FM/CFS/ME RESOURCES - Naturopathic Medicine


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Naturopathic Medicine

For many people with Fibromyalgia (FM) and CFS/ME, getting treatment for their condition is very difficult. Unlike other illnesses, where there is a clear medical specialty that handles their cases, FM and CFS/ME seem to be unclassified by any medical specialty.

Over the last few years, more and more naturopathic doctors have been handling the treatment of FM and CFS/ME cases. But what exactly is naturopathic medicine? This article will help you to understand what naturopathic medicine is, and whether it's right for you.

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What Are Naturopathic Physicians? ( N.D.s)

Naturopathic physicians are general health care practitioners. They are trained to be the doctor first seen by the patient for general health care, for advice on keeping healthy, and for the diagnosis and treatment of acute and chronic conditions. They also serve those whose treatment by conventional means has not met their needs and who seek naturopathic care as an alternative.

The current scope of naturopathic practice includes, but not limited to:

  • Clinical Nutrition
  • Botanical Medicine
  • Homeopathic Medicine
  • Physical Medicine
  • Oriental Medicine
  • Naturopathic Obstetrics
  • Psychological Medicine
  • Minor Surgery

Naturopathic practice excludes the use of most synthetic drugs and major surgery.

Naturopathic physicians are well trained in all modern methods of diagnostic testing and imaging including X-ray, ultrasound, and other imaging techniques.

The majority of Naturopathic Physicians are in general, private practice. Some N.D.'s, however, choose to emphasize particular treatment modalities (listed above), or may concentrate on particular medical fields (pediatrics, gynecology, allergies, arthritis, etc.).

The N.D. course of study is an intensive four-year graduate program including approximately 4,500 hours of academic and clinical training. The program leads to licensure as a Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine (N.D.).

Consumers beware of the terminology. "Naturopathy" has in the recent past been used as a generic and vernacular term to describe an individual who utilizes non-drug and "natural" therapies in working with customers. For example, in the State of California, anyone can call him/herself a naturopath, but naturopathic doctors have to be licensed.

An unlicensable naturopath has NOT graduated from four-year, doctoral-level, accredited naturopathic medical education programs, and therefore is NOT trained or licensed to diagnosis and treat.

The terms "naturopath", "naturopathic physician" and "naturopathic doctor" are protected titles in many states. Unfortunately, the term "naturopath" is often utilized in unlicensed states as an equivalent to naturopathic doctor and is heavily utilized by graduates of diploma mills. Always check your practitioner's credentials.

In Canada, there are two accredited schools of naturopathic medicine:

Professional associations include:

In the United States, there are four accredited schools of naturopathic medicine:

Professional associations include:

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Differences Between M.D. and N.D. Medical School Educations

Important differences between M.D. and N.D. education include hours spent studying nutrition, and herb/drug interactions. N.D.s learn the pharmacology of western medicine, regardless of whether or not they use these drugs in their practice. This is important in these times when people are turning more and more to health food supplements and herbal preparations; unaware of interactions these preparations may have with medication prescribed by their M.D. Naturopathic phyisicians evaluate all the medications a patient is taking, be they self-prescribed OTC (over the counter) or prescribed by another physician, typically an M.D. A licensed N.D. has studied the pharmacology of most common medications. (such as heart medications or cholesterol lowering medications) as well as, botanical medications. In addition, Naturopathic Doctors are familiar with nutritional effects of certain medications.

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Where May N.D.s Practice?

Fourteen states and four provinces allow the practice of naturopathic medicine:

  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • British Columbia
  • California
  • Connecticut
  • Hawaii
  • Idaho
  • Kansas
  • Maine
  • Manitoba
  • Montana
  • New Hampshire
  • Ontario
  • Oregon
  • Saskatchewan
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • Washington

Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands also have licensing laws for naturopathic doctors. In a number of states and provinces where there is not yet professional licensure, naturopathic medical associations are actively engaged in legislative initiatives to pass licensing laws.

The scope of practice varies from state to state and province to province. In states and provinces without naturopathic licensing laws, many who hold the N.D. degree also hold other degrees, such as the Doctor of Medicine (M.D.), Doctor of Chiropractic (D.C.), or Masters in Oriental Medicine degree (O.M.D.), and they practice under licenses for those professions. Others offer services that do not violate their states' medical practice acts. Most naturopathic physicians are in the states and provinces that regulate the profession.

