Naturopathic FAQ

What should I expect from my first visit with a naturopathic doctor?

You should expect a lengthy dialogue with your doctor – not with a nurse, not with the receptionist, not with a lab technician. Most importantly, you should expect a follow-up visit once your doctor has evaluated your history, your concerns, your current health status and any lab tests the doctor has ordered. Listening to and understanding the individual patient is the fundamental basis of naturopathic medicine. This approach allows for individualized treatment, rather than a cookie-cutter approach to patient care.

How will a naturopathic doctor treat (INSERT CONDITION HERE)?

Naturopathic doctors do not treat conditions, they treat people. For example, a naturopathic doctor is less likely to prescribe a drug to treat gastric reflux than they are to analyze diet choices and eating patterns, suggest digestive bitters to normalize acid production, and/or prescribe demulcent herbs to soothe esophageal irritation. Rather than simply prescribing a pain reliever for chronic headache, a naturopath will work with the patient to determine the root cause of the headaches, whether it is dehydration, low blood sugar, muscular tension, stress, chemical sensitivities or even meningitis.

A naturopathic doctor will be less likely to treat any single, acute condition than they are to make your whole body healthier so that it can fight off infection and build the strength to heal itself. A naturopathic doctor also has more options than medical doctors for chronic conditions such as fatigue, heartburn or insomnia. Finally, naturopathic doctors have longer office visits than medical doctors, typically 45 to 60 minutes each. This allows enough time for you and your naturopathic doctor to work through any questions or concerns together.

What conditions can naturopathic medicine treat?

Because of the naturopathic doctor’s approach of treating the person, not the illness, there are very few illnesses or conditions that naturopathic medicine cannot alleviate. Naturopathic medicine may be a great adjunct to more conventional medicine for ailments that might otherwise be considered outside the naturopathic doctor’s scope.

Certain conditions and ailments, however, have been shown to be particularly receptive to naturopathic care. Some, but certainly not all, of these are gastrointestinal disorders, environmental and food allergies, chronic sinusitis, asthma, skin conditions, obesity, blood sugar disorders, painful or heavy menstrual periods, migraines, fatigue, infertility, mood disorders, PMS, menopause, chronic heartburn and insomnia.

What sort of treatments will a naturopathic doctor prescribe?

Naturopathic doctors may prescribe things like botanical medication, vitamin and mineral supplements, exercise, dietary adjustments, aids for coping with stress and other lifestyle changes designed to help strengthen your body’s immune system and health. Much time will be spent on education – about your condition, how to make you feel better, and things you can do to improve your health without conventional medication. However, naturopathic doctors may also prescribe more conventional treatments such as antibiotics, thyroid medication, hormones, birth control medications, antidepressants, or blood pressure medication, depending on your unique situation. Your naturopathic doctor will also carefully integrate your care with any existing prescriptions or treatments your conventional doctor has chosen for you.

Is there a difference between a “naturopath” and a “naturopathic doctor”?

Yes, although the differences can be confusing. The term “Naturopathic Doctor” can only be used by licensed medical practitioners who have attended an approved naturopathic medical school and practice in a licensed state. In an unlicensed state, both terms can be freely used by anyone, regardless of their background or training. Some of these practitioners may have an extensive background of information and years of experience treating patients. Others may have only attended a weekend workshop. Naturopathic doctors are very proud of their schooling and the education they have received. If you have any questions about your practitioner’s background, you should ask them or look them up on www.RealizeHealth.org.

Is there a difference between a naturopathic doctor and a homeopath?

Yes. Naturopathic doctors learn many modalities during their training, such as botanical medicine, hydrotherapy, counseling, nutrition and homeopathy. Naturopathic doctors have extensive training in most modalities and tend to specialize in several. Homeopaths learn one modality – homeopathy. They are also not medical practitioners and do not practice medicine. They will not do physical exams, blood tests, or diagnose your medical condition (all things that a naturopathic doctor does) and cannot prescribe medications other than homeopathic remedies.

Do naturopathic doctors use acupuncture or Chinese herbs?

Sometimes. Some naturopathic doctors spend extra time (usually a year’s worth of education, and usually earning a Master’s Degree in the process) training in the use of these two modalities. A naturopathic doctor requires further certification before being allowed to practice either of these modalities in California.

Are my visits to a naturopathic doctor covered by my health insurance?

Sometimes, depending on the state you live in and the company that provides your health insurance. In some states, naturopathic doctors are considered primary care physicians (PCPs) and are covered just like any other medical provider. Some insurance companies will cover blood work ordered by your naturopathic doctor. Some insurance companies will cover your entire visit. Most naturopathic doctors are happy to provide you any necessary documentation to help with this process.

California has only licensed naturopathic doctors since 2004 and although insurance companies have been slowly integrating naturopathic medical care into their benefits packages, there is no uniformity across the industry. The easiest way to determine what aspects of your visit will be covered by your plan is to contact your insurance provider.

I already have a Primary Care Physician (PCP). Is there a reason to see a naturopathic doctor as well?

Certainly. Keep in mind that a visit to a naturopathic doctor is like a tune up is for your car – just like scheduled maintenance keeps the tow truck away, regular visits to your naturopathic doctor can keep you healthy and out of your medical doctor’s office. Disease prevention and wellness optimization are basic tenets of the philosophy of naturopathic medicine, while the education of medical doctors tends to focus on emergency care and crisis resolution. Your naturopathic doctor and your medical doctor can be part of the same team, focused on different methods to keep you healthy.

Aren’t naturopathic doctors against all conventional prescriptions and medical treatments?

Absolutely not. Ever since the discovery of penicillin, scientific advances in pharmacology have saved countless lives and improved wellness for generations of people. There are some modalities in conventional medicine for which naturopathic medicine provides no substitute. However, there are many levels of intervention that can be used to return a person to health and the most modern method may not be the healthiest method for the patient.

As a general rule, naturopathic doctors favor using the least invasive methods. This might mean rest, hydration, or immune-boosting herbs with antimicrobial properties for a respiratory infection. If that approach fails, then a naturopathic doctor might opt to prescribe antibiotics or refer the patient out to another specialist – the health of the patient is the ultimate concern of any doctor, regardless of whether they are naturopathic or medical.

In fact, naturopathic doctors often work with medical doctors to provide adjunct care, such as natural treatments for the side effects of oncologist-prescribed chemotherapy. The basic philosophy of the naturopathic doctor is that the patient has the ultimate responsibility for their own health and always has the final say about what level of intervention is used for their care.

What do naturopathic doctors think about chiropractic medicine?

Chiropractic medicine has been shown to be very effective for certain health conditions and less effective for others. Although their scope of practice in California does not allow them to provide manipulations, naturopathic doctors are familiar with many general chiropractic techniques. A naturopathic doctor may prescribe chiropractic care or refer out to an associated chiropractor as part of your overall wellness plan.

What about iridology? Or crystal therapy?

There is no scientific evidence supporting the efficacy of iridology or crystal therapy. Licensed naturopathic doctors are generally unlikely to use or recommend these modalities for this reason. Naturopathic doctors do not generally believe that all conventional medicine is bad and all alternative medicine is good; most naturopathic doctors feel that the practice of modern medicine sometimes neglects long-standing, traditional healing methods in favor of quick-fix palliative cures. In all cases, naturopathic doctors practice evidence-based medicine and concern themselves with the ultimate health of the patient, not the politics of healthcare.


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