The general educational structure for naturopathic doctors is comparable to that of conventional medical doctors (MDs) and osteopathic doctors (DOs).
Differences between how MDs and DOs and naturopathic doctors are trained
The general educational structure for naturopathic doctors is comparable to that of conventional medical doctors (MDs) and osteopathic doctors (DOs). In all three medical programs, the first year emphasizes biomedical sciences such as anatomy and biochemistry. Second year classes focus on the diagnostic sciences, including areas such as evidence-based medicine and physiological assessment. All programs progressively increase students’ problem-based learning and integrated coursework, enabling students to learn how different concepts affect one another.
After the first two years, the curricula of the three medical programs focus on applying medical knowledge to real-life situations with simultaneous classroom studies supporting this training. Third- and fourth-year naturopathic medical students have opportunities for hands-on clinical training and practice, often at their schools’ teaching clinics and off-site clinics. This period of clinical training is essential to these students’ education—so much so that clinical training is now being introduced during the first and second years of education at several AANMC-member schools. As a result, naturopathic medical students graduate with experience in diagnosing and treating patients, even before they begin formal practice.
A major difference between the training of the MDs and naturopathic doctors is medical residencies. MD residencies are mandated and regulated by conventional medical schools. As a result, many opportunities for residencies exist at a wide variety of medical facilities and are funded by the federal government.
Naturopathic medical residencies are not nearly as common because they are not yet required by most states (Utah is an exception) or funded by the federal government. In place of a residency, many new naturopathic doctors choose to practice with or shadow an experienced doctor before setting up their own practices.
Like MDs, a growing number of naturopathic doctors choose to specialize or focus their practices. Specialty associations currently exist for Endocrinology, Environmental Medicine, Gastroenterology, Parenteral Therapies, Pediatrics, Primary Care Physicians, Psychiatry, and Oncology. In addition, while practicing Family Medicine, many naturopathic doctors choose an area of focus based on a therapeutic, condition, or population subset.
Prior to admission into an accredited naturopathic medical school, the typical entering student has completed three years of pre-medical training and earned a bachelor of science degree. Students are expected to have completed courses in English and the humanities as well as math, physics, and psychology, with a strong emphasis on chemistry and biology. In addition to prerequisite course work, prospective students must demonstrate appropriate observational and communication skills, motor function, intellectual-conceptual abilities, integrative and quantitative abilities, and behavioral and social maturity.
The following accrediting institutions provide accreditation services for naturopathic medical schools: College accreditation is issued by the U.S. Department of Education (ED). All AANMC member schools have been accredited or are in candidate status for accreditation by an ED-approved regional accrediting agency
Programmatic accreditation is issued by the Council on Naturopathic Medical Education (CNME). All AANMC member schools have also been accredited—or are candidates for accreditation—by the CNME, the recognized accrediting body for naturopathic medical programs in North America.
The exam required to qualify for naturopathic doctor licensure is administered by the North American Board of Naturopathic Examiners (NABNE). The Naturopathic Physicians Licensing Examinations (NPLEX) is a two-part examination. Only students and graduates from accredited or candidate naturopathic programs are eligible to sit for the NPLEX. Passing the NPLEX is required before a doctor of naturopathic medicine can be licensed by a state.
Licensure and certification
Licensure and certification are the highest forms of regulation. They are designed to protect the public by ensuring that certain minimum competency requirements are met. They also set standards for the profession. Currently 20 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands offer licensure or certification for naturopathic doctors. The American Association of Naturopathic Physicians maintains a list of states and territories that license or certify naturopathic doctors.
The AANP and the INM would like to acknowledge the Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges (AANMC) for its contributions to the content of this FAQ. The AANMC was established in 2001 to advance the naturopathic medical profession by actively supporting the academic efforts of accredited naturopathic medical schools.
Naturopathic medicine is a distinct practice of medicine that emphasizes prevention and the self-healing process to treat each person holistically and improve outcomes while lowering health care costs.
Naturopathic doctors are educated and trained in accredited naturopathic medical colleges. They diagnose, prevent and treat acute and chronic illness, restore and establish optimal health by supporting the person’s inherent self-healing process. Rather than just suppressing symptoms, naturopathic doctors work to identify underlying causes of illness, and develop personalized treatment plans to address them.
The Therapeutic Order identifies the natural order in which all therapies should be applied to provide the greatest benefit with the least potential for damage.
The Therapeutic Order
- Remove Obstacles to Health. Health, the “natural state” of one’s body, is disturbed by obstacles that lead to disease. The first step in returning to health is to remove the entities that disturb health such as: poor diet, digestive disturbances, inappropriate and chronic stress levels, and individual disharmony. Naturopathic doctors construct a healthy regimen based on an individual’s “obstacles to health” to change and improve the terrain in which the disease developed. This allows additional therapeutics to have the most beneficial effects possible.
