Years ago, when I first graduated with a neuroscience degree from Franklin & Marshall College I had my sights set on attending a conventional medical school. That had always been my dream, until my father Dr. Stephen Sinatra inspired me to shift paths. I watched my dad treat very sick patients, not only with conventional medicines, but with botanical medicines and supplements like CoQ10 and magnesium. I knew this integrative approach to treating disease was the type of medicine I wanted to practice.
What Is a Naturopathic Doctor?
A naturopathic doctor:
- Blends centuries-old “tried and true” therapies with the latest scientific discoveries.
- Is patient centered and holistic, with the goal of restoring health using nontoxic therapies that address the root cause of disease and suffering.
- Can be your primary care doctor, treating you for everything from Lyme disease to the common cold.
How Can You Find a Naturopathic Doctor?
- You can search here for a licensed naturopathic doctor who is a member of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP).
- If you live in a state that doesn't license naturopathic doctors, a naturopathic doctor can still work with you to restore your health; however they may not have access to conventional labs, or be able to prescribe prescription medications. Plus, it’s unlikely that they can accept health insurance. If you live in an unlicensed state check out the state naturopathic association online to inquire about the laws regarding the practice of naturopathy. Members of these unlicensed state associations have graduated from an accredited naturopathic medical school and have passed the naturopathic medical boards.
How Is a Naturopathic Doctor Different Than a Conventional Doctor?
The training a naturopathic doctor goes through is very similar to traditional medical school—requiring a four-year post-graduate program at an accredited naturopathic medical school. Yet, unlike many traditional medical school programs, naturopathic medical schools focus on integrative approaches to medicine—combining both conventional and alternative treatments. Graduates receive the doctoral degree Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine (ND).
One difference you will find with a naturopathic doctor is that he or she practices individualized medicine, which means the diagnosis and treatment plans are unique and specialized for each patient. If I see five patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), I may recommend five different treatment protocols. This may happen because what led to the development of irritable bowel syndrome is unique to that individual, and thus needs to be addressed and treated in its own unique way.
Naturopathic Doctors Can Often Ward Off Disease
When it comes to health, there are often early warning signs that something is inherently wrong. A good analogy is to compare your body to a car. When the check engine light appears on your dashboard of your car, it’s wise to bring your car into a mechanic to get assessed.
The mechanic may tell you that oil is leaking or you need to change out the spark plug. If we compare the check engine light analogy to a symptom in your body like high blood pressure for example, it’s important to know why you developed high blood pressure in the first place, and what can be done to treat it.
Sometimes prescribing a medication for high blood pressure is absolutely necessary (similar to turning off the check engine light), but the root cause of why blood pressure is elevated must be addressed concurrently. The same is true for dispensing “green” or natural medicines that lower blood pressure; the cause must be investigated and addressed while the blood pressure lowering agent takes effect in the body.
What Can You Expect At An Office Visit?
Many naturopathic doctors have access to traditional diagnostic tools such as routine laboratory blood tests, specialty laboratory tests (stool testing, food allergy panels, hormone testing, heavy metal testing, etc.), and diagnostic testing such as x-ray, ultrasound, CT, or MRI. Additionally, they regularly use physical exam skills to assess each patient.
Initial visits to a naturopathic doctor are usually 60-90 minutes long and follow up visits can range between 30-45 minutes depending on the complexity of the case. This provides more time for your naturopathic doctor to comprehensively learn all about your current health concerns as well as your past medical and family medical histories. Plus, naturopathic doctors will do physical exams and run any diagnostic testing that you might need.
Depending on your symptoms or any illness that may be present, integrative medicine treatments will be discussed and recommended as needed. Plus, when needed, many naturopathic doctors do have the ability to prescribe prescription medications such as antibiotics.
I always tell people that if you get into a car accident, go to the ER where medical doctors will save your life. They will patch you up, and provide incredible acute emergency medical care. Conversely, if you develop a chronic disease that modern medicine cannot help with, or if you are interested in a more integrative medicine approach to prevent disease and achieve optimal health, visiting a naturopathic doctor may be in your best interest.