Naturopathic medicine and Functional Medicine from one licensed Naturopathic physician's perspective

First, let's start off with an excerpt from the Oregon Association of Naturopathic Physicians' website:


"As a distinct health care professional, Naturopathic Medicine is over 125 years old. The term "Naturopathy" was first coined in 1885 by Dr. John Scheel, a German homeopath practicing the methods of Kneipp and Kuhn at his Badekur Sanitarium in New York. Benedict Lust purchased the name in 1901 to describe the eclectic practice of "nature doctors". At the time, Naturopathy embraced all known means of natural therapeutics, including diet, herbs, hydrotherapy, homeopathy, exercise, and manipulative therapies, as well as psychological and spiritual counseling. Naturopathic medicine developed at a time when there was tremendous change and advancement in North America with respect to health care. Homeopathy had been brought to America in 1833 by Dr. Constantine Hering, Osteopathy was established by Andrew Taylor Still in 1874, and Chiropractic medicine was established in 1895 by Daniel David Palmer. Many of the early naturopaths held multiple designations and there was an acceptance and appreciation for the different forms of healing.


The first school of naturopathy was founded in New York City by Dr. Benjamin Lust, and graduated its first class in 1902.


The Oregon Association of Naturopathic Physicians was founded in 1909, and is the oldest association representing naturopathic doctors in North America.


By the 1920's, naturopathic medical conventions attracted more than 10,000 practitioners and there were over twenty naturopathic medical schools. At the time, Naturopathic Physicians were licensed in most states, including Oregon, which formally licensed naturopathic doctors in 1927.


Naturopathic medicine experienced a decline in the 1940s and ’50s with the rise of pharmaceutical drugs, technological medicine, and the idea that drugs could eliminate all disease. As one after another ND degree program closed down, National University of Naturopathic Medicine was founded in Portland, OR to keep the medicine alive.

After decades of disturbing trends of pharmaceutical side effects, rising death rates from adverse drug reactions, and a growing body of evidence on the myths of "safe and effective drugs," the profession has experienced a resurgence in the past two decades as a health–conscious public has sought alternatives for conditions that conventional medicine has not adequately addressed.


Since the late 1970s, three more naturopathic colleges have opened, and National University of Natural Medicine’s enrollment has quadrupled. This growth is in direct response to the changing needs of our society; not only is the public demanding a medical model in which the individual plays a more active role in her/his health and healing process, but doctors also want a medical model that is more patient–centered and holistic.

Today, the World Health Organization's Director General Dr. Margaret Chan states: "The two systems of traditional (including Complementary and Alternative (CAM) therapies) and Western medicine need not clash. Within the context of primary health care, they can blend together in beneficial harmony, using the best features of each system, and compensating for certain weaknesses in each." In this spirit of collaboration, the WHO Traditional Medicine Strategy for 2014-2023 requires member states to promote universal health coverage by integrating traditional and complementary medicine services into health care service delivery and self-health care as appropriate." " -- end of excerpt


There are two types of Naturopathic doctors in the US. One is the type that can earn a degree online and can call themselves a Naturopathic doctor (ND). Another type is the one I am part of, which is licensed Naturopathic Physicians, who took the time and energy to attend an accredited 4-year onsite $250k Naturopathic Medical school, that trained us in conventional medicine to a level that we can fill the position of Primary Care Physicians, took two sets of board exams to obtain the license to practice medicine, are regulated through the Naturopathic governing board of the state in which we are licensed, and through which we can call ourselves Naturopathic doctor (ND), Naturopathic medical doctor (NMD), and/or Naturopathic Physician. We were also trained in the safe use several holistic modalities, and in a way of thinking that is unique to Naturopathic medicine. So although we can fill the role of PCPs, we are different in how we approach health and dis-ease, embrace that uniqueness, and find it a more synergistic approach than just conventional medicine alone. Therefore, we have recognized for several years now, various ailments that have not been recognized by the conventional medicine (i.e. allopathic) community, such as leaky gut, heavy metal toxicity, etc. We have used such terms for a very long time. We have been degraded by others for our OVERALL effective work, and since the public and other MDs/NPs/etc may not have ever heard of or personally encountered NDs, you may only take the word of someone in authority or with credibility who is not an ND. This is biased learning, and I would caution you to hear and learn a different perspective whenever anyone tries to teach you about someone they are not.


"Caution" - that word. How does it make you feel? Does it give you pause? Does it create fear in you? Does it create concern? Does it create a vibe of positivity? Does it decrease your chance of trying something new? Does it decrease the level of time, money and patience you will give to the new thing you try?


What about the word "dangerous?" - How does that word make you feel? Does it give you pause? Does it create fear in you? Does it create concern? Does it create a vibe of positivity? Does it decrease your chance of trying something new? Does it decrease the level of time, money and patience you will give to the new thing you try?


