Naturopathic medicine is a system that uses natural remedies to help the body heal itself. It utilizes multiple therapies, including herbs, massage, elements of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda, nutrition and exercise.
While some of its modalities are centuries old, the field is always advancing and many are surprised to learn that naturopathic physicians are trained in pharmacology and some can even write certain prescriptions for pharmaceuticals.
Naturopathic doctors are educated and trained in accredited medical colleges and do lengthy hands-on work inside practices that are akin to medical residencies.
Naturopathic doctors diagnose and treat acute and chronic illness as well as work to establish and maintain optimal health by supporting the person's inherent self healing process.
How Does Naturopathic Medicine Work?
A naturopathic approach is holistic, meaning to treat the whole person and the contributors to overall health: body, mind, spirit, lifestyle. This includes a goal to go to the source or root causes of an illness, not just doctor the symptoms.
This is a key difference. While our culture is used to an approach of suppressing symptoms, naturopathic doctors work to identify underlying causes of illness, and develop personalized treatment plans to address them.
When seeing a naturopathic physician, your appointment may be 1-2 hours, including an in-depth look at your lifestyle, health history, stress levels, eating habits, emotional wellbeing and more. Naturopathic doctors (N.D.s) may order lab tests.
The outcome is often a personal health plan incorporating all of the modalities from homeopathy, herbal medicine or acupuncture to a diet and stress management program. Massage, pressure point therapy and other means may be incorporated as well.
Can a naturopathic medicine work with regular pharmaceuticals? With HRT?
While this is a surprise to many, NDs are trained in pharmacology and how to employ pharmaceutical drugs when necessary or beneficial.
Specifically for perimenopause, some NDs can prescribe estradiol creams, progesterone creams and other Hormone Replacement Therapies directly if their state licensure permits it.
If not, NDs can refer patients to a colleague in conventional medicine to get prescriptions, much like therapists may refer a client to a nurse practitioner or MD for an antidepressant or anti-anxiety medication.
Naturopathic medicine is not in opposition to conventional medicine where it can do the most good. NDs refer patients to trained and trusted MDs when needed, just as a modern M.D. may refer a patient to a naturopathic physician.
Integrated with the M.D.’s care, the N.D. would utilize complementary therapies to increase the efficacy of conventional medicine and reduce side effects wherever possible.
How are naturopathic doctors educated, trained, and licensed?
Most naturopathic doctors hold a Bachelor of Science degree as a prerequisite to naturopathic training, often on a standard pre-med track.
Accredited naturopathic medical schools are four-year, in-residence, hands-on medical programs. They require a minimum of 4,100 hours of class and clinical training, including four years of training in disciplines such as acupuncture, clinical nutrition, homeopathic medicine, botanical medicine, physical medicine and counseling. They study biomedical sciences, including new scientific advances and natural approaches, from disease prevention to clinical intervention.
Naturopathic medical students intern in clinical settings under the close supervision of licensed professionals for at least 2 final years of their programs.
Hands-on work is important and online programs are not recognized or accredited.
Like conventional MDs, specializations are becoming more common for naturopathic doctors, from oncology to gynecology.
There are currently 7 accredited schools in the United States and Canada. A degree from one of these schools is required for licensure or certification by a state.
Are naturopathic doctors licensed?
Today 20 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands offer licensure or certification for naturopathic doctors.
What is the difference between a naturopathic physician and an herbalist?
A naturopathic physician is the choice when looking for a holistic primary care doctor. As noted, they have a wide array of therapeutic modalities such as homeopathy, nutrition, traditional Chinese medicine/acupuncture and a closer connection to conventional M.Ds. They have pharmaceutical training and in some cases can prescribe pharmaceuticals, or may be more likely to refer a patient to a conventional physician to integrate care when needed and most beneficial.
Herbalists are studied only in plant medicines. They create customized herbal formulas, but do not have the broader training in other areas of medicine.
When should I use naturopathic medicine? What conditions are naturopathic medicine good for?
While more people are seeking out naturopathic physicians like primary care doctors and for overall better health, there are certain conditions that naturopathic medicine is commonly used for:
Headaches and migraines
Chronic fatigue syndrome
Why use naturopathic medicine when there are pharmaceuticals?
(hint: sometimes it’s a substitution, sometimes it’s complementary)
Well, we could write a book on this. Many people already have.
First: We do not see naturopathic and conventional medicine as mutually exclusive. Naturopathic and conventional medicine do not need to be in opposition. Ideally, they are in integration.
There are some situations for which conventional Western medicine is absolutely the best choice. And other situations and bodies for which naturopathic medicine is the best course of action. Sometimes, they may work together.
A modern, thoughtful approach to health incorporates and considers both, working to the strengths of each while being fully cognizant of their limitations.
For example, conventional pharmaceuticals are excellent at symptom management and acute issues. If you want fast, fast relief from a headache or muscle pain, there’s no herb that will take the pain away as quickly as an over-the-counter pharmaceutical or pain pill. However, long term use of either one of these has issues as well.
Ongoing daily use of some medications can tax the body. Many herbs can be used for years with no adverse effects.
Herbs and plants have a slower acting, cumulative effect. They work best when used consistently and over time. This makes them great tools for more persistent issues as they work at the source of the issue to balance the overall system, versus simply focusing on the symptom or “problem.”
As mentioned, naturopathic medicine including herbal supplements can also help mitigate side effects from pharmaceuticals, and provide care that fills in the gaps. For example: those on an antidepressant may still feel mood swings or moments of irritability. Naturopathic approaches—including Wile products—can help.
Increasingly, people are concerned about the longer term effects of synthetic substances on the body, and the side effects that can come with pharmaceutical drugs. Some prescriptions do not work for everyone, and some women cannot be prescribed estrogen or other hormones due to pre-existing conditions.
Others may want to see what their own bodies can do with herbal support, like our Wile Perimenopause Support supplement.
Some people prefer to get feedback from their bodies or work with the naturally occuring cycles. For example, if you take the Pill throughout perimenopause, it is artificially changing your menstrual cycle and you will not get true data from your body about where you are in your transition.
These are all choices about how you want to work with, listen to and live in your body. They are not “right” or “wrong,” our goal is to provide options and information.
While the conventional system has taught us to think of the body as parts and symptoms, it is a whole and integrated system where every part affects and may effect the other, just like nature itself. We can work with the body to support itself given the right conditions and care.
Stuart, Annie. “Massage Therapy Styles and Health Benefits.” WebMD, August 13, 2008. https://www.webmd.com/balance/guide/massage-therapy-styles-and-health-benefits.
Photo credit: Mattheus Ferrero, unsplash
This article is intended for informational purposes and is not intended to replace a one-on-one medical consultation with a professional. Wile, Inc researches and shares information and advice from our own research and advisors. We encourage every woman to research, ask questions and speak to a trusted health care professional to make her own best decisions.