Bozeman, Montana mckenzie.mescon@gmail.com

What is Naturopathic Medicine?

Naturopathic medicine is a system of primary healthcare that focuses on prevention, treatment and optimal health through the use of therapeutic methods and substances that encourage individuals’ inherent self-healing process.  A naturopathic doctor specializes in natural and least-invasive therapies and is trained to diagnose and treat disease.  A naturopathic doctor works to address the underlying cause of disease, rather than simply attending to the symptoms.  Our medicine asks for patient participation, and aims to empower them in caring for their own health.  The 6 principles of naturopathic medicine are as follows; First Do No Harm, Identify and Treat the Causes, acknowledge The Healing Power of Nature/Trust the Body, Doctor as Teacher, Treat the Whole Person, and Prevention.

Dr. Mescon approaches each individual patient by considering their particular case in the context of what naturopathic doctors call the Therapeutic Order.  This is a system for organizing the thought process that attends to all aspects of the patient’s health.  The naturopathic therapeutic order has 7 levels, and though they need not be followed in exact order, each aspect should be considered in each individual case.  Below you will find an explanation of this therapeutic order and how naturopathic doctors use it to guide their care of patients.

Therapeutic Order Pyramid

  • Level 1 is Reestablish the Basis for Health.
    This means we look at the basics: food, water, air, shelter, sleep, exercise, spirituality, access to healthcare, toxic exposures, love, and community, to name a few. Every single naturopathic treatment plan addresses some aspect of Level 1.
  • Level 2 is Stimulate the Vis.
    The Vis Medicatrix Naturae is the healing power of nature, or the body’s natural tendency to be heal.  When a surgeon stitches up a wound, dresses it, and sends a patient home to heal, he or she is relying on the healing power of nature, or the body’s ability to knit that tissue back together.  This natural healing process is present in every patient, at every stage of dis-ease.  A naturopathic doctor might use homeopathy or acupuncture to support the Vis. In truth, every therapy we offer, including nutrition and a good night’s sleep, attends to the Vis because each therapy supports the body’s ability to heal itself.
  • Level 3 is Tonify Affected/Engaged Organs and Systems.
    Here is where we apply therapies in a general, tonifying sense.  A naturopathic doctor looks at a patient’s symptoms as indicative of stress on various organs and systems of the body.  Symptoms are our bodies trying to tell us something is wrong.  For example, we prescribe immune-stimulating botanicals when a patient has a cough or cold in order to boost the body’s own defenses against a bacterial or viral infection.  In almost every patient we address the health of the GI system because “we are what we digest,” and “the gut is the root of the tree.”  An optimized digestive system will allow for proper digestion and absorption of foods, supplements and medications, as well as proper elimination of wastes.
  • Level 4 is Correct Structural Integrity.
    A naturopathic doctor uses adjustments (similar to a chiropractor) to align the spine and extremities, and we learn soft-tissue therapies like massage or cranial sacral therapy. We pay attention to all aspects of the physical body, including the structure, in order to optimize healing and maintain wellbeing.
  • Level 5 is Prescribe Specific Natural Substances.
    This is where many integrative doctors work, and where many of our patients assume we operate. This could be considered the level of “green allopathy,” or replacing a drug with a natural substance. A naturopathic doctor uses therapies at this level often, especially to help with palliation when a patient feels really sick, but we recognize that none of these “green” therapies will offer full recovery or true healing if we neglect the first 4 levels that come before it. This is where we categorize the use of natural substances that address specific pathologies. For example, giving a pain-relieving tincture of Viburnum to our patient with menstrual cramps. When these natural therapies “don’t work” we must remember that a patient needs to attend to all the aspects of their being for nature’s healing to work best. If someone neglects to eat nutritious foods, or doesn’t take time for regular rest, they should not expect plants alone to eliminate their dis-ease.
  • Level 6 is Prescribe Specific Pharmacological or Synthetic Substances.
    Here is where most conventional medical doctors operate and where naturopathic doctors are trained to operate as well, when necessary. Sometimes we need to use pharmaceuticals in order to pull a patient out of a precarious state of health, or to replace function that is lost.  It is rarely our goal to keep a treatment plan at this level, though sometimes it is absolutely necessary.
  • Level 7 is Use Higher Force Interventions.
    This means things like surgery and other invasive procedures.  Naturopathic doctors are trained in minor surgical office procedures such as suturing (stitches) and IV therapy.  An extreme example of when a patient needs this level of care is if they have been in a car accident and have broken bones. We will certainly recommend this patient for surgery as indicated, but will also offer supportive care at all the levels leading up to this one. We will offer everything from foods that support healthy inflammation, to homeopathics that assist bones in healing, to massage that keeps the muscles from going into spasm, to botanicals to dampen the pain and support healthy tissue regeneration in healing.

Still have questions about naturopathic doctors and how you can support the medicine or find a naturopathic doctor near you?  Please consider visiting the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians website to learn more.