An excellent example of naturopathic medical principles in action is the recent success of Dean Ornish, M.D., director of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito, California, in his work with heart disease. Dr. Ornish found that his patients with chronic coronary heart disease could actually reverse their conditions without drugs or surgery, a concept that before his study was not only discounted, but unheard of by the conventional medical profession. This extraordinary feat was accomplished through an extremely low-fat diet, stress reduction through meditation and yoga practices, modest exercise, and weekly participation in an emotional support group.17
Dr. Ornish's success validated naturopathic medicine's basic tenets and treatment approaches. Not only that, healing through nutrition, exercise, and stress management has now been recognized by many insurance companies, who reimburse for Dr. Ornish's program as an alternative to expensive and risky heart bypass surgery.
Another area where naturopathic medicine has proven to be effective is in preventative medicine and health maintenance. "I think the best position for N.D.'s is in the family practice," Dr. Kail says. "Naturopaths are the only physicians who have primary skills in health/risk analysis and disease prevention. We find that people do want more time with their physician, to be educated, to be given less toxic therapies. Most people are as yet unaware that naturopaths provide just those things." Kail says some of the benefits of using a naturopathic doctor are safer medicine, quicker recovery time, and, especially, prevention of future illness. "I tell my patients what they can do at home to keep themselves healthy," he says. "If we do our job right, then they don't have to see a [conventional] doctor as much. That saves money."17
Also, given that naturopaths are trained in natural childbirth, with their noninvasive and natural treatments, N.D.'s are able to avoid many of the complications associated with childbirth. The result is that births overseen by N.D.'s require far fewer cesarean sections than with conventional medical care.
Naturopathic medicine, although effective, does have its limitations. "The areas of expertise and efficacy of naturopathic medicine are not the same as conventional medicine," Dr. Zeff explains. "Conventional medicine excels in acute trauma care. We do not. If I were in an automobile accident, I'd want them to take me to a hospital where they can patch me up. The areas where I would not go to a naturopath are acute trauma, childbirth emergency, and orthopedic problems that require orthopedic surgery."19
Naturopathic medicine has been shown to be an effective approach for the treatment of ear inflammations, infections, and respiratory illnesses, as well as degenerative illnesses. Recently the National Institutes of Health took note of naturopathic medicine's success with terminal diseases and granted Bastyr University almost $1 million to research the effects of alternative therapies on HIV and AIDS patients. Leanna Standish, N.D., Ph.D., research director at Bastyr University of Natural Health Sciences and advisor to the Office of Alternative Medicine, states that initial research has found enhanced immune response and a decline in the progression of AIDS, when compared to the control study who only received conventional medical therapy.20
Whether patients need help in health maintenance or a reversal of a devastating disease, naturopathic medicine is a viable option worthy of consideration. If you decide to try the skills and expertise of a naturopathic physician, use the following questions to help you make your decision.
Additions to Step Two: Get Good Referrals
The best referral source for licensed naturopathic physicians who have graduated from an accredited four-year naturopathic medical college is the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP). For a small fee, they will send you a list of qualified members who have satisfied their stringent requirements.
Additions to Step Three: Screen the Candidates
Once you have a few naturopathic physicians to investigate, call their offices and ask to speak to someone on the staff. Asking well-targeted questions can assist you in determining if this is a good doctor for you. Here are a few suggestions:
What is the doctor's educational background?
If naturopathic medicine is new to you, it would be ideal if you could work with an N.D. who has completed all the hours of study and clinical residency to graduate from one of the three accredited naturopathic colleges: Bastyr University of Natural Sciences in Seattle, Washington; National College of Naturopathic Medicine in Portland, Oregon; the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. A fourth college, Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine and Health Sciences in Scottsdale, Arizona, is in the accreditation process.
However, since there are only about one thousand naturopathic physicians from these medical schools practicing across the nation, it is possible that a graduate of one of these institutions will not be available to you. In that case, you will need to determine if you want to work with a respected practicing naturopath in your area who received their education and training from other sources, such as competent apprenticeship programs and other viable training.
Given that this particular group of naturopaths has not necessarily met the high standards required by the AANP, it is extremely important to use seven to ten years of full-time clinical experience as a guide when determining the competency of a naturopath who has not been formally trained at one of the accredited naturopathic medical schools.