- Stimulate the Self-Healing Mechanisms. NDs use therapies to stimulate and strengthen the body’s innate self-healing and curative abilities. These therapies include modalities such as clinical nutrition, botanical medicines, constitutional hydrotherapy, homeopathy, and acupuncture.
- Strengthen Weakened Systems. Systems that need repair are addressed at this level of healing. Naturopathic doctors have an arsenal of therapeutics available to enhance specific tissues, organs or systems including: lifestyle interventions, dietary modifications, botanical medicine, orthomolecular therapy (use of substances that occur naturally in the body such as vitamins, amino acids, minerals), and homeopathy.
- Correct Structural Integrity. Physical modalities such as spinal manipulation, massage therapy, and craniosacral therapy are used to improve and maintain skeletal and musculature integrity.
- Use Natural Substances to Restore and Regenerate. Naturopathic medicine’s primary objective is to restore health, not to treat pathology. However, when a specific pathology must be addressed, NDs employ safe, effective, natural substances that do not add toxicity or additionally burden the already distressed body.
- Use Pharmacologic Substances to Halt Progressive Pathology. NDs are trained in pharmacology and how to use pharmaceutical drugs when necessary. If their state license permits, they can prescribe these agents themselves or if not, refer to a conventional medical colleague.
- Use High Force, Invasive Modalities: Surgery, Radiation, Chemotherapy. When life, limb, or function must be preserved, NDs refer patients to MDs who are expertly trained in these arenas. At the same time, NDs use complementary or supportive therapies to decrease side effects and increase the effectiveness of these invasive procedures.
While many naturopathic doctors are trained in primary care, like conventional medical doctors (MDs), some choose to specialize or focus their practices. Specialty associations currently exist for Endocrinology, Environmental Medicine, Gastroenterology, Parenteral Therapies, Pediatrics, Primary Care Physicians, Psychiatry, and Oncology.
Naturopathic medical education curricula include certain areas of study not covered in conventional medical school. At the same time, aspiring naturopathic doctors receive training in the same biomedical and diagnostic sciences as MDs and osteopathic doctors (DOs). The result is a comprehensive, rigorous, and well-rounded scientific medical education that is both comparable and complementary to that of MDs and DOs. For more information on how naturopathic doctors are educated, trained, and licensed, see FAQ#1 in this service, available here.
1. You want a doctor who will treat all of you, not just your illness.
Naturopathic doctors (NDs) are trained to treat the whole person. This requires taking the time to listen and understand the genetic, environmental, and behavioral/lifestyle factors that can affect your health. At your initial appointment, you’ll spend up to an hour or more talking with your ND.
2. You want personalized treatment.
NDs understand there is no one-size-fits-all treatment that works for everybody. After your visit with an ND, you’ll leave the doctor’s office with a treatment plan uniquely tailored to you, your health status, your health goals, and your lifestyle.
While symptoms can be managed, it’s more important to understand and treat the root cause – which is the focus of naturopathic medicine.
3. You want to treat the root cause of an illness, not just the symptoms.
Sometimes having trouble sleeping, aches and pains, strange or hard to treat skin rashes, and indigestion or stomach discomfort are symptoms of an underlying illness. While these symptoms can be managed, it’s more important to understand and treat the root cause—which is the focus of naturopathic medicine.
4. You want to actively participate in managing your own health.
An ND will help you learn what your body needs to get well and stay healthy. Patients have the opportunity to feel empowered and hopeful when they understand and are actively engaged in managing their own health.
5. You have chronic pain and don’t want to use pharmaceutical drugs such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen, or highly addictive opioids to manage it forever.
Pain that lasts six months or more is more complex than acute pain and requires a holistic, long-term approach to manage. NDs are trained to work with you to determine which combination of therapies will work best for you to heal or manage your pain safely so that you can resume daily activities.
6. You have tried all conventional medical options for diagnosing and treating a health condition.
Certain chronic health conditions that have symptoms such as fatigue, insomnia, or gastrointestinal distress can be difficult to diagnose and treat, and can benefit from a holistic approach. NDs use diagnostic tools common in conventional medicine, such as detailed health, disease, and prescription drug histories, physical exams, and targeted laboratory testing and imaging. NDs also consider detailed diet history, lifestyle habits and choices, exercise history, and social/emotional factors to assess patients’ needs. These approaches can open doors to new treatment pathways and options.
Licensed naturopathic doctors and their scope of practice
Licensed naturopathic doctors combine knowledge of the body’s natural healing properties with the rigors of modern science to focus on holistic, proactive prevention and comprehensive diagnosis and treatment. By using protocols that minimize the risk of harm, naturopathic physicians help facilitate the body’s inherent ability to restore and maintain optimal health.