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The Naturopathic Approach

How is a naturopath different from your regular doctor? Here are a few differences between a North American naturopath trained at an accredited institution and a family or general practitioner.

First and foremost, the naturopath differs from your regular doctor on many points of philosophy, which are outlined in the Naturopathic Principles. This is a different way of looking at medicine and at healing which really defines the foundation of the naturopathc approach.

Secondly, your average naturopath will spend much more time with you than your regular doctor. There are a few reasons for this. Economically speaking, many GPs are faced with pressing patient visits into a brief period of time. The average doctor visit in the U.S., for example, is something like seven minutes, which I'm sure is partially due to how they are paid, and also due to their training, since in most hospital settings a physician in training learns to get essential info, prescribe, and exit to see the next patient.

Naturopaths cannot afford to do this because an understanding of a whole person on seven minutes interview is not likely to be particularly comprehensive, nor is it likely to ascertain underlying issues besides the symptoms most distressing to you. Nor would it provide time to do a good physical examination (which a naturopath is trained to do, exactly like your M.D.). And in the end, it probably would not provide enough information to formulate a truly effective healing program for you.

Normally, first office calls will be the better part of an hour, with return office calls in the twenty to thirty minute range. Return office calls are lengthy becaue it takes time to properly explain to you what is going on and to give you the information you need to make your own health choices.

The questions that you are asked during a naturopathic interview include those types of questions that you are used to being asked by your regular doctor, but also include many more questions about your lifestyle habits and personal habits and health goals. Diet is usually thoroughly reviewed, as are bowel habits, exercise habits, and past medical history of yourself and your family.

Your naturopath and your GP will only partially vary in terms of diagnosis. Naturopaths are trained to diagnose in the same way that your GP does, although the naturopath's repertory of diagnoses often includes diagnoses which are not recognized by your GP. Medical records must be transferable between practioners, however, so your naturopathic records will contain diagnoses which other practitioners will understand. This enables the naturopath to communicate with your other health care providers, so that there is no misunderstanding about how you are being advised.

Treatments, of course, vary considerably between the naturopath and the GP. Naturopaths are trained to use lifestyle approaches with the addition of the use of herbal medicine, homeopathy, nutritional medicine, manipulation and physical medicine. Naturopaths have access to professional formulations of herbs and nutritional s upplements not available to the general public which they prescribe for you from their own dispensaries. A naturopath may also provide you with hands-on medicine from massage to physiotherapy to bony manipulation in which GPs are rarely trained in. In some areas, naturopaths are also licensed to prescribe certain drugs, or charter substances, including hormones and antibiotics, which were available to them historically in some of the U.S. As a result, naturopathic education includes training in the use of such medicines, although your average naturopath does not use their prescribing priviledges on a regular basis.

The treatment plan that your naturopath formulates with you is also usually very different than your GPs. There will usually be several suggestions for resolution of your particular concerns involving your lifestyle, reading materials, possibly s upplements, referals to other practitioners or to a specialized appointment for a specific therapy with your naturopath, etc. And the emphasis will always be on what YOU can do to improve your health, in other words, how you can take responsibility and control in a way that you are comfortable with!

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Philosophy of Naturopathic Medicine

Naturopathic Medicine is a distinctively natural approach to health and healing that recognizes the integrity of the whole person. Naturopathic Medicine is heir to the vitalistic tradition of medicine in the Western world, emphasizing the treatment of disease through the stimulation, enhancement, and support of the inherent healing capacity of the person.

Methods of treatments are chosen to work with the patient's vital force, respecting the intelligence of the natural healing process. The practice of Naturopathic Medicine emerges from six underlying principles of healing. These principles are based on the objective observation of the nature of health and disease, and are continually reexamined in light of scientific analysis. It is these principles that distinguish the profession from other medical approaches:

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The Naturopathic Principles

Naturopathic Medicine is a natural approach to health and healing that recognizes the integrity of the whole person. Naturopathic Medicine represents the "vitalistic" tradition of medicine in our Western world. That is, it treats disease through the stimulation, increase, and support of the person's inherent healing capacity. These treatments are chosen to work with the patient's vital force, respecting the natural healing processes of nature.

The practice of Naturopathic Medicine includes six underlying principles of healing. These are based on the observation of health and disease. This observation process involves the use of modern scientific methodologies and language.

