A common misconception about naturopathic doctors (ND) is that we are simply “natural doctors.” While this may be partly true, it is far from the whole truth. ND’s are much more than just natural doctors. There are many significant distinctions between a naturopathic doctor and our allopathic counterparts. We do utilize natural therapies, yet we may utilize prescription drugs and surgery when necessary. Currently 20 states, plus the U. S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico license ND’s and prescription rights vary by state. Prescription drugs are not all we are educated in, far from it. In fact, there are six other therapeutic steps we can utilize to restore health before utilizing prescriptions. Within these therapeutic steps, there are virtually infinite possibilities depending upon the individual, their lifestyle and their health concerns. This is quite extraordinary because it means we have many, many ways to address and support your health.
Naturopathic doctors use our knowledge of physiology, anatomy, biochemistry, nutrition, immunology, histology, microbiology and disease processes to create a treatment plan as unique as the individual. We view the body as a synergistic holistic system and not a collection of independent systems. We understand how lifestyle influences health. We believe in supporting the body’s natural processes as opposed to interfering with them. We operate in healthcare, not sick care. We treat the person, not the disease. Lastly and quite possibly most significantly, we treat the cause of the disease, not the symptoms. Utilizing these principles, we can effectively cure many conditions, unbeknownst to our allopathic counterparts. Technically, the body does the curing; we simply provide the conditions for health.
A great example is the common cold, which all of us have experienced. Likely, an allopathic physician, or MD has told you there is nothing you can do against the common cold. Well, what is meant by that is there are no effective prescription drugs to treat the common cold. As opposed to a bacterial infection, which is generally given a prescriptive drug antibiotic, the common cold is caused by a virus which would not be killed by the drug. The fact is there are many things you can do for the common cold. In naturopathic medicine, we call this palliative medicine, because this is palliating or relieving the symptoms, yet not affecting a cure. Remember in naturopathic medicine we aim for a cure and a return to health. A palliative treatment for the common cold could be any number of recommendations, including vitamins, botanical medicines, hydrotherapy and immunosupportive techniques. One of my favorite and effective treatments is vitamin A, which inhibits viral replication. This means the virus will not be able to multiply and your immune system will have less pathogens to kill—therefore you will feel better sooner. (Only use vitamin A under the care of your naturopathic doctor, as it can be dangerous if used long term, in high doses and for pregnant women.) The other consideration for the naturopathic doctor is why did you get the common cold in the first place? Is your immune system run down from lack of sleep or poor diet? Did you consume sugar? Sugar depletes the body’s ability to fight infections by decreasing the number of macrophages, which are immune cells that literally eat germs. Possibly the common cold is appropriate for your age. Children are actually supposed to encounter acute childhood infections, so their immune system can mount a response and grow stronger. Much like we stress our muscles during exercise to grow them, we are meant to stress our immune system during childhood to strengthen it to protect us against cardiovascular disease and cancer as an adult. Whatever the case may be, an ND will look at your individual make-up and recommend treatment so you feel better and address the aspect of why your body succumbed to the infection in the first place. An ND will make appropriate recommendations, so you are healthy and immunologically stronger next time your body comes in contact with a pathogen. There are in fact many, many things that can be done for the common cold.
Somewhere in history we forgot about health and replaced it with prescription drugs. While prescription drugs are life-saving and necessary, they are not the definition of health. Health is waking up in the morning refreshed and ready to conquer the day. Health is running in the yard with your kids and being there for your grandkids. Health is the ability to fulfill your dreams without limitations. As a primary care ND, we are able to utilize our vast knowledge and apply that to your health. We can address overall wellness, acute infections or chronic conditions utilizing the same principles. We aim to create the conditions for health, which will affect a cure, so you may live a vibrant, healthy life. ND’s are not simply “natural doctors”. We are physicians which aim to create the conditions to restore your health, effect a cure, alleviate symptoms and empower you to live your best life.
Dr. Julia Malkowski, BSc., DC, ND Candidate