What Does A Naturopathic Doctor Do?

“What does a naturopathic doctor do” is a popular question but not one that is readily answered on the internet. Various schools and naturopathic medicine institutions state clearly the art and science of naturopathic medicine, the growing popularity of the field, and of course naysayers who insist it’s quackery and all that negative propaganda.  But what does a naturopathic doctor do, actually? This is a question I will answer in this post.

A naturopathic doctor is one who attended an accredited program in the USA or Canada, passed standardized board certification exams (NABNE), and maintains a license in one of the regulated states or, in Canada, provinces.  The Naturopathic Doctor has the official right to use the letters ND or NMD. There are various online trainings for naturopaths and in other countries there are different credentialing processes, or none whatsoever. This blog will omit those practitioners.

Here is a chart of the hours that are spent on various subjects at 2 accredited naturopathic colleges, 3 elite schools of medicine, and 2 online naturopathic schools. You can clearly see the accredited naturopathic colleges measure up, in terms of hours, to most elite schools of medicine in this country.

Naturopathic Doctors Follow Systems

Naturopathic Doctors follow the Hippocratic oath. They also follow the principles of naturopathic medicine.

  1. First, do no harm
  2. Trust in the body’s inherent wisdom to heal itself.
  3. Identify and Treat the Causes.
  4. Doctor as Teacher.
  5. Treat the Whole Person instead of the individual parts
  6. Prevent illness, when at all possible.
  7. They also follow the Law of Cure.

NDs follow the Therapeutic Order which states that the foundations of good health are based on the totality of positive daily habits a person can rely upon to achieve health, and less on medicines and surgery to get rid of disease.

NDs follow the Health Restoration Model, which means that a disruption of good health causes an abnormal process. When that abnormal process causes symptoms of illness, if allowed to progress it causes degeneration and destruction of organs. In order to reverse the process, one of much remove the original agent that caused the disruption as well as allow the body needs to discharge in order to return to normal physiology.

For an example, the pollution of our environment and the poor nutrition level of our food puts stress on the normal physiological functioning of the body and can cause symptoms in some people. By removing as many pollutants as possible, increasing nutrition and allowing the body to express some symptoms for a period of time (without suppressing them), you are assisting the body in returning to normal physiology and thereby preventing pathology.

Naturopathic Doctors Keep Chart Notes

A naturopathic doctor is to send detailed health history forms, confidentiality and consent to treatment agreement as well as diet diaries, release of medical records from other provider, consult notes, etc. He or she is trained to keep a SOAP note and write down everything the patient reports, do a physical assessment, whatever examination is required or allowed from their state of licensure, read blood reports and medical imaging, make and relay a naturopathic diagnosis and deliver a treatment plan.

Most likely the treatment plan includes nutrition, supplements or herbs, lifestyle recommendations, habit changes and book recommendation. The ND will tell you when to take something, how much, which brands and how often. This will be specific in recommendations. Often NDs will recommend a product from their own dispensary but you will never be required to purchase product from the ND and the ND will offer options of where you can find a similar product in a retailer near you. Depending on your health concerns, their state of license and range of special interest, the ND might also make recommendations of drug-nutrient interactions or drug-herb interactions and discuss medication usage.

Your plan will be recorded in written or electronic form, and you will have access to it.

Naturopathic Doctors Provide You With A Holistic Second Opinion

NDs are the only practitioners who are trained to look at nutrient imbalances as an overarching cause of illness and correct for those imbalances in a safe and wholistic way. NDs also look the root cause of depletion such as poor diet, chemical and heavy metal exposure, medications, lifestyle habits, etc.

NDs are the only practitioners who are trained in drug-herb interactions and drug-nutrient interactions as a serious part of their education, by looking at the mechanism of action and known pathways of drug and nutrient metabolisms, NDs consider seriously the interactions of their recommendations and what patients may be choosing to take on their own time.  NDs also better understand the options available for safely using herbs and nutrients instead of medications, based on mechanisms of action and biochemical pathways.

Because NDs are trained as generalists or holists, then they look at the body in its entirety. If you go to a medical specialist they are looking at the system of the body they’ve become expert in. NDs maintain a big picture view on the body, keeping in mind that all systems work together as one, therefore, when one system is imbalanced it throws off another system. By telescoping back and forth between the symptoms that are currently bothering the patient, as well as assessing the state of health prior to the appearance of those symptoms, the ND can use the timeline to form a picture of what the body is responding to.

Naturopathic Doctors Educate You on Your Health

NDs generally spend quite a bit of time with their patients. In this way, their sessions are therapeutic because they listen and respect the patients ideas of how they got to where they are in their health.

NDs will not only give a recommendation but they are taught to educate you on why they are recommending one thing over the other so you can apply this in your life long-term.

NDs wish to help you help yourself and your family as they appreciate that the best health care is done in the home.

Natuoropathic Doctors Have Many Modalities

When you go see an ND in their practice there may be quite a bit of variety in what they offer, and how they approach the patient visit.

Generally they do an intake – ask you questions about yourself.

They do an assessment – depending on the state or province they are in, this might be a physical exam, lab work, tongue and pulse diagnosis, biofeedback machine, or a compilation of the information you brought to the visit and they gathered in the visit. Most information can be learned form an intake, and diagnostic tests should not be considered above he patient intake, as this is where mistakes happen in medicine.

