"Naturopathic physicians are some of the best trained doctors when it comes to diagnosing and treating a broad range of health concerns from a natural and holistic perspective", says David Brady, ND, head of the clinical nutrition program at Bridgeport University and a practicing naturopath himself. A naturopathic physician is a medical professional who's been trained in seeing the patient as a whole person, rather than as a collection of symptoms. While in a few states (Oregon, Washington, California, Arizona and Hawaii) they can legally prescribe drugs, their first inclination is to treat patients with a combination of natural non-pharmaceutical treatments including nutrition, herbal and botanical medicine, Chinese medicine, hydrotherapy, manipulation and acupuncture.

The best ones have been trained just as thoroughly as a medical doctor or a chiropractor or osteopath- they just don't use drugs as treatment options (or, when they do, they use them as adjuncts to other modalities, truly an "integrated" approach).

A lot of people will use naturopathic physicians as their gatekeepers, or primary physicians, which is an excellent idea. A naturopathic physician can not only determine when conventional care is necessary as an adjunct, but can help you find the right provider.

Conventional, pharmaceutical based medicine in America is unsurpassed for the treatment of emergencies. As I’ve often said, if I’m in a train wreck, don’t take me to an herbalist-- I’m going straight to Cedars Sinai. But good as conventional medicine is at what's called acute (emergency) conditions, pharmaceutical (conventional Western) medicine is perfectly dreadful at keeping people healthy, or preventing them from getting sick in the first place. (Worth noting: Insurance rarely pays for preventative medicine!) And conventional medicine is only moderately good at treating what’s called chronic conditions- those that linger on indefinitely, sapping your well-being and preventing you from being your best.

The naturopath offers another way of looking at disease and health and wellness. Let’s say you have elevated blood sugar, or even pre-diabetes. A conventional doc will give you a drug to bring it down (glucophage, or even insulin), but won't necessarily deal with the underlying pathology. A naturopath will look at what dietary and lifestyle factors are causing your high blood sugar in the first place, and try to change the underlying causes— which, in the case of pre-diabetes, may just keep you off meds altogether thus avoiding any of the considerable side effects that may go with them. You're more likely to walk out of his office with good instructions on how to do a high fiber, low sugar, higher protein diet, plus a regimine of chromium, magnesium, cinnamon and fish oil than you are to walk out with insulin syringes.

If this kind of approach appeals to you, a naturopath may be just what the doctor ordered. (If it's a band-aid approach to symptoms you're looking for, a naturopath is definitely not for you.) "If people come to see a naturopathic doctor, in general they know what to expect- they’re not just going to get a pill", says naturopath Dr. Joseph Pizzorno, co-author of "The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine". "They know they’re going to have to change their lives, so people who come to see us seem to be more willing to make the changes".

A naturopath would be a terrific choice for your general, go-to family doctor. They'd be especially good for chronic conditions like asthma, allergies, food sensitivities, fatigue, adrenal burnout and many of the conditions that conventional medicine doesn't know what to do with- like fibromyalgia for example.

If you do decide to consult a naturopath, it's important that you check out his or her qualifications thoroughly. A good, legitimate naturopath will be a member of the AANP (American Association of Naturopathic Physicians), assuring that they graduated from a regionally accredited school and are eligible for licensure by their state. Some of the better schools include Bastyr University, the National College of Natural Medicine, the Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine, the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine and the College of Naturopathic Medicine at the University of Bridgeport.

Author's Bio: 

Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS is the author of "the Most Effective Natural Cures on Earth as well as two other best selling books. A board certified nutritionist with a Masters degree in psychology, he is a featured health writer on America Online and was the Weight Loss Coach for iVillage.com for ten years. A popular and dynamic speaker, he has been contributed material to over 50 national publications and appeared on CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox News, CNN and MSNBC as a nutrition, weight loss and health expert. Dr. Bowden is Self-Growth's Official Guide for Nutrition. For more info, free newsletter and free audio courses, please visit him at www.jonnybowden.com

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