I can think of no time better than World Health Day to remind people about the virtues of naturopathic medicine, and the role it can and should play in creating a truly
healthy global community. While the political milieu of the last few years has centered around access to care via insurance coverage, it is important to remember that there is more than one approach to medicine practiced around the world. Naturopathic medicine honors the body’s inherent self-healing capacity, and views the body as a complex system which adapts to the stressors of life to promote optimal health. While every system of medicine has its rightful role, the key lies in finding the appropriate approach for each individual as their health needs evolve. Increased access to naturopathic medicine provides an opportunity to create a foundation for sustainable wellness in a chronically sick world.
THE ORIGINS OF NATUROPATHIC MEDICINE: A GLOBAL PARADIGM
As it is practiced today, naturopathic medicine is the culmination of all of the best traditional and conventional medical practices which have stood the test of thousands of years of efficacy from around the world. With its most direct roots in Europe, the concepts and best practices of modern day naturopathic medicine are a combination of the principles of Ayurvedic medicine, Chinese Medicine, Eclectic Medicine and the original schools of Chiropractic and Osteopathic Medicine among many others. Today, we have strong science[i]
in the service of the art of such disciplines, with a proven track record of efficacy.
As patient demand for natural approaches to medicine continues to increase at an incredible pace, naturopathic doctors are poised to fill the need for qualified primary care physicians around the world. This demand has created a call to action which has lead to collaboration between over 40 countries to form the World Naturopathic Federation
, whose mission it is to increase access to quality naturopathic care across the globe.
WHAT IS NATUROPATHIC MEDICINE?
Naturopathic medicine is a distinct primary health care profession, emphasizing prevention, treatment, and optimal health through the use of therapeutic methods and substances that encourage individuals’ inherent self-healing process. The practice of naturopathic medicine includes modern and traditional, scientific, and empirical methods.
The following principlesare the foundation of naturopathic medical practice:[ii]
The Healing Power of Nature (Vis Medicatrix Naturae): Naturopathic medicine recognizes an inherent self-healing process in people that is ordered and intelligent. Naturopathic physicians act to identify and remove obstacles to healing and recovery, and to facilitate and augment this inherent self-healing process.
Identify and Treat the Causes (Tolle Causam): The naturopathic physician seeks to identify and remove the underlying causes of illness rather than to merely eliminate or suppress symptoms.
First Do No Harm (Primum Non Nocere): Naturopathic physicians follow three guidelines to avoid harming the patient:
Utilize methods and medicinal substances which minimize the risk of harmful side effects, using the least force necessary to diagnose and treat;
Avoid when possible the harmful suppression of symptoms; and
Acknowledge, respect, and work with individuals’ self-healing process.
Doctor as Teacher (Docere): Naturopathic physicians educate their patients and encourage self-responsibility for health. They also recognize and employ the therapeutic potential of the doctor-patient relationship.
Treat the Whole Person: Naturopathic physicians treat each patient by taking into account individual physical, mental, emotional, genetic, environmental, social, and other factors. Since total health also includes spiritual health, naturopathic physicians encourage individuals to pursue their personal spiritual development.
Prevention: Naturopathic physicians emphasize the prevention of disease by assessing risk factors, heredity and susceptibility to disease, and by making appropriate interventions in partnership with their patients to prevent illness.
Naturopathic practice includes the following diagnostic and therapeutic modalities: clinical and laboratory diagnostic testing, nutritional medicine, botanical medicine, naturopathic physical medicine (including naturopathic manipulative therapy), public health measures, hygiene, counseling, minor surgery, homeopathy, acupuncture, prescription medication, intravenous and injection therapy, and naturopathic obstetrics (natural childbirth).
THE COST EFFECTIVENESS OF NATUROPATHIC MEDICINE
Another factor which contributes to the need to increase access to naturopathic care is that in addition to being medically effective, it is quite cost effective. The demand for and use of Naturopathic Medicine and other CAM therapies has been steadily increasing over the years, and research is now available to indicate considerable cost savings. In a 6 month trial of patients with low back pain, there was a societal cost savings of $1212 per participant who underwent adjunctive naturopathic care as compared to standardized physiotherapy and back pain education alone.[iii]
In a systematic review, the use of natural health products was shown to have a potential cost savings of 73% compared to conventional care alone.[iv]
As the old adage goes, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. As the health care needs of the world population change in light of increasing rates of lifestyle-based chronic disease, naturopathic medicine is poised to transform the health care delivery system into one which promotes sustainable wellness.
Naturopathic Physicians Research Institute
AANP House of Delegates Position Paper, Amended 2011
Herman PM, Szczurko O, Cooley K, Mills EJ. Cost-effectiveness of naturopathic care for chronic low back pain. Altern Ther Health Med. 2008;14(2):32-39.
Kennedy DA, Hart J, Seely D. Cost effectiveness of natural health products: a systematic review of randomized clinical trials. eCAM 2009; 6(3) 297-304.