Jana, a 42-year-old women from Hale’iwa, came to see me because she was looking for an alternative practitioner to help her get her life back on track. She was suffering from digestive problems, fatigue and dramatic mood swings right before her period. Although she was unfamiliar with naturopathy, she learned from her research that naturopathic doctors are the most highly trained licensed alternative health-care practitioners in Hawai’i who practice as primary care physicians.
Naturopathy is a unique system of medicine that incorporates Western clinical sciences and natural therapeutics. All licensed naturopathic physicians have completed a rigorous four-year, graduate-level doctoral program at a federally-accredited naturopathic medical school. Course work includes two years of study in basic sciences — similar to traditional Western medical school — and two years of advanced medical training in courses such as clinical and laboratory diagnosis, gynecology, endocrinology, pediatrics, gastroenterology and rheumatology.
In addition, naturopaths are trained in a wide range of holistic, non-toxic therapies and measures for disease prevention. They study nutrition, homeopathy, exercise physiology, botanical medicine, physical medicine (including massage and spinal adjustments), environmental medicine, psychology and counseling. Some choose further training in Chinese medicinel, or in Ayurveda, traditional Indian medicine.
Hawai’i licenses naturopathic physicians after they have passed national board exams.
What is the philosophy behind naturopathic medicine? The foundation of naturopathy is built on the following seven principles.
- The healing power of nature. A naturopathic physician works with your body’s innate ability to heal itself. Natural medicines are prescribed to enhance your immune system or re-establish balance in your body.
- First, do no harm. All medical doctors take an oath to abide by this principle. Naturopathic physicians prescribe the least toxic, least invasive methods of treatment.
- Identify and treat the cause. Naturopathic physicians are trained to identify the underlying cause of disease. They order diagnostic laboratory tests then prescribe natural medicines that don’t simply mask the symptoms, but instead treat the underlying imbalance to achieve long-lasting health and wellness.
- Treat the whole person. A naturopathic physician will look at your whole body when treating your condition. Psychological and emotional states are also considered.
- Physician as teacher. Naturopathic physicians empower you to be proactive in your health care by teaching you how to live a healthy and vital life.
- Prevention is the best cure. A naturopathic physician’s goal is to help you take care of yourself in order to prevent disease.
Establish health and wellness. A naturopathic physician can be your personal health coach on your journey to achieve and maintain optimal health.
What should you expect when you go to see a naturopathic physician? Jana’s first visit consisted of a one-hour interview during which I reviewed her past medical history and asked her questions, including many that she wasn’t used to being asked by her doctor. What did she eat over the last three days? Which foods does she crave? How many bowel movements does she have each day? What are their consistency and color? Was she experiencing chronically cold hands and feet? Dry skin? What is her sleep pattern? Her exercise pattern? Is she generally happy?
After performing a physical exam that revealed a nodule on her thyroid and a gaseous bowel, I ordered a stool culture and thyroid blood tests to assess her condition. I also referred her to an internist to have the thyroid nodule further evaluated. I recommended that Jana eat breakfast, a meal she had virtually eliminated, and discontinue her daily ice cream intake. Since Jana jump-started herself with numerous cups of coffee every morning, I encouraged her to exercise instead to get herself going.
The results: Jana’s internist found that the nodule on her thyroid was benign, and her blood work indicated that her thyroid levels were normal. Her stool culture revealed a considerable amount of abnormal bacteria in her intestines. I prescribed herbal medicines to rebalance her bowel flora. After a few short weeks, Jana was pleased that not only had her digestive problems improved, she had more energy and got through her period without excessive mood changes. She’s even planning to train for the Honolulu Marathon next year.
How do you find a licensed naturopathic physician in Hawai’i? Listings can be found at the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians’ web site at naturopathic.org or at the Hawaii Society of Naturopathic Physicians’ web site at hawaiind.org
Article was originally printed in the Honolulu Advertiser, honoluluadvertiser.com