The following principles make Naturopathic Medicine different from all other medical approaches: (latin meanings in italics)

1. First Do No Harm - Primum No Nocere

Illness is a purposeful process of the organism. The process of healing includes the generation of symptoms which are, in fact, an expression of the life force attempting to heal itself. Therapeutic actions should be complementary to and synergistic with this healing process. The physician's actions can support or antagonize the actions of the vis medicatrix naturae - the healing power of Nature. Therefore, methods designed to suppress symptoms without removing the underlying causes are considered harmful and to be avoided or minimized.

2. The Healing Power of Nature - Vis Mediatrix Naturae

The body has the inherent ability to establish, maintain, and restore health. The healing process is ordered and intelligent; nature heals through the response of the life force. The physician's role is to facilitate and augment this process, to act to identify and remove obstacles to health and recovery, and to support the creation of a healthy internal and external environment.

3. Identify And Treat The Cause - Tolle Causam

Illness does not occur without cause. Underlying causes of disease must be discovered and removed or treated before a person can recover completely from illness. Symptoms are expressions of the body's attempt to heal, but are not the cause of disease. Symptoms, therefore, should not be suppressed by treatment. Causes may occur on many levels including physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. The physician must evaluate fundamental underlying causes on all levels, directing treatment at root causes rather than at symptomatic expression.

4. Treat The Whole Person - Tolle Totum

Health and disease are conditions of the whole organism, a whole involving a complex interaction of physical, spiritual, mental, emotional, genetic, environmental, social, and other factors. The physician must treat the whole person by taking all of these factors into account. The harmonious functioning of all aspects of the individual is essential to recovery from and prevention of disease, and requires a personalized and comprehensive approach to diagnosis and treatment.

5. The Physician as Teacher - Docere

Beyond an accurate diagnosis and appropriate prescription, the physician must work to create a healthy, sensitive interpersonal relationship with the patient. A cooperative doctor-patient relationship has inherent therapeutic value. The physician's major role is to educate and encourage the patient to take responsibility for health. The physician is a catalyst for healthful change, empowering and motivating the patient to assume responsibility. It is the patient, not the doctor, who ultimately creates/accomplishes healing. The physician must strive to inspire hope as well as understanding. The physician must also make a commitment to his/her personal and spiritual development in order to be a good teacher.

6. Prevention - Prevention is the best cure

The ultimate goal of any health care system should be prevention. This is accomplished through education and promotion of life-habits that create good health. The physician assesses risk factors and hereditary susceptibility to disease and makes appropriate interventions to avoid further harm and risk to the patient. The emphasis is on building health rather than on fighting disease.

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Types of Treatments Naturopathic Doctors Offer

Naturopathic philosophy serves as the basis for naturopathic practice. The current scope of naturopathic practice includes, but is not limited to:

Clinical Nutrition

A cornerstone of naturopathic practice is that food is the best medicine. Many medical conditions can be treated more effectively with foods and nutritional supplements than by other means, with fewer complications and side effects. Many pharmaceuticals can be strengthened and targeted more safely with knowledge of nutritional sciences. Naturopathic physicians use dietetics, natural hygiene, fasting, and nutritional supplementation in their practice. These methods can be used as either alternatives to mainstream medicine, or as complementary and in concert with it, depending on the desires of the patient.

Botanical Medicine

Many plant substances are powerful medicines. Whereas a single chemically derived drug may address a single problem, botanical medicines are able to address a variety of problems simultaneously. Their organic nature makes botanicals compatible with the body's own chemistry; hence, they can be gently effective with fewer toxic side effects. Their availability and safety make them more useful and affordable for home care of chronic conditions.

Homeopathic Medicine

Homeopathic medicine is based on the principle of "like cures like." It works on a subtle yet powerful electromagnetic level, gently acting to strengthen the body's healing and immune response. Because these are both effective and very safe, naturopathic physicians share a respect for this system of medicine with practitioners of many other healing arts. Homeopathy is a central part of our comprehensive training for these reasons.

Physical Medicine

Naturopathic medicine has its own methods of therapeutic manipulation of muscles, bones, and the spine. Our physicians also use ultrasound, diathermy, exercise, massage, water, heat and cold, air, and gentle electrical pulses to treat acute or chronic physical injury. Many recent advances in Sports Medicine and exercise physiology are essentially adaptations of herbal and homeopathic materials into the modern arena.

