Examining an alternative: The nature of naturopathic medicine
Melissa Goldsmith had been taking prescription drugs for anxiety before she decided it wasn’t helping her situation.
“It only allowed me to ignore the fact that my health was deteriorating because I was ignoring my body,” Goldsmith said.
So she turned to naturopathy. With the help of her naturopathic physician, she determined the issue was with her adrenal glands and that she could eventually repair the damaged area using herbal remedies and occasional intravenous light therapy treatments.
“It has helped me immensely,” Goldsmith said.
Naturopathic medicine is a distinct primary health care profession, emphasizing prevention, treatment and optimal health through the use of therapeutic methods and substances that encourage individuals’ inherent self-healing process, according to The American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP).
“What we do is keep people healthy,” said naturopathic physician Dr. Susan Godman, who founded Partners in Healthcare Naturally in Prescott. “They don’t have heart disease, they don’t have strokes, they don’t have those things when they are listening to the signals that their body is giving them and correcting them before they get sick sick.”
According to AANP, the top five ailments that patients seek care from a naturopathic physician for are: women’s health, gastroenterological issues, fatigue, endocrinological issues and allergies/asthma.
The latter is why Damon Sage, an acupuncturist at Synergy Chiropractic Wellness Center, first began practicing acupuncture.
While living in the Pacific Northwest, he was suffering from allergies and, on a whim, decided to get an acupuncture treatment done.
“It worked so well that it’s why I decided to go
in this direction,” Sage said.
Like other alternative medicines, the effectiveness of naturopathy and acupuncture are often called into question.
In defense of acupuncture, Sage said although there have been some studies done on the effectiveness of acupuncture for various ailments, it’s difficult to get the sort of precise answers that modern medicine demands.
“The treatments are really tailored to the individual person, so it’s really hard to fit an acupuncture treatment into kind of our western model of that double blind, placebo controlled study,” Sage said. “Because if I see 10 patients with migraine headaches, I’ll probably give them 10 different treatments to help them with what’s going on.”
As for naturopathy, Godman said skeptics are her favorite type of patients.
“I love a patient whose spouse drags them in here kicking and screaming and they sit here looking at me with a look that says ‘you’re going to give me some weeds and I’m going to feel better?’,” Godman said.
Her answer to that is, although there may be a few entirely synthesized drugs on the market, nearly all other drugs are derived from the so-called “weeds.”
“The chemical constituent of 99.9 percent of all the medicines you pick up at a pharmacy was at first a plant,” Godman said.
To clarify this point, most medical researchers will affirm that only about 25 percent of prescriptions dispensed from community pharmacies in the U.S. contain active principles that are still extracted from plants found to be medicinal. What Godman is saying is that although most of the other 75 percent of drugs don’t contain direct derivatives of plants, pharmacologists have used the fundamental chemical structure of plants to create them.
By isolating individual properties of some plants and manipulating them in such a way, Godman believes many of the natural benefits packaged in those plants are stripped.
“The problem with that is when you isolate one chemical constituent
and make a drug, you literally take away the other 95 percent of the plant that actually keeps you from having side effects to that chemical constituent,” Godman said.
One concern that arises when it comes to alternative health care is the occasional lack of coverage by medical insurance companies.
In Arizona, naturopathic physicians are qualified to serve as primary care physicians, which means most insurance policies will cover treatment from those physicians.
However, there are insurance policies or companies that may specifically exclude naturopathic physicians, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona being one of them, Godman said.
To check this, Godman said to look for a restrictive clause that should
be evident in the policy.
“That clause has to be present,” Godman said. “If it is not present in the policy and you submit a claim form, then you should get reimbursed at least a portion of the cost.