Naturopathic Medicine For Adults
There are many ways that adults might incorporate naturopathic medicine into their health care management. If you are interested in disease prevention, wellness, and health promotion, a naturopathic physician (ND) is someone to seriously consider as part of your health care team. Depending on the licensing status of the state you live in, you may be able to choose an ND as your primary care provider. In any case, you can utilize an ND for recommendations on any of your health care conditions or concerns. A naturopathic doctor will work with you to understand the underlying factors related to your concerns, and along with you as a partner, assist in helping you understand what’s wrong and how to fix it. The following information details more specific information about some of the conditions commonly seen and managed by ND’s.
Headaches are one of the most common complaints seen by doctors. There are many causes for headaches, some of them serious, but most of the time headaches are caused by one or more of the following; stress, tension, allergies, dehydration, poor diet, musculoskeletal disorders, circulatory factors, and hormonal factors. When you see a naturopathic doctor for headache, they will conduct a thorough evaluation including a history, physical examination, and possibly laboratory and imaging tests to determine the cause of your headaches. Depending on the cause, there are effective naturopathic therapies for most types of headaches.
Stress or tension headaches can be relieved by relaxing the muscles of the scalp and neck to reduce constriction of blood vessels that results in pain. Effective therapies include stress reduction techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, stretching, and exercise. Minerals, such as calcium and magnesium are important nutrients for proper muscle tone and relaxation. Also, a traditional naturopathic treatment called hydrotherapy (water therapy) can be effective for relieving a tension headache. Cold is placed around the head, and the patient’s feet are immersed in hot water. The resulting increase in blood circulation throughout the body can relieve the headache in many cases, especially if this therapy is started at the first sign of pain.
Headaches Caused by Allergies
Some headaches are caused by allergies. If your naturopathic doctor suspects that allergies are the cause, they will conduct a thorough evaluation of potential allergens including environmental, food and food additives, and medication. Usually, if allergens are confirmed as the cause, removing them will alleviate the headaches. Nutritional supplements such as the bioflavonoid quercitin or vitamin C may also be recommended to reduce the allergic reaction.
Dehydration is a surprisingly common cause of headaches. This is a simple fix; all you need to do is drink more water on a daily basis. As a part of your history, an ND will ask you about fluid intake and factors that tend to dehydrate you such as excessive caffeine or alcohol intake, vigorous and prolonged exercise, or frequent trips to the sauna with a lot of sweating.
Headaches from a Poor Diet
Poor diet can cause headaches from nutritional deficiencies, blood sugar disorders, and intake of allergens and food additives. Detailed dietary analysis is part of an ND’s initial evaluation of your condition, and dietary recommendations are a very common part of your treatment program when you’re working with an ND. A comprehenisve set of dietary recommendations for headaches would include proper balance and intake of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats, as well as restrictions on refined and processed foods.
Musculoskeletal disorders, especially of the head, neck, and back can cause headaches. A physical examination of your bones, joints, muscles and supporting tissues will reveal these causes. Sometimes, it is necessary to get an image of your tissues to make an accurate diagnosis with an X-ray, MRI, or CT scan. Treatment will consist of manual, hands on therapy to restore proper structure and function to your musculoskeletal system. Nutritional supplementation may also be recommended to supply the proper minerals to your system, and other nutrients and herbs such as bromelain, curcumin, and fish oil may be used to provide you with anti-inflammatory agents.
Migraine headaches are caused by circulatory dysfunction. Vasodilation, or an abnormal dilation of the blood vessels in your head is what causes the terrible pain of migraines. What causes the vasodilation in the first place is not well understood, but several factors seem to be triggers including certain foods, stress, hormones, and some medications. A naturopathic doctor will once again conduct a thorough evaluation to identify as many of these triggers as possible, and work with you to eliminate them. In addition, several vitamins, minerals, and herbs have been shown to reduce the severity and frequency of migraines. These include magnesium, the B-vitamin riboflavin, and the herbs feverfew and butterbur.
Hormones, especially in women, can cause headaches. Headaches that occur just before and during a women’s menstrual cycle are likely due to fluctuating levels of estrogen and progesterone. Your ND will treat this by using diet, nutritional supplements such as calcium, magnesium, vitamin B-6, and herbs such as chaste tree berry, licorice root, black cohosh, and others to help balance the hormones. This will in most cases alleviate hormonal headaches, or at least reduce their severity and frequency.