Traditional Chinese Medicine

Tongue and pulse diagnosis, Chinese herbs, nutrition, and acupuncture comprise the ancient practices of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Although this medical system dates back some 3,000 years, it was only introduced to North America at the turn of the century. TCM has even more recently become a respected alternative therapy in the West during the last decade.

A TCM diagnosis is holistic in nature. The practitioner trained in Traditional Chinese Medicine will take into consideration all the aspects of the individual, including special observation of the tongue and the wrist pulses. These two areas (among others), according to TCM, tell the practitioner about certain characteristics of the person regarding their overall constitution. These findings tell the practitioner what treatment is needed.

Acupuncture involves the insertion of fine needles through the skin and tissue at specific points on the body. There is no injection of any substances, and the treatment itself causes minimal discomfort. Acupuncture has been found to be effective in treating a variety of painful disorders, both acute and chronic. The World Health Organization in 1979 drew up the following provisional list of disorders that lend themselves to acupuncture treatment. The list is based on clinical experience and not necessarily controlled clinical research:

  • Digestive disorders such as gastritis, hyperacidity, spastic bowl, constipation, and diarrhea.
  • Respiratory disorders such as sinusitis, bronchitis, asthma.
  • Neurological and muscular disorders such as headaches, neck and back pain, neuralgia, frozen shoulder, tennis elbow, sciatica, and arthritis.
  • Urinary, menstrual, and reproductive disorders.
  • Addiction and substance abuse.
  • Sleep disorders such as insomnia and sleep apnea.

According to TCM, acupuncture works due to its effect on the essential substance that makes up the human body and enables it to sustain life activities and functions. This "substance," for a lack of a better word, is known as Chi or Qi (pronounced "chee"). Western biomedical research has learned that acupuncture works in certain situations by stimulating the body to produce endorphins, a morphine-like chemical that helps block pathways that relay pain messages. The result is relief from pain, general relaxation, and restoring the body's own internal regulatory system.

Naturopathic Manipulation (Bodywork)

Often in conjunction with other treatments, bodywork uses a variety of systematic movements to help heal musculoskeletal and neurological conditions. Manipulation of bone alignment is used, similar to both osteopathic and chiropractic adjustments. One technique in particular, "strain/counter-strain," is very gentle and effective, especially for pain and injuries of the neck and upper back.

Psychological Medicine

Mental attitudes and emotional states may influence, or even cause, physical illness. Counseling, nutritional balancing, stress management, hypnotherapy, biofeedback, and other therapies are used to help patients heal on levels other than only the physical.

Minor Surgery

As general practitioners, naturopathic physicians do in-office minor surgery, including repair of superficial wounds, removal of foreign bodies, cysts, and other superficial masses. We refer to surgeons when their skills are needed for our patient's well being.

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What Can I Expect During My First Visit To A Naturopathic Doctor?

Once the patient's history has been taken, the Naturopath may do a screening physical, which is a standard physical examination supplemented by in-depth questions, and may seek laboratory testing or diagnostic imaging of the complaint. After the intake and physical are completed, the Naturopath will discuss the treatment plan or protocol with the patient.

If needed, the patient will be referred for laboratory or other diagnostic tests, or to their medical doctor for further consultation. Follow-up visits are scheduled from one to four weeks after treatment has begun. If a chronic illness is being addressed, the patient can expect to undergo at least one month of treatment for every year of illness.

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What Conditions Can Naturopathic Medicine Treat?

There is a wide range of conditions that Naturopathic doctors treat, either alone or in combination with other complementary or usual medical treatments. These include:

  • Arthritis
  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia
  • Cardiovascular problems – high blood pressure, high cholesterol, palpitations
  • Digestive problems – bloating, heartburn, gas, constipation, sluggish digestion
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome
  • Skin conditions – acne, rashes, excema, psoriasis, rosacea, dry skin
  • Allergies, Asthma, Sinusitis, Colds, Flus
  • Headaches, Migraines
  • Women's Health – menopause, PMS, fibroids, endometriosis, cramps
  • epression, Anxiety, Mood disorders, Stress
  • Insomnia
  • Autoimmune disease, weak immune function
  • Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn's disease, Candida
  • Hyperthyroidism, Hypothyroidism, Adrenal imbalances
  • Diabetes, Hypoglycemia
  • Osteoporosis
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss and Weight management
  • And much more

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