An In-depth Introduction to the Six Basic Principles of Naturopathic Medicine
1. Treat the Whole Person (Tolle totum). Naturopathic Doctors treat the whole person, spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and physically, through individualized treatment. ND’s consider everything. For example, they nurture and guide their patients on the path toward unconditional love for themselves, their family, and friends, toward enlightenment, cultivation, and finding motivation and meaning in their lives. ND’s consider the impact of an unresolved childhood issue, a past or present relationship issues, a family or workplace issue, or other stresses that enter your daily life, might have on whole health. ND’s consider the impact that an inadequate diet and an insufficient amount of exercise have on whole health. ND’s consider the impact of insufficient sleep, environmental toxicity, hereditary influences: in other words, ND’s consider everything. And with this consideration, they address the root causes of disease for each individual patient. They remove their patients’ obstacles to health and replace them with a solid foundation upon which to build health. Furthermore, importantly, ND’s understand that no two patients are alike. Everyone is wonderfully unique in clinically significant ways. Two patients can present with the same disease for different reasons. Two patients can present with two different diseases for the same reasons. And of course, diseases do not occur in isolation; no one has one and only one disease. Most of the time patients do not present with textbook definitions of any disease, yet they are ill. For these reasons, ND’s do not treat diseases, ND’s treat patients, they do it holistically, and by doing so, they achieve more successful treatment outcomes.
2. Identify and Treat the Cause (Tolle causam). Naturopathic Doctors identify and treat the root causes of disease, not only their signs and symptoms. Signs and symptoms are vital and intelligent expressions of the body’s wonderfully wise attempt to heal itself and should not be confused as being the disease. Disease does not occur without an underlying cause. The cause is usually some combination of lifestyle, environmental, and genetic factors, and spiritual, emotional, mental, or physical imbalance of the whole. For a person to recover completely from disease, these causes and imbalances must be identified and addressed. Having signs and symptoms is actually a sign of health. This is why children have so many signs and symptoms, and why as people age they have less signs and symptoms, although they may be just as sick. Unfortunately, signs and symptoms are often confused as being the disease, and they are suppressed. It is of the utmost importance to not suppress signs and symptoms of disease, but to encourage their gentle and effective expression so that they can go away and not need to come back. When signs and symptoms are suppressed they tend to return and/or worsen and go deeper into the body. Importantly though, ND’s do recognize that sometimes signs and symptoms of disease can be too terrible and must be suppressed to some extent. When this is the case, ND’s carefully, gently and minimally suppress the signs and symptoms of disease in the most natural, healthy, least harmful, and most medically effective manner possible. This would only be a short-term aspect of a long-term treatment plan that would gradually allow for the gentle and healthy expression of these signs and symptoms over the long-run. It would be done in a way that is tolerable for the patient, and allows the body to express itself, and do what it inherently knows it must do in order to recover from disease and achieve optimal health.
3. First Do No Harm (Primum non nocere). Naturopathic Doctors always attempt to do no harm, or, at the very least, to do as little harm as possible. ND’s follow several principles to accomplish this. For example, they diagnose disease by the most gentle and least invasive means possible. They utilize methods and medicinal substances which minimize the risk of harmful side effects when they prevent, treat, and cure disease. They avoid, whenever possible, the harmful suppression of symptoms. ND’s do not attempt to impose order (harm) upon the body, to try to make the body do something that it does not want to do. Instead, ND’s listen to the body, because they understand that it is infinitely more wise than we are, and they allow and support its attempt to do what it knows it needs to do in order to recover from disease and achieve optimal health. They acknowledge and respect the individual’s healing process, and they allow it to occur with minimal intervention. ND’s also recognize that sometimes some harm must occur. For example, in order to truly understand a patient’s case and develop an effective treatment plan, an ND may need to draw blood and test it. Again, during a physical exam of a child who has an ear infection, it might be critical to visualize the child’s ear drum with an otoscope. Doing this is going to hurt a little bit, but no harm will be done. The bottom line is that ND’s think about their patients in a sincere way, and truly do their best to not harm their patients.
4. Doctor as Teacher (Docere). Naturopathic Doctors are first and foremost teachers of health. To put it as simply as possible, ND’s realize that the fundamental role of a doctor is to teach their patients what they are doing right and what they are doing wrong, and how to do more things right and less things wrong. The purpose being to prevent disease and optimize health. ND’s recognize that the fundamental foundation of all health is the patient’s understanding of how to be healthy, and the patient’s accepting responsibility for his/her own health journey. This is the core of the Naturopathic approach to health care: ND’s take the time to educate their patients. ND’s acknowledge that health and disease is incredibly complicated and that not everyone can devote their life to figuring it all out. They understand that it is their role to share their knowledge in a humble, unintimidating and understandable manner, so that their patients can implement this knowledge in their lives for better health. To simplify again, ND’s believe in the importance of teaching their patients how to fish, instead of fishing for their patients. They will build and nurture their patient’s health so that this is realistic for their patient, and then they will motivate and teach their patients how to accomplish it for themselves. Ultimately, ND’s are aware that they cannot heal their patients unless their patients are working with them as part of the team. In order for the patient to work as part of the team, the patient must understand his/her role in his/her own health journey. To take this concept further, some ND’s are actively involved in their communities providing educational lectures, workshops, cooking classes, herb walks, and more.
5. The Healing Power of Nature (Vis medicatrix naturae). Naturopathic Doctors are guided by both their faith and their fundamental and scientific understanding of the healing power of nature. ND’s understand that within each of us is an incredible, ancient, infinitely and inherently wise vital force capable of resolving disease and restoring and maintaining wonderful and optimal health. ND’s strive to support and nurture the body in this process. They accomplish this by adhering to all the principles of Naturopathic Medicine, especially those outlined and summarized here in this introduction. For example, by identifying and treating the root causes of disease (which are obstacles to health and recovery) ND’s give the body the time and space to implement its incredible ability to heal itself better than any doctor can.
6. Prevention (Principiis obsta: sero medicina curatui). Naturopathic Doctors understand that disease should be prevented, treated and cured. There is so much truth in the statement, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” ND’s realize this and emphasize disease prevention. ND’s evaluate all lifestyle, environmental, genetic, spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical health to determine their patients’ unique susceptibility to disease. For example, if a patient has a susceptibility to heart disease, ND’s will create an appropriate and individualized treatment plan to build heart health, so that heart disease cannot happen. And this treatment plan will consider and address the patient’s unique health condition in all these planes so that on a whole level the patient is not only preventing heart disease, but all disease, as a whole being. It has been scientifically proven that by acting now to build health in medically guided ways that patients are less likely to require treatment for future illness. Moreover, it has been proven that preventative medicine saves money and also saves priceless time, energy, suffering, and lives. Aging does not inherently include fatigue, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, memory loss, cancer, etc. By acting preventatively now according to a naturopathic medical treatment plan, aging can be accomplished healthfully and gracefully.