Naturopathic doctors treat all medical conditions and can provide both individual and family health care. They can work as primary care providers and as part of an integrated healthcare team. Among the most common ailments they treat are allergies, chronic pain, digestive issues, hormonal imbalances, obesity, respiratory conditions, heart disease, fertility problems, menopause, adrenal fatigue, cancer, fibromyalgia, and chronic fatigue syndrome. Naturopathic doctors can perform minor surgeries, such as removing cysts or stitching up superficial wounds, however they do not practice major surgery. They also are trained to use prescription drugs, although they emphasize less toxic substances that promote natural healing first, following the Therapeutic Order™ to provide the greatest benefit with the least potential for damage.
Naturopathic doctors can order all blood reference range and diagnostic imaging tests. They can also order individualized specialty functional medicine labs, such as those for assessing digestive impairment, hormone imbalances, heavy metal and/or environmental toxin exposure, nutritional deficiencies, and adrenal dysregulation. They will evaluate your lab results in combination with your clinical presentation, your health history, and lifestyle and environment factors that might be preventing you from having optimal health.
Choose your naturopathic doctor wisely
When seeking medical care from a naturopathic doctor, it is important to select a doctor who has a naturopathic medical degree earned from an accredited, four-year, in-residence, naturopathic medical college and is licensed or certified.
Licensed naturopathic doctors, sometimes referred to as naturopathic physicians, are regulated at the state level to practice naturopathic medicine. Naturopathic medical students attend accredited, four-year, in-residence, naturopathic medical schools where they study biomedical sciences such as anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, pathology, and pharmacology. Their medical education incorporates the latest advances in science and natural approaches to illness prevention and management. Students complete a minimum of 4,100 hours of class and clinical training, including over 1,200 hours of hands-on, supervised, clinical training.
Naturopathic doctors can order diagnostic tests such as blood tests, X-rays, MRIs, and, in some states, prescribe drugs and hormones and perform minor surgery. According to the Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges (AANMC) 2015 survey of alumni, 50 percent of naturopathic doctors practicing full-time self-report as primary care physicians, while 28 percent report working as natural health specialists. In addition, like conventional medical doctors (MDs), a growing number of naturopathic doctors choose to focus their practices in specialty areas. Specialty associations currently exist for Endocrinology, Environmental Medicine, Gastroenterology, Intravenous Therapies, Pediatrics, Primary Care Medicine, and Oncology.
A naturopathic doctor must pass rigorous professional board exams prior to being licensed or regulated in a state that regulates the practice of naturopathic medicine.
State mandated regulatory bodies oversee standards of practice, complaints, and discipline for all licensed jurisdictions. Licensed naturopathic doctors also carry malpractice insurance and maintain a commitment to lifelong learning through continuing education. These requirements are safeguards to ensure patients’ rights to quality naturopathic care.
The exam required to qualify for naturopathic doctor licensure is administered by the North American Board of Naturopathic Examiners (NABNE). The Naturopathic Physicians Licensing Examinations (NPLEX) is a two-part examination. Only students and graduates from accredited or candidate naturopathic programs are eligible to sit for the NPLEX.
In some states with laws regulating naturopathic doctors, the use of the term “naturopath” or “naturopathic physician” by anyone other than a licensed naturopathic doctor is prohibited. However, not all states regulate naturopathic doctors and not all states that do protect the term “naturopath.”
Therefore, unlicensed naturopaths can have varied levels of education and experience, and often from a purely online or correspondence format. Such education is not by an agency recognized by the U.S. Secretary of Education and does not qualify students to take the NPLEX examination or apply for licensure in any regulated jurisdiction in North America.
Be aware that while the terms may be used interchangeably, they are not the same
As a patient, you should also know that the terms “naturopathic doctor”, “naturopathic physician” and “naturopath” are often used interchangeably by medical practitioners in other disciplines and the public, even though unlicensed naturopaths do not have the same training or privileges. Knowing the difference between licensed naturopathic doctors and unlicensed naturopaths can help you make informed decisions about which type of provider can best help you.
The most important criteria in selecting a naturopathic doctor are that the doctor 1) has a naturopathic medical degree earned from an accredited, four-year, in-residence, naturopathic medical college and 2) has passed rigorous board exams as part of a licensure or certification process.
There are currently seven accredited naturopathic medical programs in North America. They are: Bastyr University, National University of Natural Medicine, National University of Health Sciences, Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine, University of Bridgeport—College of Naturopathic Medicine, Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine, and Boucher Institute of Naturopathic Medicine.
Twenty-three states and U.S. territories permit access to safe, effective, and affordable licensed or certified naturopathic doctors. These include Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, Washington, and the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands. For a map of regulated states and states seeking licensure, click here.
Twenty-three states and U.S. territories permit access to safe, effective, and affordable licensed or certified naturopathic doctors.
