What is Natural Medicine? What does it include? How are practitioners trained? Is it safe? And while I will define these terms, remember that the people using them online or in practice often throw these words aound and use them interchangeably (and incorrectly) making it almost impossible for even well educated consumers to make decisions without talking directly to a practitioner or reseaching a particular source.
What differentiates healthcare providers from one another is the type of training they receive and the philosophy that guides their care. In modern times there has been essentially one choice in the United States for Healthcare. This type of medicine is called ‘Allopathic’ medicine and this includes MD’s, Nurses, hospital care, etc. The philosophy of this care is based on determining a diagnosis and using drugs and surgery to alleviate the symptoms of disease. This has also been called the dominant school of medicine. It is the one that is backed by most insurance companies, the pharmaceutical industry, hospitals and clinics, state and federal government, a complex legal system that manages the liability, etc. And we derive much of what we believe about healthcare from this paradigm.
While these practitioners simply think of themselves as ‘Physicians’, the term
allopathic care is ‘an expression commonly used by homeopaths and proponents of other forms of alternative medicine to refer to mainstream medical use of pharmacologically active agents or physical interventions to treat or suppress symptoms or pathophysiologic processes of diseases or conditions. The expression was coined in 1810 by the creator of homeopathy, Samuel Hahnemann (1755–1843)’. Interestingly enough the term allopathic comes from a root word (Greek állos) meaning ‘other’ or ‘alternative’. The decision to call something alternative is relevant to one’s own perspective! Today an estimated 30-70 % of all Americans have used alternative care according to a simple Internet search….but the impact of alternative care on healthcare choices and practices is, in my opinion, probably higher.
Integrative Medicine is generally an MD or Nurse practicing ‘alternative’ care. I will discuss this in detail in a future post.
There are other types of physicians besides MD’s. Osteopaths, Chiropractors,
Naturopathic Physicians, Doctors of Acupuncture. The training and licensure of these practitioners varies from state to state. I am a Naturopathic Physician and graduated from Bastyr University in Washington, where I went to medical school. Naturopathic Physicians are licensed as primary care providers with mandatory insurance reimbursement, hospital privileges and prescription rights in Washington. In Idaho where I live, the scope of practice is significantly less than my training and there is no legal or academic requirement to call oneself a Naturopathic Physician.
Checking with the professional associations nationally and by state will help you understand the terminology in your area. In Idaho many lay people, chiropractors and others call themselves Naturopathic Physicians even though they have no Naturopathic Training. This makes it challenging for consumers to make educated decisions. I think that it is critical for consumers of alternative care to understand and distinguish between various forms of care.
All these practitioners listed above may practice alternative care or natural medicine in spite of a highly variable levels of training. But alternative care is also practiced by a wide range of other ‘lay’ professionals. Some carry certificates, others have engaged in self study, and still others have learned from others in an apprenticeship setting. I will discuss issues of education in a future post.
Lay practitioners also have a philosophical ideology, but because their education is less standardized, their guiding principles are also less consistent and they generally have considerably more variability in practice.
The area where alternative practice has probably grown the most is by consumers practicing ‘do it yourself healthcare’. Although the increase in all alternative practices probably coincide with the ease of access to information that the Internet created; self care seems directly served by Internet sites, MLM companies, and grass roots movements that disseminate information on a variety of practices and products. The Internet has also impacted allopathic care in the same way as prescription drugs are now easy to obtain – pharmaceutical companies have picked up on this trend and now direct market to consumers on TV, radio and other media…..’ask your doctor about….’.
So while this is an exciting time in history if you seek alternative or natural care; the array of options can be overwhelming. And because everyone promotes their own platform and criticizes all other types of care, your opinions are likely to be formed with biased information. I also have my own biases as I write these articles. Knowing what platform I identify with and what my training is should help you see areas where I may lack objectivity. But as you read about natural medicine these next 31 days, hopefully you will recognize my most prominant bias: knowledge is power. My objective is to provide you with as much information as I can, support you in making a great decision about your care, and provide whatever resources help move you along in the journey towards exceptional health.