Naturopathic medicine is a distinguished branch of medicine whose practitioners seek to harness the self-healing processes inherent to the human body in order to optimize health and prevent the development of disease. In cases where a disease process has already bloomed, the principles of naturopathic medicine can also be used to fight and reverse the present pathology. In practice, a naturopathic doctor relies on modern, empirical methods to diagnose and treat disease, just like medical or osteopathic doctors.
The Principles of Naturopathic Medicine
There are seven core tenets that comprise the theoretical foundation of naturopathic medicine: Vis Medicatrix Naturae, Tolle Causam, Primum Non-Nocere, Docere, Treat the Whole Person, and Prevention.
Vis Medicatrix Naturae
Vis Medicatrix Naturae is a Latin phrase meaning “the healing power of nature.” It is one of the foundational concepts of naturopathic medicine as it represents the capacity for self-healing inherent in all human beings. These regenerative processes are both ordered and intelligent, meaning they can be understood and, in the right hands, harnessed to drive recovery. The ultimate goal of a naturopathic physician is to identify and neutralize the internal or external obstacles hindering these self-healing processes from properly functioning, thereby facilitating the natural healing process.
Tolle Causam is a Latin phrase meaning “identify and treat the causes.” This cornerstone of naturopathic medicine highlights the profession’s unrelenting drive to diagnose and eliminate the underlying causes of illness, rather than merely the presenting symptoms. While this concept has caught on with medical and osteopathic doctors in recent years, it is still one of the core concepts that truly differentiates naturopathic physicians from their colleagues.
Primum Non-Nocere is a belief in naturopathic medicine that is present in all medical disciplines: First, do no harm. Naturopathic physicians adhere to three guidelines to ensure they do not harm their patients:
They rely on methods and medicinal substances that minimize the risk of harmful side effects, subjecting the patient to the least amount of force possible to diagnose and treat their condition;
They avoid, if at all possible, the harmful suppression of symptoms, which is often done in lieu of treating the underlying condition causing said symptoms; and
They acknowledge, respect, and attempt to harness individuals’ inherent self-healing process.
By following these three guidelines, naturopathic physicians seek to avoid harming patients before, during, and after a course of treatment.
Docere is another Latin phrase meaning “doctor as teacher.” Naturopathic physicians always seek to educate their patients on the importance of health and the specifics of their condition. This is done in an attempt to encourage self-responsibility for health because, at the end of the day, the only person who can truly keep a patient healthy is the patient themselves. Naturopathic physicians also recognize and rely on the therapeutic potential of a properly functioning, healthy doctor-patient relationship.
Treat the Whole Person
Naturopathic physicians seek to treat a patient in their entirety, not just an isolated slice of their symptoms. They do this by accounting for each individual’s physical, mental, and emotional health, as well as their genetic, environmental, and socioeconomic risk factors. Furthermore, because true total health includes spiritual health, naturopathic physicians openly encourage their patients to define and pursue their personal spiritual development.
As the old adage goes, an ounce of prevention beats a pound of cure. Naturopathic physicians, therefore, promote the prevention of disease in their patients by assessing each individual’s risk factors, heredity, and overall susceptibility to disease. Accounting for these factors and delivering the appropriate interventions in partnership with their patients helps a naturopathic physician empower their patients to prevent disease.