What to expect in your first visit
During your first visit, your licensed naturopathic doctor will take your health history, ask questions about your diet, stress levels, lifestyle habits and exercise, use of tobacco and alcohol, prescription drugs and supplements you are taking, and discuss the reasons you sought out a naturopathic doctor. He or she might also perform a physical examination and order diagnostic tests. Based on findings, the doctor will work with you to set up a customized treatment plan and health management strategy. If necessary, the doctor will refer you to other health care practitioners.
Naturopathic doctors understand conventional medicine and use many of its diagnostic tools and treatments in their practices. They also bring an array of treatments and insights into treatment plans and health management strategies that typically are not taught in conventional medical schools and might not be available from a conventional medical doctor. One example is the use of plant-based medicines (botanicals). Used correctly, these medicines along with lifestyle changes can improve many aspects of a patient’s health.
Be prepared for your naturopathic doctor to focus on understanding the root causes of health symptoms you might be experiencing as well as your overall health and wellness goals. This takes time. As a result, your first visit might last an hour or more and follow-up visits could last 30 minutes or more, although this varies depending on the individual.
How to find a naturopathic doctor
Licensed naturopathic doctors work in a variety of clinical settings, including private practices, hospitals, clinics, and community health centers. As a service to consumers, the AANP provides a naturopathic doctor directory of its members and finder tool on its website, available here.
As concerns grow over high health care costs and poor health outcomes in the United States, a growing number of policymakers, health care practitioners, and other stakeholders are calling for an expansion of the focus of our health care system to keeping people healthy in addition to providing medical treatment after a person gets sick. To accomplish this change, health care professionals from a broad range of disciplines must come together in primary care teams. Trained as primary care doctors and to emphasize prevention, licensed naturopathic doctors have a central role to play in these efforts.
Naturopathic medicine is a distinct practice of medicine that emphasizes wellness and the self-healing process to treat each person holistically. Licensed naturopathic doctors are known for following a unique Therapeutic Order, an approach that identifies the natural order in which therapies should be applied to provide the greatest benefit with the least potential for harm. This approach leads to improved outcomes and lower health care costs.
Trained as primary care doctors and to emphasize prevention, licensed naturopathic doctors have a central role to play in lowering healthcare costs.
Here are eight ways naturopathic medicine lowers health care costs:
1. Address the root causes of illness.
By addressing and treating the root causes of disease rather than its symptoms, the need for repeated, expensive, and sometimes ineffective treatment is eliminated. For example, the underlying causes of conditions such as high cholesterol and diabetes are often poor diet and lifestyle factors such as lack of exercise. Changing these lifestyle factors can eliminate the need for one or more prescription medications that would typically be recommended for the rest of that patient’s life.
2. Offer less expensive diagnosis and treatment.
Naturopathic medical diagnostics and treatments are often less expensive than those in conventional medicine. Many treatments incur no cost whatsoever. One example is taking the time to engage patients in ongoing discussions of lifestyle choices, making the connection between these choices and their health condition and guiding patients to healthier options.
3. Reduce the need for expensive surgical procedures, when appropriate.
According to the American College of Surgeons and the American Medical Association, among the most common surgeries performed in the United States are coronary artery bypass surgery, carotid endarterectomy, and low back pain surgery.1 Because naturopathic doctors often suggest less expensive, non-surgical options to patients, some of these expensive surgeries can be avoided. One major study investigating the effects of lifestyle improvement in patients with coronary atherosclerosis found that after only one year of following lifestyle recommendations, about 80 percent of participants were able to bring about plaque regression and avoid surgery without the use of lipid lowering agents.2 The study estimated that this would save almost $30,000 per patient in the first year alone.3
4. Decrease costs associated with adverse reactions to prescription drugs.
According to a 2014 report from the Harvard University Center for Ethics, there are 2.7 million serious adverse reactions to drugs that have been legally prescribed each year, resulting in 128,000 deaths. This makes prescription drugs a major health risk, ranking fourth with stroke as a leading cause of death. Whenever possible, naturopathic doctors prescribe natural therapies first, turning to prescription pharmacology when necessary.
5. Reduce the incidence of illnesses and fatalities caused by hospital errors.
Research shows that preventable hospital errors are the third leading cause of death in the United States.4 Naturopathic medicine focuses on preventative care and patient education, which can reduce the length of hospital stays and hospital readmissions. The power of patient education has been well documented. A case study at Sentara Virginia Beach Hospital found that when heart failure patients were provided with education on their condition, their readmission rates dropped by 74 percent and hospital stays were 13 percent shorter.5
6. Lower malpractice rates, resulting in reduced patient costs.
Malpractice insurance rates are much lower for naturopathic doctors than they are for conventional medical doctors. According to NCMIC, the largest malpractice insurer for naturopathic doctors, the yearly rate for naturopathic doctors in Arizona, Oregon, Minnesota, and New Hampshire is approximately $3,803. Rates for MDs in the same states are $18,646.