Do you see where I am going? These are the words used by the allopathic community and their allies to describe Naturopathic medicine to others who have no clue about us.


My history: I started having stomach problems in my early 20s. I went to two gastroenterologists who did not help me get to real resolutions. I embarked on a journey into natural health, including Naturopathic medicine, and found things that worked.


Shortly after I graduated in 2015, I started hearing more about functional medicine, which was more recently founded about 30 years ago in 1991. The more I learned, I realized that it was a term coined for MDs, Nurse Practioners, and Chiropractors to implement mostly similar strategies NDs had been using for a long time. However, it was marketed as more efficient than NDs, more comprehensive than NDs, more relying on testing, and through my own participation in FM seminars, brought new ideas to the table and added more clarity to some of the things NDs had been doing. This addition is great! This is what NDs had been doing overtime as well, implementing more testing and newer therapies, such as lasers, IV nutrition, prolotherapy, etc. But these new innovations do not always out-beat a simple homeopathic remedy, herbal formula, or more sleep. So although I appreciate the perspective FM brings to the table, it does not discredit what NDs do, it is just added value that we can both learn from - that is what time and collaboration does. FM practitioners have often learned from NDs, and we often use some of the same supplement companies. FM seminars focus heavily on science, whereas NDs focus on science plus their own unique way of understandings, which does not always rely on having to understand every single detail in the particular training that allopaths do, which involves a system of what they have been trained to see as effective science and research. Although I respect this and find value in it, having to rely on just that particular training can sometimes be limiting and slower in my opinion, and those who are honest enough may tell you they had to unlearn some mindsets in order to be a more effective FM practitioner.


So fast forward, I see FM practitioners on national tv and highly watched talk shows using words like 'leaky gut.' And to be frank, it can be hard to watch, because NDs were villified at one point for such words, despite resolving chronic healthcare problems for people worldwide because of our awareness and knowledge in these areas. Yes, people from all over the globe travel to see NDs. So why are FMs on television and NDs not as much? I do not have all the answers, but I do think some of it is just better business practices and more money to begin with from operating as a conventional MD first, as well as credibility and familiarity given to the initials, MD.


Some FMs or those interested in the FM space will also hire NDs to learn more from them and/or have them as added value to their practice.


So what prompted this article. I was reading on a FM practitioner's page the idea that although she respects NDs and they have been some of her teachers, they need to be licensed, well trained, regulated in order to not be dangerous. ....Dangerous.


So allopathic medicine is not dangerous? If you look up the amount of accidental deaths from conventional medicine (yes the medicine backed by science and double blind placebo-controlled research), it will multiple times outnumber the amount of problems you will see stemming from Naturopathic physicians.


On a different note, I do think in some regards, she is referring to NDs who are certified through online programs and not licensed. However, I do not look at this group as overall dangerous either, just different. There are several 'unlicensed' holistic practitioners all over the globe successfully resolving health problems in their own way. And just like allopathic medicine, sometimes holistic/integrative/ND/FM healers help, sometimes they don't, and sometimes they make it worse. That is the reality.


There are some NDs who are riskier than others. We have a few sour apples. Does that mean we are all sour applies? NO. This is every profession under the sun. Why this magnification of a small group of people? But another thing to consider, risk signals creativity and can drive innovation. Pioneering comes with mistakes in any profession, including both naturopathic and allopathic.


Off-label use of medications, where does this come from?


The medical association purposely lobbies against us, and other holistic associations do as well for fear of losing their ability to help people in their own way. Naturopathic physicians are not trying to "take territory" from anyone. We just want to build a referral system, as we as a collective group know what we are good at and what someone else can do better.


Why the need to discuss all of this anyway? Because Naturopathic physicians are still fighting to regain their presence in all 50 states (we are close to half) and would also like to go global. Additionally, most licensed NDs are coming out of school with $250k in debt and would like the ability to pay that off effectively. The amount and 4-yr duration should alone tell you that no accredited ND school allows us to become an ND easily. We take what we do seriously.


Why else the need to discuss? Because after reading the FM article, it seems there is a need to bring awareness to FMs and other licensed practitioners of how to better discuss, respect and support us. 1) do not use words like caution and dangerous to refer to us, 2) go to a few renowned NDs yourself as a patient or send patients there so that you gain a better understanding of how we work, and 3) help us get licensed. We can all practice together. Teamwork makes the dream work, and that dream is to create a healthier world. Please research the Naturopathic association in your state, and there will be a way to contribute to licensure. For Texas, it is TXAND.org. You can find the rest through the website for the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP), which is the association for licensed Naturopathic Physicians: https://naturopathic.org/page/RegulatedStates