By Serena Ma, ND, MS, LAc
Have you ever left your doctor’s office thinking, “Oh I forgot to tell him about this!” or “S/he really didn’t hear me. I don’t need this prescription!” Or perhaps, you felt rushed, and left without really addressing what you came in for.
Well, there’s another doc in town, a doctor who listens - a naturopathic doctor. Accredited naturopathic doctors have attended a 4-year medical school, and are trained the in the same way as primary care physicians. Some naturopaths even specialize in pediatrics, women’s health, oncology, endocrinology, or other specialties. What makes a naturopathic doctor different is their approach — based completely on the individual. The first visit with a naturopathic doctor is typically at least an hour long!
Naturopathic doctors attempt to find the root of problems within the person, and subsequently treat their patients with natural remedies, before instantly turning to a prescription for medication. A great example would be someone suffering from migraines. What’s actually causing these migraines? Is it an overload of hormones? Can we adjust that naturally?
Naturopathic doctors have knowledge in vitamin and mineral supplementation, herbal remedies, homeopathic remedies, physical medicine, hydrotherapy treatment, and nutrition, with a strong emphasis placed on diet, lifestyle, and exercise. In licensed states, naturopathic doctors may have the ability to prescribe medication.
(Just a note: Currently only 17 states in the US license naturopathic doctors as physicians; New York state does not license naturopathic doctors yet.)
A few principles that naturopaths live by:
The Healing Power of Nature
You see this phenomenon everywhere. A forest burns, but years later...regeneration. The human body has the power to heal itself, but there are often obstacles in the way that we address: poor diet, poor sleep, stress, etc.
Treat the Cause
This principle goes hand-in-hand with the first one. For instance, I see a lot of inflammatory issues. Naturopathic doctors dig deep to figure out the source of inflammation. You can never really put that fire out until you find its source, right? Ask any firefighter that.
First Do No Harm
Instead of throwing the big guns at our patients (drugs/medication), we often start with lower (safer) interventions, like nutrition, herbal remedies, or vitamins, believing in that healing power of nature.
Doctor as Teacher
Our biggest role as naturopathic doctors are health educators, teaching our patients on how the body functions and how to nourish it. We empower our patients to take responsibility for their own health, to become their own health advocates by questioning doctors and doing what’s best for them.
Treat the Whole Person
Our body is all connected: the different organ systems, and even the impact of the mind/spirit/soul on the body (and vice versa). Naturopathic doctors consider and address the physical, mental, emotional, genetic (if available), environmental, and social factors that make up one’s well-being.
I always have this Chinese proverb in mind: The best doctor prevents illness, an average doctor visits when the illness is imminent, and the unskilled doctor treats your present illness. Many of my patients are healthy but they keep coming in, to stay that way.
At-Home Tip: MEDITATION
One practice that falls into all the principles of naturopathic medicine is Meditation. We all know that meditation is great for reducing stress and anxiety, but did you know that meditation has other benefits also?
Shortens migraines by 3 hours
A recent small study was done with only 19 participants prone to migraines. They were separated, either with no intervention, or an 8-week program called mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), incorporating yoga with meditation. Those in the program meditated for 30 minutes each day, and had less severe and shorter migraines than those in the control (no intervention) group.
Helps with brain health
Studies are still in process looking at the effects of meditation on cognition, but preliminary research suggests that meditation helps with attention, memory, verbal fluency, and cognitive flexibility in older people and those suffering from neurodegenerative diseases.
Boosts your immunity
One study looked at the effects on immune function: A 5-day Integrative Mind-Body Training (IMBT), versus relaxation after an acute stressful event. Integrative Mind-Body Training is meditation involving body relaxation, imagery, and mindfulness. Those who underwent the IMBT had higher immune function (increased salivary secretory IgA, which is the antibody found in our mucus secretions), which also had greater effects in 2 versus 4 weeks. So the longer the practice, the stronger the benefits!
There are many different forms of meditation:
1. Vipassana (mindfulness)
3. Transcendental Meditation (TM)
5. Qi Gong
6. Guided Visualization
7. Trance-based Practices
8. Heart Rhythm Meditation
For an easy start, I like the free “GPS for the Soul” app from Arianna Huffington, which measures your heart variability via your smartphone’s camera. Based on that, it recommends a ‘guide’, which you can follow along with, to regulate your breathing pattern and lower your stress hormones.
To find a naturopathic doctor near you, check out: www.naturopathic.org.
Dr. Serena Ma practices in New York City at Serenity Natural Health in downtown Manhattan. She received her Doctorate in Naturopathic Medicine (ND) and Masters in Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine (MSAOM) from Bastyr University in 2006. She is a licensed naturopathic physician in Vermont and is a licensed acupuncturist in New York. Dr. Serena considers herself a general practitioner, offering personal insights to issues such as dermatology, gynecology, asthma/allergies, and stress management.
Find Serena at www.serenitynaturalhealth.com
1) Bair A. 8 Basic Kinds of Meditation. (2010). Institute for Applied Meditation website. Available at: http://www.iam-u.org/index.php/8-basic-kinds-of-meditation-and-why-you-should-meditate-on-your-heart
2) Fan Y, Tang YY, Ma Y, Posner MI. (2010), Mucosal immunity modulated by integrative meditation in a dose-dependent fashion. J Altern Complement Med. doi: 10.1089/acm.2009.0234
3) Marchiniak, R, Sheardova, K, Cermakova, P, Hudecek, D, Sumec, R, Hort, J. (2014), Effect of Meditation on Cognitive Functions in Context of Aging and Neurodegenerative Diseases. Front Behav Neurosci. doi: 10.3389/fnbeh.2014.00017
4) Wells, R. E., Burch, R., Paulsen, R. H., Wayne, P. M., Houle, T. T. and Loder, E. (2014), Meditation for Migraines: A Pilot Randomized Controlled Trial. Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain. doi: 10.1111/head.12420