Depression is a very common and potentially serious disorder affecting millions of adults in the United States. The disease is likely multi-factorial, and is thought to be the result of low serotonin activity in the brain. Serotonin is known as a neurotransmitter, and has many functions in the brain and elsewhere. There are several options for treating mild to moderate depression without conventional medications. If you are diagnosed with severe depression, you should talk to your health care professional about whether to take conventional prescription medication. For mild to moderate depression, exercise, diet, nutritional supplements, botanical medicine, and homeopathy can be very successful. Vitamin B-6, tyrosine, fish oil, and SAMe have some scientific evidence supporting their use for depression. So does the herb St. John’s Wort. Your ND will individually tailor your treatment to match your own unique situation. Some of these products can interact with drugs, so it is important to work with your naturopathic doctor or another health care professional who is knowledgeable in the safe use of natural products.
Colds and Flu
Colds and flu are extremely common. Both are caused by viruses. Colds are self-limited and not dangerous. Influenza can be very serious, even fatal for vulnerable adults such as the frail elderly or the immune compromised. Naturopathic medicine can help to prevent cold and flu as well as treat and shorten the course of these annoying conditions. A common approach is to provide you with nutrients and herbs to stimulate your immune response such as vitamin C, zinc, elderberry and echinacea. These nutrients also have mild anti-viral activity. An ND will give you advice to reduce the simple sugars in your diet, as these foods can slow down your immune response. Homeopathic medicine may be helpful, and will be prescribed based on your unique situation. Finally, hydrotherapy, or water therapy may be used to help stimulate a fever if you don’t already have one. Fever at a safe level and for a limited period of time is a very beneficial host response, as it increases the action of the immune system, and slows down the replication of viruses. Typically, an ND will recommend strategies for you to increase your body’s temperature by having you take hot baths or other similar techniques.
Allergy is another very common disorder. Some people experience allergies all year, some only experience them during particular seasons, such as spring and fall. Typically, allergy symptoms affect the respiratory and gastrointestinal systems as well as skin. No one knows why some people suffer from allergies and others don’t. It is likely a combination of factors including genetics, environment, diet and stress. Naturopathic medicine can be helpful in identifying what the person is allergic to, helping them to minimize their exposure to allergens, and providing them with nutritional, herbal, and homeopathic supplements to help reduce the symptoms of allergies. Some of the more commonly used therapies for allergy symptoms are; nettles, vitamin C, quercitin, bromelain, and fish oil.
Osteoarthritis and Degenerative Joint Disease
Joint pain can be a sign of serious disease, so if you are experiencing significant joint pain, make sure to have a thorough diagnostic evaluation conducted. Many adults suffer from the very common condition called osteoarthritis (OA), or degenerative joint disease (DJD). This type of arthritis increases in frequency as we age, and can affect any joint. Most of the time, OA affects the joints that have been used a lot or have been injured in the past. Fingers, shoulders, hips, back, knees, and ankles are all commonly affected by OA. The cause of OA is the gradual deterioration and loss of the spongy cartilage layer between our joints. This loss of cartilage causes the bones of the joint to rub on each other, causing pain and stiffness. Fortunately, there is a very well researched and effective natural treatment for OA. Glucosamine sulfate has been demonstrated in many research trials to improve not only the symptoms of OA, but can actually help to restore some of the lost cartilage. A naturopathic physician can diagnose this problem, and along with recommending glucosamine sulfate, will advise you on how dietary changes may help reduce the pain of OA. Adding fish to your diet, reducing your intake of saturated fats, and increasing fresh fruits and vegetables can reduce the severity of OA. Certain exercises, such as those that improve muscle strength without stressing joints excessively, will also be helpful in managing your arthritis.
Fatigue is an extremely common complaint, and has many causes. A thorough history, physical examination, and laboratory testing must be conducted in order to determine the exact cause of fatigue. Often in conventional medicine, nothing obvious will be detected, and so patients may be told that nothing is wrong with them. A naturopathic doctor will most likely dig a little deeper to find out what is causing the fatigue. Diet history, lifestyle habits, emotional components, and other less well known or accepted causes of fatigue will be considered. After a complete analysis of all these factors, ND’s can often assist the patient with fatigue in regaining their energy through the use of diet, exercise, stress reduction, and supplements as appropriate for the condition. Often, fatigue is your body’s way to say “slow down, I need a break.” When we are on the go all the time, the body’s stress hormones are increased. One of the many problems associated with increased stress hormones is fatigue. An ND will recognize this problem and work with you specifically to decrease and restore balance to your stress hormones. This might mean supporting your adrenal glands with herbs and nutrients such as licorice, Siberian ginseng, rhodiola, vitamin C and pantothenic acid. Do not take these supplements without consulting a health care professional who is knowledgeable in their use. Many herbs and nutritional supplements can have side effects, toxicity, or interact with medications. A professional such as a naturopathic doctor can ensure that you are taking good quality supplements in safe and appropriate doses.