7. Offer disease prevention.
Naturopathic doctors emphasize health-building practices such as weight bearing exercise and adequate vitamin D intake to prevent osteoporosis and the importance of eating a nutrient dense diet with healthy fats to help prevent heart disease. These practices can reduce the high future cost of preventable degenerative and chronic health conditions.
8. Reduce insurance costs.
Naturopathic medicine billing is far lower per patient than conventional medical billing. One study compared health care expenditures between complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) users and non-users, with CAM providers being defined as naturopathic doctors, chiropractors, acupuncturists, and licensed massage therapists. While CAM users had higher outpatient expenditures, they had lower inpatient and imaging expenditures. Overall, CAM users had a lower average expenditure than non-users during the one-year study, at $3,797 versus $4,153.
Anyone who has ever experienced chronic pain knows how debilitating it can be. Yet the most commonly recommended conventional medical solution – prescription opioid painkillers—is turning out to be worse than the problem. Opioids may stop the pain, but at a high price: growing numbers of deaths due to opioid overdose and higher rates of addiction and misuse.
As a medical discipline that emphasizes a holistic approach and natural treatments, naturopathic medicine offers safe and effective alternatives to highly addictive drugs for managing chronic pain. Licensed naturopathic doctors are educated at four-year, post-graduate medical schools to start with non-drug approaches to chronic pain management, and use opioid painkillers as a last resort.
Naturopathic doctors are also trained to develop personalized pain management treatment plans. These plans take into account each individual’s lifestyle, nutrition, work and leisure activities, current and past stressors, and relevant previous injuries—in other words, the root causes of each person’s pain and all its manifestations. The plans use various combinations of dietary recommendations and nutritional supplements along with botanical medicines to help reduce inflammation and the pain it causes. Exercise, physical rehabilitation, and mind-body approaches that are known to reduce perception of pain are also included in the plans.
In addition, naturopathic doctors recognize the value of working closely with conventional and alternative medical providers and will make appropriate referrals for further diagnostic work-up, treatment support, or surgical intervention as indicated. In turn, a growing number of conventional medical doctors refer patients and colleagues looking for a fresh perspective for difficult-to-treat chronic pain to naturopathic doctors.
Perspective: a national crisis that is only getting worse
Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the United States. Of the more than 52,000 deaths due to drug overdose in 2015, prescription opioid painkillers such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine, and fentanyl accounted for about 20,000. Of the 20.5 million Americans over the age of 12 who had a substance use disorder in 2015, 2 million involved prescription opioids.
How did this happen? According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, in the late 1990s, pharmaceutical companies reassured health care providers that people would not become addicted to prescription opioids. As a result, physicians began to prescribe them at greater rates, leading to widespread misuse. Between 21 percent and 29 percent of people who are prescribed opioids for chronic pain misuse them; between eight percent and 12 percent develop an opioid use disorder.
Opioids aren’t the only dangerous pain management drug. Numerous studies link aspirin to a broad range of side effects ranging from gastric ulcers to cerebral bleeding. And a growing body of research links ibuprofen to adverse health effects, including increased risk of heart attack and stroke, gastrointestinal complications including ulcer, acute kidney failure, anemia, DNA damage, hypertension, and miscarriage.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the total economic burden of prescription opioid misuse alone in the United States is $78.5 billion a year.
Naturopathic doctors play an important role in the opioid wars
Along with medical professionals from other disciplines, naturopathic doctors are actively engaged in collaborative efforts to solve America’s opioid problem. This includes participating in working groups to develop better pain management practices and modify national prescribing habits to limit the overuse of opioids. One example is the policy brief for the PAINS project, “Never-Only Opioids: The Imperative for Early Use of Non-Pharmacological Approaches and Practitioners in Pain Care.” Naturopathic doctors played a leading role in the development and dissemination of the brief.
Licensed naturopathic doctors are trained in both conventional and integrative approaches to treating all types of diabetes, including types 1 and 2, gestational diabetes, and prediabetes.
Focusing on the whole person, naturopathic doctors take the time to identify and address the genetic, environmental and behavioral/lifestyle factors that play significant roles in diabetes. Lifestyle changes around diet and exercise are essential in the treatment of all types of diabetes. However, many patients have a difficult time making such changes. Advanced training in nutrition and counseling enables naturopathic doctors to be highly effective in engaging patients to take control of their own health. Additionally, because they emphasize educating the patient, naturopathic doctors are often successful in helping individuals with diabetes to make and sustain shifts in nutrition and physical activity that can improve or reverse progression of the disease.
Naturopathic doctors are also trained in the pharmacological treatments which are commonly prescribed by conventionally trained MDs. In some states, NDs have scope/authority for prescription pharmaceutical management, which may be necessary depending on the patient’s condition. In many cases, NDs will work in conjunction with conventional endocrinologists and diabetes specialists to co-manage patient care.
