When your home has a leaky roof, you can use buckets to catch the leaks or patch up the ceiling – but that won’t solve the problem. Instead, the best thing to do is to get up on the roof and see where the leak is coming from. In the process, you may have to remove the shingles to see exactly where the problem lies. Maybe the problem isn’t really the roof, but the plumbing that goes through the attic. In any case, finding the root cause is the key to solving the problem permanently.
The same is true of medicine. It’s important to find the root cause of disease in order to treat it effectively. This is a fundamental principle of naturopathic medicine.
The Roots of Naturopathy
Naturopathy was once an ancient form of healing in which plants as well as crude animal and mineral substances were used as medicine. However, modern-day naturopaths bridge the gap between old and new by using traditional healing methods and modern scientific medical knowledge. To treat disease and prevent illness, naturopaths can resort to botanical medicine, nutrition, acupuncture, homeopathy, and lifestyle counseling to treat their patients.
Learning the art and practice of naturopathic medicine is not easy. Naturopathic doctors (referred to as “NDs”) must first obtain a university degree before applying to an accredited naturopathic school. Only after completing an intensive four-year program and passing all their board exams can they can apply for their naturopathic license.
This is the North American process. The profession is not regulated in all countries, so when looking for a naturopath, ask about their training. Someone can do a few weekend courses and refer to themselves as a naturopath. In China, the field is relatively unknown and there are no local practitioners.
Individualized treatment is a cornerstone of naturopathic practice, which is why the first visit can take an hour to an hour and a half. Hippocrates, known as the founder of modern medicine, once said it is more important to know what sort of person has a disease than to know what sort of disease a person has. Getting to know the patient is an important part of finding the root of the problem. Once the diagnosis has been made, the naturopath shares the treatment plan that often requires the patient to take the lead; they may need to implement dietary changes, take supplements, or practice self-help measures. The body has the ability to heal itself, but the process needs to be supported – and that requires effort.
Naturopathy can treat many conditions, from purely physical illnesses such as high cholesterol and diabetes to mental and emotional ones like anxiety and depression. Naturopathic medicine can also be used to prevent disease. It is great for people of all ages and stages of life, from infants to the elderly. It can also help those who have no options from a medical point of view; perhaps their symptoms are too strange or there is no conventional diagnosis for them. In these, cases naturopathic medicine can also help.
A Naturopathic Journey
I once had a patient who came to me with abdominal cramping that only took place while exercising. Her GP had referred her to an OB/GYN because she described the pain as being similar to the pain she experienced years ago when she had an ovarian cyst. When an ultrasound proved this was not the case, the doctor could not explain her abdominal pain and referred her to a physiotherapist.
Before following up with that appointment, she came to see me. After asking many detailed questions about the pain, her current health status, and her supplementation regime, I learned that she self-prescribed with calcium. The supplement she used was of poor quality and not balanced with magnesium. Because these minerals work in synergy, I suspected the pain was likely due to an imbalance in calcium and magnesium. A deficiency in magnesium can lead to constipation, muscle cramps, tension, and sometimes anxiety. After recommending magnesium in high doses for one week, she started to see improvement. Her pain took longer to appear and wasn’t as severe. After two weeks, the pain was almost gone and by week three she was pain-free.
This comes back to the most fundamental principle of naturopathy: treating the root cause. In the abovementioned case, how helpful would it have been to take pain medication? It may have taken away the pain, but wouldn’t have solved the problem of why the pain was there in the first place. This is the critical question. Our body has a way of communicating with us through the symptoms we experience. If we don’t listen, how can we hope to be healthy?
So next time you experience an odd pain, get digestive discomfort, or feel absolutely exhausted by 4pm, pause and take the time to listen to your body. It’s trying to tell you something. And if you’re having trouble understanding what the symptoms mean, see a naturopath. They might just be able to help you get to the root of the problem.
Melissa Rodriguez is a certified naturopath, mom-of-two, and regular columnist for beijingkids. Contact her at email@example.com.
This article originally appeared in the beijingkids 2014 Health Guide. Click here to read it on Issuu. For your free copy, contact our Distribution team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo: Anna Levinzon (Flickr)