Thyroid problems are very common, and occur in females more often than in males. Thyroid disease can result in either an overactive or underactive thyroid. Underactive thyroid disease, or hypothyroidism, results in a person feeling fatigued, depressed, cold all the time, constipated, gaining weight easily, and having dry skin. An overactive thyroid results in symptoms of sweating, rapid heartbeat, diarrhea, weight loss, fatigue, and feeling warm. A simple blood test can detect these conditions, and an ND can treat them by using not only conventional thyroid medication, but also therapies such as herbs and nutrients to help support proper thyroid function. Frequently, proper thyroid function can be restored by improving the quality of the diet, and by providng the proper nutrients needed to make thyroid hormone and to convert it into the active form of hormone. Selenium, tyrosine, iodine, and vitamin B-6 are some key nutirents important for proper thyroid hormone production and function.
Diabetes has become an epidemic in this country. Type 2 diabetes is the most common type, and occurs most often in adults, although more and more children are being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. This disease is a result of our Standard American Diet (SAD!), obesity, and our increasingly sedentary lives. Inside the body, long term increases in blood sugar results in the inability of insulin to continue to do its job effectively. Insulin is the primary hormone responsible for processing blood sugar properly inside our cells. Once insulin can no longer effectively process blood sugar, it builds up in our bloodstream, and eventually leads to the symptoms that are common in Type 2 diabetes. These are excessive thirst, excessive urination, and excessive hunger. Long term blood sugar levels that are higher than normal cause many very serious health problems, including heart disease, kidney disease, eye disease, nerve damage, and severe infections in the feet that can lead to amputations. Type 2 diabetes can be easily diagnosed with a simple blood test. If you are diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, a naturopathic physician can work with you to decrease your blood sugar and minimize the risk of getting the serious problems that come with uncontrolled diabetes. If you have severe or long term diabetes, an ND can work along with your diabetic specialist to help keep your blood sugar controlled, and help to manage any of the complications you may have. Diet is a cornerstone of treatment for Type 2 diabetes. Reducing refined carbohydrates, eating regular meals that are high in protein and complex carbohydrates as well as small amounts of good fat is critical. Exercise and weight control are also very important. Lastly, there are certain nutritional supplements and herbs that may help control your blood sugar, protect your heart, eyes, and kidneys, and prevent the nerve and vessel damage common in diabetes. Some of these include chromium, vitamin C, B-complex vitamins, fenugreek, alph-lipoic acid, fish oil, and others. Naturopathic doctors are the experts in utilizing nutritional therapies for treating diseases like diabetes.
Heart disease is the number 1 killer in the United States for both women and men. It is also almost completely preventable. Many of the same factors that cause the epidemic of Type 2 diabetes in this country also cause heart disease. Poor diet, obesity, stress, being sedentary, and smoking are the causes of most heart disease today. As you can surmise, these are all modifiable factors, which means you can do something about them. You don’t really need a doctor to tell you not to smoke, to exercise regularly, to maintain your ideal weight, to eat right, and so on. However, sometimes these things are easier to talk about doing then they are to actually put into practice. A naturopathic doctor will spend time emphasizing how important it is to manage your risk factors, and will work with you to help you make the changes necessary to develop healthy lifelong habits for heart health. In addition, ND’s utilize nutritional supplements and herbs to treat people who already have heart disease, or who have other risk factors for heart disease like high blood pressure and high cholesterol. As always, diet and exercise play a key role in a naturopathic doctor’s recommendations for health. Stress reduction techniques like bio-feedback may be recommended to help manage stress. Nutrients like coenzyme Q-10 andcarnitine, as well as herbs like hawthorne berry have impressive research suggesting benefit in heart disease. Niacin, a B vitamin is well known for its ability to reduce cholesterol and triglycerides, both of which are fats in the bloodstream that can increase the risk of heart disease. Calcium and magnesium, two important and vital nutrients can help to lower blood pressure, as can many other herbs. Naturopathic medicine can play a key role in preventing and reversing heart disease.