Diabetes is one of the most common health conditions in the United States. On the rise for the last decade,3 today an estimated 30.3 million people—representing 9.4 percent of the population—live with the disease.4 There are several types of diabetes: gestational, which occurs when a woman develops diabetes during her pregnancy; type 1, caused by an auto-immune disease that destroys cells in the pancreas, and; type 2, caused by lifestyle choices and occurring in 90-95 percent of people with diabetes, including children. Prediabetes is a condition in which blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not yet high enough to be considered full-blown type 2 diabetes. Without lifestyle changes like those advised by naturopathic doctors, most people with prediabetes go on to develop type 2 diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes is related to insulin resistance, which means the body’s cells are no longer able to get glucose out of the blood and use it properly. Therefore glucose levels in the blood stay high. Over time, having glucose levels too high in your blood can cause serious health problems such as heart disease, nerve damage, eye problems, and more.
Regardless of the type of diabetes, naturopathic treatment strategies aim to get a patient’s blood sugar levels back within a healthy range. For example, even though type 2 diabetes is caused by a number of factors, most of them are controllable, including diet, physical activity, stress, eating habits and behaviors, and obesity. Nutritional deficiencies, environmental toxins and hormonal imbalances can also contribute to insulin resistance, and require special training to evaluate. A naturopathic doctor explores all of these factors to determine which ones should be prioritized and how they can be modified.
A visit with a naturopathic doctor to address diabetes will include a comprehensive intake and physical exam, along with review of health history, diet, and lifestyle factors. Any recent lab work will be reviewed, and new labs will be ordered if needed.
Generally, a naturopathic treatment approach for diabetes includes a combination of:
Review of diet diary and/or blood sugar log
Dietary guidance to strive for more balanced blood sugar throughout the day
A thorough review of other systems impacted by diabetes, including the heart, kidney, liver, and brain
Lifestyle counseling strategies to engage patients in their own disease management and encourage lifestyle improvement
Preventative strategies to avoid disease worsening
Herbs and/or nutritional supplements to correct nutritional deficiencies and/or support blood sugar management
Consultation on medication management (including insulin)
Following an initial appointment, a naturopathic doctor will determine which areas are the highest priority to address and which approaches are likely to be most effective. These will be used to create a personalized treatment plan.
1. Numerous research studies of naturopathic treatments for common conditions such as heart disease , diabetes , chronic low back pain , and anxiety have shown that naturopathic medicine is both safe and effective.
Significant research shows that lifestyle-change programs that focus on nutritional interventions, exercise, and emotional well-being can sometimes reverse the progression of chronic disease safely and effectively. Naturopathic medical treatment plans focus on these and other therapies, such as botanical medicine, clinical nutrition, hydrotherapy, and counseling to name just a few.
Naturopathic doctors are trained to diagnose and evaluate health conditions as primary care physicians and understand when and if a referral to a conventional health care provider is indicated, or if further diagnostic evaluation is necessary.
Naturopathic and conventionally trained doctors may also work together to deliver safe and effective health care. One such example is cancer care. For cancer patients, surgeons, medical oncologists, and radiation oncologists provide surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation as primary treatments while naturopathic doctors support a patient’s vitality and natural ability to heal, which helps them tolerate the often difficult side effects of conventional cancer treatments.
2. Licensed naturopathic doctors complete a rigorous, four-year, in-residence, science-based, post-graduate medical education consisting of 4,100 hours of coursework and clinical training at an accredited naturopathic medical school.
During naturopathic medical school, students are educated in the biomedical sciences as well as the latest advances in science in combination with natural approaches to therapy. They also study disease prevention.
Accredited schools require graduates to complete four years of training and cover disciplines including: a standard medical curriculum, clinical nutrition, acupuncture, homeopathic medicine, botanical medicine, physical medicine, and counseling. For at least the last two years of their medical program, naturopathic medical students intern in clinical settings under the close supervision of licensed doctors.
To be licensed, naturopathic medical students must pass two sets of board exams. Educating competent, well-trained clinicians is how naturopathic medicine maintains its excellent safety record.
3. Medical malpractice insurance rates for naturopathic doctors are among the lowest of any medical services provider.
The average annual medical malpractice insurance rate for naturopathic doctors was $3,802 annually as of January 2017, according to NCMIC, the largest malpractice insurer for naturopathic doctors. By comparison, the average annual rate for conventionally trained MDs was $18,646.
A number of factors go into determining malpractice rates for a medical professional. Most important are whether there is the potential for a severe claim based on the nature of typical injuries or damage, and whether prior claims have been filed against a doctor. Malpractice rates for naturopathic doctors are almost five times lower than those for conventionally trained medical doctors because insuring an MD is riskier for an insurance company than insuring a naturopathic doctor.