Most all NDs will make whole food diet recommendations either to correct nutrient deficiencies, help you with weight loss, use food as medicine, assist with metabolic problems, detoxification and regulate bowel movements. Some will focus on food more than others.

Some  NDs, such as myself, will place a large focus on supplements, especially when the patient isn’t able to change the diet fast enough to get results – generally NDs recommend professional level formulations that you cannot find easily in stores.

NDs focus on recommending as as few supplements as possible, but getting maximum benefits and will often recommend you take enough of something so you will get the desired result.

 

Some NDs will focus more on homeopathic remedies, others more on liquid herbal tinctures or teas, Essential oils, Flower essences and even chinese medicine formulations.

 

NDs have as one of their foundation modalities water therapies, spa therapies, hydrotherapy, alternating hot and cold showers, mineral baths, etc.

Some NDs will perform acupuncture, massage, manual adjustment, body work, reiki or another form of energy work.

Many NDs will work in counseling, hypnosis, meditation and mindset. Most NDs focus on lifestyle changes in regards to sleep, bowel movements, daily habits, exercise and eating times. Again, an NDs goal is to help your normal physiology.

NDs, depending on their own interest may focus their practice on demographics such as children, women, men’s health, sports, the elderly. Although NDs are trained to be holists, they may also choose to focus health problems such as thyroid, diabetes, cancer, mood disorders, knowing full well that with any special interest, the person brings with them other health problems as well.

Don’t be fooled, Naturopathic Medicine is not new, nor is it obscure. Natuoropathic Doctors were hunted out of medicine by the John’s Hopkins model around 1910, but as early as 1931, Congress had welcomed them back in as practitioners of a variety of health modalities. If you would like to read if Naturopathic Doctors in your state, go here: http://www.naturopathic.org/content.asp?contentid=57

I hope this helps answer your questions about what NDs do. Please leave your comments below and let me know your experiences with licensed NDs and NMDs.

 

 

 

 

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8 Comments

  1. Great information here. Thanks so much for putting these reviews up. I had a little trouble finding the comment section. Is this the only page where it is offered?
    I enjoyed learning about Naturopathic doctors. I have often wondered what the difference is between them and nutritionists. This was really helpful. Ill be back to get NutraMetrix!

    • Hi Rae, Naturopathic Doctors are trained in whole foods, functional nutrition and clinical nutrition, but it is only part of what we do. “Nutritionist” in and of itself is not necessarily a protected title. In some states only registered dieticians are able to use that title. Otherwise some people who have a masters degree or even a doctorate in nutrition, if practicing may call themselves a nutritionist. I am a nutritionist on top of being a naturopathic doctor, having passed the Certified Nutrition Specialist exam. Some health coaches may say they are nutritionists also, although in some states, like New York, they are not able to use that title. So you see nutritionist is a very general term for someone who practices nutrition on a professional level and therefore it’s always a good idea to dig a little deeper and ask what credentials the person has.

  2. I’ve always been curious about what a naturopathic doctor actually does. I find it so interesting how they look at the body as a whole working system and everything is connected. It would be great to find a doctor that actually listens to you and wants to treat you for the long-term, rather than just a quick fix like most doctors I’ve ever been to.

    The fact that they look at more natural remedies for things that are ailing you is great. It’s much better than putting a lot of chemicals into your system. However, I’m curious if naturopathic doctors can prescribe antibiotics if you need them or do they generally refer you to a different doctor? It doesn’t seem like this is something that they are proponents of. Great article! Thanks for sharing!

    • Hi Jen, the answer to your question is dependent on which state they are licensed and practicing in. An ND in California, Oregon, Washington, Connecticut, D.C., Maryland, etc. are all able to prescribe some first line medications. NDs practicing in unlicensed states would need to stick to antibiotic herbs and supplements and when need be, refer you back to your PCP. Check out this link to the state regulatory body in your state and search the scope of practice of NDs where you live. http://www.naturopathic.org/co

  3. I once met an acupuncturist before and he told me the same thing. He said that acupuncturists don’t look at symptoms but they look at the person as a whole. Instead of analyzing a person part by part, they I concluded as one living organism. This gives us more functional analysis that will help more in the long run. This is the reason why acupuncture works. It directs the body to rebalance itself. Even though your explanation was very thorough, where do you think I can find naturopathic doctor that is just as responsible and awesome as the acupuncturist I met before? Do you have any recommendations?

    • Hi Win Bill, thanks for your thoughtful response. You are correct that all holistic practioners share this point of view of balance. If you would like to find a great ND near you, you might spend some time listening to health summits that are reviewed on this site. There are many great NDs giving talks so you can presample their philosophy – perhaps you are interested in one of these topics: http://healthsummitreviews.com…  

      Alternatively you could search the American Association of Naturopathic Practitioners website (http://www.aanp.org) – it has a referral link to each of the state associations. Also I would turn you to the The Natural Path, which has great ND contributors on many many topics. You might find an article written by your future ND.

  4. Hey there,

    I have been scheduled to meet a neuropathic doc Wednesday morning to talk about my broken life. I don’t know a thing of what they do.

    But if your post is anything to go by, I feel I am going to have a good time with the doc. I hope I get a friendly one who will understand and help me work my way to the top again. Thanks for the info.

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