Following on from last week’s nutrition 1-0-1; the latest installment of NH21 Weekly is a reminder of the foundational principles of health care from a naturopathic perspective.

Whilst the theory seems easy enough to comprehend, and increasingly the science backs it up; the practices of “natural health” are somewhat more challenging than they might first appear. Drink more water, eat more greens, move the body with a little physical activity and avoid, or reduce, chemical toxins… Voila! You’re healed!

The caveat? You actually have to do it, each and every day; rather than glossing over the concept and passing it off as some esoteric notion of nirvana. This week NH21 challenges you to try it, for one week, and see for yourself how hard it actually is to “just say no” to synthetic sugars, or to “just say yes” to that extra glass of water when all around you seem perfectly happy with cola.

PHILOSOPHY of NATUROPATHIC MEDICINE

Naturopathy is a system of medicine that seeks to promote positive health by removing obstructions to vitality, whilst supporting the body’s inherent capacity to self-heal. Nature is astonishingly resilient. The living organism possesses and inborn propensity to revert to a normal, healthy state and to overcome adversity, injury or disease.

This complex biological process is known as ‘healing’. Naturopaths look for the potential for health, identifying supportive measures towards healing. The healing power of nature is ordered, intelligent and virtually miraculous, provided it can occur unobstructed. The fundamental principles of Naturopathic medicine are:

1: Primum non nocere – First do no harm.

The Naturopathic Physician (Naturopath) must be fully aware of, and have the utmost respect for, the innate ability of the living organism to defend itself on multiple levels. Inappropriate interference, often applied with the best of intentions, can do more harm than good. Equally, failure to recognise the need for urgent referral in a clinical emergency may prove fatal.

Generally, most cases seen by a Naturopath are not so extreme, and, wherever possible, non-suppressive management of acute (rapid onset/brief duration), sub-acute and chronic (gradual onset/prolonged duration) disease is the rule. In this way, the symptoms of disease are encouraged to develop into their full expression, with the minimum of intervention. This approach must however, be tempered with observation, vigilance, knowledge, and clinical competence, should crisis management or timely referral be necessary.

Naturopathic protocols tend to be non-violent, non-toxic, non-invasive, and pro-biotic. They include enabling and re-empowering strategies that hand control back to the patient when the crisis of healing is over.

2: Prohibere quam sanare – Prevention rather than cure.

The ‘magic bullet’ approach to the treatment and cure of disease is contrary to the principles of Naturopathy. Our level of wellbeing is, to a large extent, dependent of how we choose to live, including our environment and our attitudes. Recognising this, the Naturopath works with the patient in setting goals toward a lifestyle that is health-promoting.

This may mean changes in diet, occupation, environment and routine wherever possible or appropriate. The fields of influence that Naturopathy addresses go far beyond the individual patient; into social, economic and ecological issues; nurturing positive, responsible attitudes toward self and others.

3: Corpus totem curare – Treating the whole person.

Health and disease are not exclusive entities, rather, points on a continuum that are influenced by complex, interacting forces (nutritional, climactic, emotional, social, hereditary etc.). For health to exist, these forces need to be balanced in a dynamic equilibrium by a lifestyle that offsets the stresses they can impose.

The term ‘wholistic’ has become something of a cliché in recent years, yet, this principle has always been at the heart of Naturopathic healthcare and is surmised in the phrases; ‘treat the patient not the disease’ and ‘the part cannot be separated from the whole’.

For this reason, the Naturopathic practitioner recognises that an imbalance, deficiency or overload on any one level will inevitably cause compensatory repercussions on all other levels.

Structure, function and form are reciprocally inter-related. Consequently, emotional disturbances can affect organs and muscles, spinal problems can affect the gut, nutrition can affect emotion and so on. Thus, in Naturopathic medicine, treatment is considered more in terms of achieving readjustment or reintegration than correction or cure.

4: Ponos vs Pathos – Acute and chronic disease.

From the Naturopathic viewpoint, disease is not caused simply by the opportunistic invasion of the host by ‘pathogens’ (disease-causing micro-organisms), but by numerous contributory factors that challenge homeostasis and disrupt the steady state of the body’s internal environment. The result of accumulated stressors can be met and neutralised by a vital, physiological response that restores equilibrium and health.

Naturally, this process involves a degree of turmoil, inflammation and discomfort, as the symptoms of acute disease are expressions of this critical biological conflict. Therefore, acute disease need not be regarded as a ‘bad’ thing, and the Naturopath may actually welcome this event, seeking to manage it with minimal intervention whilst recognising it as a sign that the body has begun its house-clearing efforts.

Once this has occurred, normal physiology can take ascendance over pathological processes, and eradicate chronic disease from the system. The phenomenon of the healing crisis is well documented, and requires skilful and decisive management in order to minimise the risk of residual damage to tissues or organs. This can be achieved by non-suppressive methods such as fasting, hydrotherapy and bed rest.

Mismanagement or suppression of the acute episode often converts into its more harmful chronic form, thus lowering vitality, causing generalised toxaemia and seriously impairing the patient’s quality of life.

5: Tolle causum – Identify the cause.

Diagnosis in the conventional medical sense is of lesser relevence to the Naturopath. In Naturopathic diagnosis, local signs and symptoms are more often interpreted as indicators of deeper and wider imbalances. This means that the patients constitution and lifestyle, as well as culture and personality, all have to be taken into account.

However, standard clinical tests for blood pressure, urinalysis, neurological function and such are routinely performed, and, on occasion, blood tests or tissue analysis can be of assistance in ascertaining the primary causative factor in disease. Although disease is invariably multifaceted, there is usually a significant and predisposing cause that needs to be isolated and addressed. Treatment of disease symptoms, whilst remaining ignorant of the cause, is likely to have a depletive effect causing eventual chronicity and degeneration.

6: Vis medicatrix naturae – The healing power of nature.

Nature is astonishingly resilient. Naturopaths were not the first to notice that the living organism possesses and inherent tendency to revert to normal function, and overcome adversity, injury or disease. It is ordered, intelligent and virtually miraculous; provided it can occur unobstructed. Nature has its own wisdom, and the greater part of Naturopathic practice consists of removing obstacles to natures healing power thereby allowing it to complete the task unhindered.

7: Docere – Doctor as educator.

The original root of the word ‘doctor’ means ‘teacher’ or ‘educator’, and this field of endeavour still takes precedence over most other areas of Naturopathic care. A competent and responsible Naturopath will take time and effort to remain up-to-date on current developments in health, medical and other related fields in order to deliver accurate, informed and appropriate advice to patients.

Equally, patients are encouraged to seek information rather than instruction, to recognise viable options, and to make their own informed decisions with regard to their health. This is of particular importance with regard to controversial issues such as vaccination, immunisation, nutrition, fasting, contraception, HRT etc.

8: Caveat emptor – The buyer is responsible.

Ultimately, health cannot be achieved by a pill or bought from a therapist. Each individual must take ownership and personal responsibility for the maintenance of their mind, body and environment. No helper, doctor or therapist can do this for us, and it should be clearly understood that the route to optimal health, performance and fulfilment of potential can be demanding on patient and practitioner alike. Such a path requires knowledge, conviction and self-discipline, supported by inspiration and encouragement from a Naturopath who practices what they teach.

“The doctor of the future will give no medicine, but will interest the patient in care for the human frame, in diet, and in the cause and prevention of disease.”

– Thomas Alva Edison