What are the differences between the approach to medicine practiced by a naturopathic doctor (ND) and the approach practiced by an allopathic doctor (MD), in your opinion? Can you comment on the two, and provide some advice on when to seek the help of each?
That’s an excellent question: being savvy about this issue can be very good for your health. Naturopathic and allopathic medicine are both essential for the well-being of our community; they work well together when each is appropriately sought out, and the primary objective of each is to help people get well. Understanding how they differ in approach can help you determine when each is most appropriate for you.
Perhaps the most important difference between the two approaches lies in the education of each type of doctor, and the kinds of medicines and treatments each typically recommends. Both types of doctor study the same basic sciences and Western diagnostic techniques, but NDs are primarily trained to stimulate and augment the body’s own natural ability to heal itself. They emphasize the use of a wide range of natural therapies, rather than drugs, to treat and prevent illness.
Allopathic doctors (MDs), are trained to offer pharmaceutical drugs and surgery for a wide variety of situations. Thus, MDs tend to prescribe drugs for many conditions. From an allopathic perspective, this may be useful and the best choice; from a naturopathic perspective, however, drugs often suppress your symptoms without necessarily treating the underlying causes, and their side-effects may lead to dire consequences for your health.
You should seek out an ND for the kinds of conditions that typically require in-depth, detailed investigation to discover the underlying causes. These conditions include (to name a few) joint pain, chronic fatigue, immune deficiencies, autoimmune conditions, rashes, headaches, migraines, vaginitis, hormone imbalances, and digestive disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome. NDs have the best training in the world in these kinds of areas, and often they can effectively treat the underlying causes and eliminate the problem altogether.
On the other hand, if a patient has a condition such as a broken leg or severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis), or requires surgery or chemotherapy, he or she should see an MD. The allopathically-trained doctors in the West are the best at what they do, and particularly invaluable when it comes to emergency situations. Drugs and surgery can be necessary, alleviate pain, and save lives. (NDs save lives too, but in a more gradual, less high-drama kind of way, by helping you maintain optimal health and prevent serious illness.)
Bottom line: there’s a time and place for everything, and the more you understand about your options, the better off you will be.
Dr. Laurie Steelsmith is a naturopathic physician and licensed acupuncturist in Honolulu, as well as author of the new #1 best-selling book Natural Choices for Women’s Health, published by Random House. You can reach her and read her past columns at www.drsteelsmith.com This column is for information only. Consult your health provider for medical advice.