Runde, ND 

Carrie Runde

As a naturopathic doctor (ND), I love educating people about this profession because of the excitement that it generates. The public (that means you!) is craving information on the benefits of natural medicines and how to attain better health. NDs have the education to put natural and preventive practices into use and the passion needed to deliver our knowledge to those who need it most.

Did you know that naturopathic doctors are the only doctors who are trained in science-based natural therapies during our medical school training? This means that while I was taking anatomy, pathology, pharmacology, and all of the classes that make up a good medical education, I was learning about the safe and effective use of herbs, nutrition, homeopathy, hydrotherapy, hands-on therapies, and other natural treatments. Naturopathic education thus bridges two worlds that the public tends to think of as being very distinct, science-informed medicine and traditional healing methods. Our training gives naturopathic doctors many tools to deliver the best of both these worlds for our patients.

But what does this actually look like in practice? It means that when I work with patients, I spend time evaluating how closely one’s habits align with the fundamental building blocks of health. This includes healthy nutrition, quality sleep, stress management, proper hydration, functional breathing patterns, assessing mental and emotional health, and weight maintenance. I teach about the importance of these factors and recommend specifics on how to make real improvements. We also use natural medicines where appropriate. These aren’t the sexy, hi-tech treatments in modern medicine that get the attention of the press. But if these basic health factors aren’t addressed and improved upon, chronic disease may continue to progress and compromise one’s health.

Did you get inspired or maybe a bit overwhelmed reading the above list, thinking about the areas that may need improvement for you? If we really break down that list, we see many significant factors that present serious challenges for many people who want to make real change. Incorporating naturopathic medicine into your healthcare team is key because of its personalization to your life circumstances, your ideals, and what is most important in your health. We meet you where you are. This engagement is at the heart of naturopathic health care. We achieve it through teamwork among our providers using the breadth of our clinical experience and resources effectively.

Naturopathic doctors are America’s best-kept secret!

Naturopathic Medicine – The Basics

Naturopathic Medicine is a unique and distinct system of health care that emphasizes the use of prevention and natural therapeutics. The doctors who practice naturopathic medicine, called naturopathic doctors (NDs), are trained to serve as primary care general practitioners who are experts in the prevention, diagnosis, management, and treatment of both acute and chronic health conditions.

Naturopathic doctors are trained at accredited, four-year, post-graduate, residential naturopathic medical programs. The training consists of comprehensive study of the conventional medical sciences, including anatomy, physiology, pathology, microbiology, immunology, clinical and physical diagnosis, laboratory diagnosis, cardiology, gastroenterology, gynecology, etc, as well as detailed study of a wide variety of natural therapies.

Naturopathic doctors are guided by six principles: (1) Do No Harm; (2) The Healing Power of Nature; (3) Find the Cause; (4) Treat the Whole Person; (5) Preventive Medicine; and, (6) Doctor as Teacher. This set of principles, emphasized throughout a naturopathic doctor’s training, outlines the philosophy guiding the naturopathic approach to health and healing and forms the foundation of this distinct health care practice.

Naturopathic doctors use a variety of natural and non-invasive therapies, including clinical nutrition, homeopathy, botanical medicine, hydrotherapy, physical medicine, and counseling. Naturopathic treatments are effective in treating a wide variety of conditions without the need for additional intervention. Naturopathic doctors are also able to function within an integrated framework, and naturopathic therapies can be used to complement treatments used by conventionally trained medical doctors. The result is a patient-centered approach that strives to provide the most appropriate treatment for an individual’s needs.

In the United States, the naturopathic medical profession’s infrastructure includes accredited educational institutions, professional licensing, national standards of practice, peer review, and a commitment to state-of-the-art scientific research.

What is the difference between a naturopathic doctor and a medical doctor?

While there are many similarities in how NDs and MDs are trained and practice, there are also important differences. MDs are taught to focus on obtaining a scientifically-based diagnosis that then guides the therapy offered. Often these therapies are aimed at blocking or suppressing a symptom, such as using pain killers and anti-inflammatory medicines for arthritis or using an antibiotic to treat an infection. This approach is very effective especially for treating emergencies and life-threatening health problems, but it often does not work to correct the causes of health problems and has a poor track record in the treatment of chronic diseases which are difficult to diagnose, such as chronic fatigue. MDs by in large tend to take a reductionist approach to health care; that is they focus on treating the disease not the patient.

While also using scientific methods and arriving at many of the same diagnoses as MDs, naturopathic doctors take a more holistic approach and try to understand causes behind a patient’s diagnosis so these can be effectively managed. So, for example, an ND may use herbal or nutritional substances to relieve pain and reduce inflammation in a patient with arthritis, while at the same time use therapies to support healthy joint function and restore damaged tissues. Using a more holistic model, the ND may also look into the role that food intolerances or gastrointestinal health may play in the patient with arthritis. Uncovering these clues can be important in helping patients understand the causes of their conditions and empower them to take a more active role in improving their general health while managing their current “diagnosis.”

How does the training compare between a naturopathic doctor (ND) and a medical doctor (MD)?

Both NDs and MDs attend four-year graduate level accredited medical schools, with similar training in the basic sciences such as anatomy, physiology, biochemistry and pathology. Most MDs go on to residencies and internships, while some NDs also do residency training. NDs, like MDs, must pass state board exams to practice in licensed states.

In clinical training, MDs are often trained in hospital settings which emphasize specialty views of patient care. So, the MD student may spend time observing cardiac patients or internal medicine cases with emphasis on treating specific conditions. ND students are more often trained in community clinic settings and preceptorships with NDs in private practice, which lend to more general approaches to primary care.

All California-licensed naturopathic doctors will appear on the following list:
List of Naturopathic Doctors in California