Environmental medicine is a relatively new and growing medical specialty. This area of medicine addresses the health effects of a person’s environment on their health. Naturopathic physicians have long recognized a connection between environment and health. There are many environmental issues that right now are profoundly affecting all of us. Toxic metals like mercury, lead and arsenic in our air, water and food supplies are one example. Radiation hazards are another. Occupational exposures to asbestos and other dangerous substances are yet another example of the impacts the environment has on human health. This is a very diverse and complicated area of medicine. Evaluations to determine whether you have health impacts from environmental hazards can be done, and then treatment plans can be developed to assist your body in eliminating any of these identified toxins. Nutritional supplements such as anti-oxidants and sulfur containing amino acids can be used to help the body rid itself of environmental toxins. Promoting the body’s own detoxifying systems is usually the best way to do this. Sweating to keep the skin working as an elimination organ, drinking lots of water to keep the kidneys functioning well, keeping your diet high in fiber to keep your colon working well, and finally, deep breathing to optimize your lung’s detoxifying capacity are amazingly effective strategies to keep your body healthy and working well. Of course, it’s also important to avoid hazardous exposures whenever possible. Keep up to date with credible information about environmental hazards and toxins, and do whatever you can to minimize your exposure. Be an activist in your community to reduce environmental hazards and clean up contaminated areas. The earth needs all of us to recognize that as her health goes, so goes ours. It is in all of our best interests to support the health of the planet as carefully as we try to support our own and our families’ health.
Cancer prevention is important, and is something we should all be doing every day. There is no way to guarantee you won’t get cancer someday. Too many factors outside of our control go into whether or not we’ll get cancer. Genetics plays a powerful role, and that is something we don’t yet have control over, although that may change sooner rather than later. Environmental factors play a role. We have some control over that; see the section on environmental medicine for more information. But some experts estimate that over 1/3 of cancers are preventable by modifying our diet and lifestyle. Smoking, obesity, and alcohol intake are potent contributors to cancer. An ND can help advise you on ways to decrease your cancer risk. Eating a whole foods diet rich in fruits and vegetables is one of the most effective ways to reduce your cancer risk. There are compounds in fruits and vegetables that have potent anti-cancer activity. The very best way to get these cancer protective nutrients is through eating a whole foods diet. Studies done on this subject confirm over and over that taking isolated supplements of cancer fighting nutrients is far less effective than eating foods that contain the nutrients. Eating whole fods that have not been heavily processed and that have not been grown with a lot of perticides and synthetic fertilizers will ensure that you get the most cancer protection. Try to eat at least five different colors of fruits and vegetables each day to maximize the cancer fighting power of whole foods. There is also a growing body of evidence that suggests green tea is a potent anti-cancer agent. Enjoy several cups daily for your health!
Unfortunately, some of us are likely to be diagnosed with cancer. If you are ever faced with the challenge of fighting cancer, naturopathic medicine can be a useful adjunct to your conventional medical treatment. There are diet and nutrient interventions that can help to alleviate the side effects of cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation. Some herbs can also be very helpful, such as ginger for nausea. This area of medicine is very complicated, and it is critical that you develop a health care team that will work together to give you the best chance to recover from your cancer and live a long and healthy life. There are many false and unsubstantiated claims made by disreputable people who say that they can cure your cancer with their natural treatments. To date, there are no “natural therapies” that have been documented to cure cancer. Beware of claims that sound too good to be true. If you are undergoing conventional cancer treatment and wish to utilize natural medicines as an adjunct to your treatment, a naturopathic doctor may be able to help you. Look for an ND who is experienced in oncology, (the study of cancer), and who specializes in that area. There are potential interactions between conventional cancer therapies and many nutritional and herbal therapies, so it is extremely important that you find an ND knowledgeable in this area. Also, make sure you tell your conventional medical team as well as your ND everything you are taking so they can ensure there are no interactions between medicines that might result in interfering with how they work. Your team should be willing to communicate and cooperate with each other so that you get the best care possible. Mostof all, don’t lose hope if you are diagnosed with cancer. Keeping a positive mental attitude is strongly correlated with longer survival in cancer patients.