Be very careful to thoroughly investigate N.D.'s who are not graduates of the three accredited naturopathic colleges. Not all "naturopaths" with the initials "N.D." after their name have competent training or the necessary expertise. For instance, some practitioners have been awarded Doctors of Naturopathy ("N.D.") after graduating from a mail-order school. These graduates have had possibly no clinical residency and significantly fewer hours of education, than required of graduates of the accredited naturopathic medical colleges. Training from a mail-order school is considered insufficient to legally gain licensure as an N.D. in the states that license naturopathic physicians as primary-care providers.
Knowing your practitioner is a well-trained, licensed N.D. assures a dependable level of competence. Someone who does not have that background can certainly be a risky choice and must be thoroughly investigated before beginning treatment.
Does the naturopath have experience with my condition?
Find out how many patients with your health care problem this doctor has successfully helped. The higher the number of successes by the naturopath, the better for you. Ask to talk to some of those patients. Make sure all your questions about their background, training, and expertise have been answered to your satisfaction before beginning treatment.
What is the doctor's specialty?
In most cases, in naturopathic medicine the answer to this question will be given in the types of treatment the N.D. specializes in rather than in specific physical conditions. Dr. Zeff explains, "We don't tend to specialize in systems like medical conventional doctors do, but we tend to create affinities for various therapeutic methods."21 For instance, due to Dr. Kail's training in conventional medicine, he tends to prescribe antibiotics to avoid bacterial complications, while Dr. Jared Zeff, who is also a licensed acupuncturist, tends to use more alternative treatments.
Does the doctor use health care techniques not taught in his or her formal training at medical school? If so, what are they, what training has the doctor had in them, and how long have they used them in practice?
Naturopathic medical education includes a wide variety of alternative health care modalities, but not all. Make sure your doctor is well trained in any technique that he or she may recommend for your recovery. Check for credit hours, board certifications, and certificates of completion.
Will my insurance cover naturopathic care?
There are about seventy health insurance companies that cover naturopathic medical fees at this time. Most naturopathic offices carry a list of insurance carriers that cover naturopathic medicine and should be able to verify whether your insurance company will reimburse you for their services.
Is this N.D. licensed?
At this writing, there are twelve states that license N.D.'s as primary-care providers: Alaska, Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, New Hampshire, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, and Washington. It is believed that by the year 2010, all fifty states will license naturopathic physicians.
If you live in a state where N.D.'s are not yet licensed, but you would still like to work with a naturopathic physician, there are four types of practitioners who call themselves "naturopaths" or "N.D.'s" that you will find in an "unlicensed" state:
The first type of practitioner:
This practitioner may be qualified enough to help you. However, it is essential that you investigate their exact education and training to make sure they are competent for your needs. Jim Massey, N.D., of Portland, Oregon, admits, "Not all effective healers have initials after their names."22
An example of an exceptional naturopathic practitioner who does not have the "N.D." initials after her name is Yvonne Sklar of Hermosa Beach, California. Yvonne is proficient at integrating holistic health alternatives and has provided service for thousands of people worldwide over the last twenty-five years. She earned her Master Herbalist Certification from John Christopher's School of Natural Healing in Utah, and received her certification in iridology from Bernard Jensen, D.C., and is a direct protégé of his. She has also received extensive training in fasting and tissue cleansing procedures. Yvonne is currently working alongside Dr. Hans Gruenn, M.D., at his practice in Marina Del Rey, California. Her main diagnostic and treatment tools are iridology, nutrition, and herbs. The following is a story of how she helped one gentleman with psoriasis:
In July, 1985, I was eating at an outside cafe on the Strand in Hermosa Beach on a very hot summer day. While I was enjoying my lunch, a large robust Hawaiian man sat down at a table in front of me. It was obvious that something was amiss with him because he was fully clothed in a thick long-sleeved turtleneck shirt and long pants during a heat wave. His female friend, on the other hand, was dressed in a bathing suit top, shorts, and rollerblades.
As he settled into his chair, he pushed up his sleeves above each elbow and exposed a severe case of psoriasis that looked like lizard skin - overlapping dark scales. I realized then that he was fully clothed to hide a severe psoriasis condition which covered his entire body. My companion said, "You must give this poor man your business card. He must be in great pain." I replied that approaching him would be an intrusion of his privacy, but I secretly hoped that he would somehow find his own way to me.
Two weeks later, to my complete surprise, that same female companion of the Hawaiian man literally rolled into my office on her rollerblades. She was followed by the large Hawaiian gentleman. After introductions were made, I explained to the man that I had lived in Hawaii for many years and was familiar with the local diet (which consisted mainly of "poi," a combination of taro root, white rice, and pork). I asked the man how much poi he was eating a day. When he told me he was eating eight large bowls a day, I knew where his psoriasis came from.