4. Few medical treatments are 100% safe, but some are safer than others.
Few medical therapies are safe for everyone, in every situation in which they are used. For example, there are 2.7 million serious adverse reactions to legally prescribed prescription drugs each year, resulting in 128,000 deaths. Having said that, naturopathic medicine is known for its unique Therapeutic Order, a set of guidelines naturopathic doctors use in clinical decision making to provide the greatest benefit to the patient with the least potential for damage. The Therapeutic Order begins by offering minimally invasive therapies aimed at supporting the body and ends in more invasive procedures such as chemical therapies and surgery. For example, naturopathic doctors will help patients achieve optimal health by first removing obstacles such as poor diet and lifestyle behaviors; stimulating self-healing mechanisms, strengthening weakened systems, and correcting structural integrity with minimally invasive therapies; and using natural substances to restore health.
Cervical dysplasia refers to pre-cancerous changes in the cells on the surface of the cervix. While dysplasia can be caused by a number of factors, one common cause is the presence of one of the strains of Human Papilloma Virus, or HPV. Often times, the body will heal an HPV infection on its own and cervical cells go back to normal as the infection clears. In some cases, however, the grade of cervical dysplasia can worsen. Without treatment, advanced cervical dysplasia can progress to cervical cancer. In the U.S., Pap Smears have cut the incidence of cervical cancer in half over the past 40 years due to early detection. But approximately 40 percent of American women (and 45 percent of men) currently have some form of HPV, putting them at risk.
Focusing on the whole person, naturopathic doctors take the time to identify and address the genetic, environmental, and behavioral/lifestyle factors that cause cervical dysplasia. Naturopathic doctors who specialize in women’s health offer you and your sexual partner both preventive education and natural treatments for dysplasia and HPV. Naturopathic doctors focus on the least invasive, most natural, effective treatments first, and partner with conventionally trained specialists if surgical interventions are needed.
The main risk factor for cervical dysplasia is the presence of HPV. Other risk factors include:
Multiple sexual partners
Young age at first intercourse (<16)
Having intercourse with uncircumcised partner
Chlamydia and HIV
Compromised immune system
Diethylstilbestrol (DES) exposure
Long term oral contraceptive use (>5 years)
Low socioeconomic status
Screenings and Prevention
Naturopathic doctors follow the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) guidelines for dysplasia and HPV screenings in women 21-65 years old, utilizing the Pap Smear and HPV tests. Additionally, naturopathic doctors recommend and perform screenings for HPV and dysplasia in the mouth, throat, and anus, where the virus can also be spread through contact with sexual partners. Patients who have an abnormal result or test positive for HPV are advised to have their sexual partners also be tested and treated, to prevent further transmission
Naturopathic doctors emphasize these important preventive measures:
Practicing safe sex. Safe sex decreases transmission of HPV, HIV, and other sexually transmitted diseases.
Smoking cessation. Smoking is linked to cervical cancer as it increases the duration of infection with high risk HPV. Smoking also weakens the immune system.
Optimizing nutrition. Poor nutritional status is linked to cervical cancer. Folate and B12 deficiencies have been associated with increased HPV infection. Low serum retinol levels have been linked to increased risk of dysplasia.6 Naturopathic doctors have advanced training in nutrition and will provide a comprehensive nutritional intake and individualized dietary counseling to address nutritional deficiencies.
HPV vaccination can reduce the risk of infection by the HPV types targeted by the vaccine. Because none of the currently available HPV vaccines protect against all HPV infections, it is important for vaccinated women to continue to undergo cervical cancer screening.
If you are diagnosed with cervical dysplasia and/or HPV after your Pap Smear and HPV test, your naturopathic doctor may refer you for a colposcopy, a procedure which uses a special magnifying instrument (colposcope) to determine the extent and degree of dysplasia. Dysplasia is then categorized as cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN), and graded level I (lower grade change in cervical cells), II, or III (highest grade change).
Depending on your diagnosis, conventionally trained doctors often suggest one or more of four treatment approaches for dysplasia: 1) “watch and wait” and repeat the Pap Smear every three to six months, 2) cryoptherapy to freeze abnormal cells, 3) loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP), which uses electricity to remove affected tissue, and/or 4) cone biopsy, to remove the affected portion of the cervix. Risks and complications of surgical procedures can include scar tissue, prolonged bleeding, and infection. These complications can have longer term effects on conception and childbirth.7 Additionally, these treatments may not address the underlying cause of the cervical dysplasia, which is the HPV infection.
