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Naturopathic Medicine

Overview :


People have always seen a connection to diet and disease, and many therapies are built around special diets. Naturopathy began in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, as the industrial revolution brought about unhealthy lifestyles, and the European custom of taking the cure at natural spas became popular. Benedict Lust, who believed deeply in natural medicine, organized naturopathy as a formal system of healthcare in the 1890s. By the early 1900s, it was flourishing.

The first naturopaths in the United States emphasized the healing properties of a nutritious diet, as did a number of their contemporaries. In the early twentieth century, for instance, John Kellogg, a physician and vegetarian, opened a sanitarium that used healing methods such as hydrotherapy, often prescribed by today's naturopaths. His brother Will produced health foods, such as corn flakes and shredded wheat. The Post brothers helped make naturopathic ideas popular and emphasized the value of whole grains over highly refined ones. Together with one of their employees, C.W. Post, they eventually went on to start the cereal companies that bear their names.

In the early 1900s, most states licensed naturopaths as physicians. There were 20 medical schools of naturopathic medicine. From early on, naturopathic physicians were considered eclectic, since they drew on a variety of natural therapies and traditions for treating their patients.

In the 1930s, naturopathy dramatically declined for several reasons. Allopathic medicine finally stopped using therapies such as bloodletting and heavy metal poisoning as curatives. New therapies were more effective and less toxic. Allopathic medical schools became increasingly well-funded by foundations with links to the emerging drug industry. Also, allopathic physicians became much more organized and wielded political clout. Naturopathy has experienced a resurgence over the last 20 years, however. The lay public is aware of the connection between a healthy diet and lifestyle and avoiding chronic disease. In addition, conventional medicine is often unable to treat these chronic diseases. Patients are now health care consumers, and will seek their own resolution to health problems that cannot be resolved by conventional physicians. As a result, even medical groups which once considered naturopathy ineffective are now beginning to accept it.

Naturopathic medicine modalities include a variety of healing treatments, such as diet and clinical nutrition, homeopathy, botanical medicine, soft tissue and spinal manipulation, ultrasound, and therapeutic exercise. A naturopath provides complete diagnostic and treatment services in sciences such as obstetrics, pediatrics and obstetrics. Some are also licensed midwives.

Naturopaths consider health to be not just the absence of disease, but complete physical, mental and social well being. Naturopathic physicians often say that diseases must be healed not just by suppressing symptoms, but by rooting out the true cause. Symptoms are actually viewed as the body's natural efforts to heal itself and restore balance.

A typical office visit to a naturopath takes an hour. During the first visit, the doctor will ask detailed questions about the patient's symptoms, lifestyle, history of illness, and state of his or her emotions. The naturopath will take a complete medical history, and may order lab tests such as urine and blood tests. A naturopath may talk with the patient about the possible causes for an illness'poor diet, life stresses, occupational dangers, and mental, emotional, and spiritual problems. Naturopaths believe that even widely varying symptoms can sometimes be traced to one underlying cause. Often environmental or metabolic toxins or serious stress bring on an illness.

In some states, naturopaths prescribe pharmaceuticals. In these cases, naturopaths might prescribe natural medicines, such as natural hormones, glandular thyroid hormones, herbal extracts, vitamins, etc.

As with most doctors, treatment by a naturopath can range from one office visit to many. Some acute illnesses can be alleviated with one or two visits. Other chronic diseases need regular weekly or monthly attention. Clinical care provided by naturopathic physicians are covered by insurance in a number of states in the United States.

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