The six principles of naturopathic medicine are:
1) First, to do no harm (primum non nocere)
Do no present harm and no future harm
Naturopathic doctors (ND’s) specialize in the use of non-invasive treatments that minimize the risk of side effects. ND’s are trained to know which patients they can treat safely and when to refer to other health care practitioners.
Certainly someone who is sick does not need therapy or treatment that could harm him/her. Since medications that focus on covering symptoms have the potential to make a well person sick, many wonder how it can be expected to make a sick person well. Naturopathic medicine embraces therapies or procedures designed to enhance healing and produce wellness by working with the body, not against it.
Naturopathic doctors follow three precepts to avoid harming the patient:
- Naturopathic doctors utilize methods and medicinal substances which minimize the risk of harmful effects, and apply the least possible force or intervention necessary to diagnose illness and restore health.
- Whenever possible the suppression of symptoms is avoided as suppression generally interferes with the healing process. Symptoms are seen as the body’s way of telling the patient that something is wrong.
- Naturopathic doctors respect and work with the healing power of nature (vis medicatrix naturae) in diagnosis, treatment and counseling. If this self-healing process is not respected, the patient may be harmed.
2) To co-operate with the healing powers of nature (vis medicatrix naturae)
Given the right circumstances, the body will move towards health.
The mind and body use natural inherent healing mechanisms to maintain physiological balance to maintain and restore health. ND’s facilitate healing by using treatments that are in harmony with these natural processes.
An example is when a patient gets sick. The fever produced by the body is designed to increase the body’s temperature and stimulate the immune system to fight the pathogenic agent causing disease. Some medications are designed to suppress the fever giving symptomatic relief but do nothing to help fight the disease itself allowing it to linger onward. Treatment in this case would seek to support the body to help maintain the fever rather than suppress it. This allows the body to naturally destroy the offending pathogen and strengthen the immune system to prevent future attack.
Naturopathic medicine works to facilitate the body’s ability to heal itself by removing obstacles to recovery while stimulating and supporting body function through natural interventions.
3) To address the fundamental causes of disease (tolle causam)
Treat the problem at the source
People’s lives are complicated and so is their state of health. We live in a time where people suffer from many symptoms but have very few actual causes. Other than in trauma-type injuries, seldom does the body have isolated single factor conditions; instead, we often experience “dis-ease” as a consequence of many debilitating events. Naturopathic doctors learn how these symptoms are related to find and treat the root of the problem rather than merely dealing with each individual symptom. Treating the cause not only helps to resolve the complaint, it also helps to prevent future problems.
In allopathic medicine the name of the disease is actually the name of the symptom in Greek. For example, the term “arthritis” is made up of two Greek roots “arthro” which means having to do with the joint and “it is” meaning pain or inflammation. Allopathic doctors seek to treat the joint pain by reducing the symptom of pain. This can be done with the use of pain killers, nerve blockers, immune suppressants, anti-inflammatories or any number of procedures. While these therapies are very good and often necessary at reducing pain they often do not focus on why the pain was present in the first place. Naturopaths are committed to removing the joint pain by finding and removing the cause of the pain itself. Perhaps this may prove to be a mineral deficiency caused by a nutritional deficiency or inflammation from a weakened immune response or toxic deposition. Or perhaps the cause could be from an injury or possibly from an over acidic condition in the body. For naturopaths, the correction of the cause is the most plausible way of eliminating the symptoms and restoring health to the person.
4) To heal the whole person through individualized treatment
Treat the person, not the disease
Hippocrates, 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.” Each person is unique and complex and as such deserves a treatment based on their individual needs, recognizing all aspects of their lives. Naturopathic medicine encompasses the mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical elements of each person as a unique individual.
Each person is different, and each person manifests disease differently. Just because a patient presents with headaches does not mean that the root cause is the same as another person that presents with the same headache symptomatically.
Naturopathic doctors are aware that a person can have a physical, spiritual or emotional illness. The chosen therapy is determined by what kind of problem the person is experiencing. You can not be well or healthy if you have a spiritual or mental problem even if you appear perfectly fit. Everything within the body is connected, therefore, you must treat everything as being connected – body, mind and spirit.
Naturopaths use various treatment options to deal with the physiological problems of the patient as well as counseling, stress management and bio-feedback techniques for those experiencing emotional or spiritual problems.
5) Doctor as teacher (docere)
Teach rather than treat
An old Chinese proverb states “To know and not to act is not to know.” A naturopathic doctor believes education gives the patient the power to take responsibility for their own health. Naturopathic philosophy places the responsibility for wellness with the individual. Individuals are the steward of their own bodies and the doctor is the teacher or advisor to the individual on how to maintain health. One recognizes that a headache is not an aspirin deficiency but rather the result of an imbalance within the body causing the body to respond with pain symptoms.
Naturopathic doctors evaluate the connection between symptom and problem and teach their patients what lifestyle, nutritional, emotional or dietary changes should be made to alleviate the condition. The condition is alleviated by the client making those changes and not by some outside agency. Healthcare should not be one sided. By developing a team approach there is a higher rate of success.
6) Prevention is the best medicine
Restore present health to maintain future health
It is often said that the best predictor of future health is to create it today. What you do to your body now has a drastic impact on the effects of your health in the future. Naturopathic doctors believe that health is a process, not something that requires a quick fix. For all our medical advancements and technological breakthroughs chronic diseases are on a steady rise. Our environment is changing faster than we can adapt.
Many of today’s major killers such as heart disease and cancer are preventable. Naturopathic medicine teaches patients how to live a healthy life so that they can prevent major illnesses in the future. Naturopathic medicine can also help the patient prevent minor illnesses from progressing into more serious or chronic degenerative diseases by dealing with the root issues of the problem. Health is like investing money. The earlier you begin to invest – the greater return on investment.