Naturopathic doctors offer natural therapies to treat dysplasia and HPV directly, and to help the body’s immune system fight the virus. In doing so, naturopathic doctors may reverse low grade cervical cell abnormality and eliminate HPV. Naturopathic doctors treat low- and mid-grade dysplasia with a combination of lifestyle modification, therapeutic diets, nutrient and botanical therapies, and local treatment of the cervix. Specific therapies are individualized to the patient based on their diagnosis, emotional, and physical constitution. Nutrient and botanical therapies may include:
Green tea extract
Local cervical treatments may include:
Vaginal suppositories consisting of green tea and/or curcumin, which draw infection out of the cervical cells and boost the immune system.19,20
Escharotic treatment, which uses natural enzymes and herbal solutions to remove abnormal, damaged tissue and stimulate the regrowth of normal tissue. This treatment is performed two times per week for approximately six weeks. Thousands of patients have safely benefited from this treatment, but larger clinical studies are needed.
It is important to have a comprehensive diagnosis and consider all of your options for managing cervical health. There are times natural medicine is not an option for treating cervical cell changes due to the severity and location of disease. In many cases, however, naturopathic treatment of cervical dysplasia and HPV is a safe and effective option.
You may have noticed that it takes longer than ever to schedule a first appointment with a new health care provider. You’ve also likely spent more time in the waiting room than face-to-face with your physician. In the United States, consultation time in a conventional doctor’s appointment averages about 20 minutes. In contrast, naturopathic doctors (NDs) spend between one and two hours face-to-face with patients in an initial appointment, and 30 to 60 minutes in subsequent appointments.
There are many factors that affect your health. Naturopathic doctors, who are trained to treat the whole person, take the time to explore as many of them as possible. Intakes are guided by the Therapeutic Order , a set of guidelines naturopathic doctors use in clinical decision making to help uncover and evaluate multiple causes of health concerns including diet, lifestyle, family genetics, psycho-emotional, spiritual, socioeconomic, and environmental issues, and more. This framework, which also guides naturopathic doctors in clinical decision making, prioritizes minimally invasive therapies. These therapies are aimed at supporting the body’s health restoring and maintenance processes, as opposed to just reducing symptoms.
The extra time naturopathic doctors spend with you is often focused on identifying the underlying cause(s) of your health concerns and empowering you to engage actively in restoring and managing your own health. Research shows that whole-person care often leads to high patient satisfaction and improved outcomes.
Identifying Root Causes of Illness
Sometimes aches and pains, stomach discomfort, trouble sleeping and numerous other symptoms are indicators of an underlying illness. While these symptoms can be managed, it’s more important to understand and treat the root cause, which is the focus of naturopathic medicine. Naturopathic doctors will explore the genetic, environmental, and behavioral/lifestyle factors that may impact your health. They’ll also take the time to understand your health goals.
What to Expect In Your First Visit
In your first visit with a naturopathic doctor, they will likely:
Take your health history and ask you many questions about your main health concerns. Your doctor may explore how you experience each problem, including timing, intensity, and impact on your life.
Perform a methodical review of your bodily systems—from your respiratory system to your digestive, musculoskeletal, skin and other key systems—which may be connected to your chief complaint(s) or which may reveal other important areas that require attention.
Ask you what you have tried/implemented to address your concerns, and what the effects have been. This includes a review of prescription drugs and supplements you may be taking.
Ask you detailed questions about your diet and physical activity. Sometimes, your ND may ask you to keep and bring in a diet and activity log.
Discuss your lifestyle, social setting, and support systems. Your ND will want to understand both your main stressors and your coping strategies. Your home and work environments and primary relationships with friends and family will be important considerations for your personalized health plan.
Actively listen as you share your story, build rapport and trust, and establish a connection with you to foster a positive doctor-patient relationship.
Perform a relevant physical examination, as needed.
Order appropriate diagnostic tests, and explain testing that can help determine what is going on inside your body. Tests may include diagnostic imaging, blood, saliva, urinary, and/or stool analyses.
Based on findings, your naturopathic doctor will work with you to develop a customized treatment plan and health management strategy. If necessary, your ND will refer you to and/or work collaboratively with other health care practitioners.
Empowering You to Achieve Optimal Health
Empowering people to become more informed about their health options, more involved in decision making about their health, and more capable of maintaining the best health possible, can lead to better health outcomes and lower costs.
Naturopathic doctors are trained to empower patients to make lifestyle changes in order to achieve optimal health. They spend extra time with you in both initial and follow-up appointments in order to educate and guide you through these changes, so that you are encouraged and supported to maintain the positive modifications you have made.
This attention to patient-centered care is especially valuable when it comes to the prevention and treatment of chronic illnesses such as heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes. Among U.S. adults, 90 percent of Type 2 diabetes, 80 percent of cardiovascular disease, 70 percent of stroke, and 70 percent of colon cancer are potentially preventable by modifiable lifestyle changes. Such approaches take time, require patients to actively participate in their own care, and are a focal point of naturopathic medicine.