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Naturopathic Medicine Roots

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A sure sign of summer for me is a long rollerblade on the bike path near my home. From lengths of this bike path I have witnessed a pileated woodpecker nesting, great blue herons gliding over still water, piles of water snakes breeding and curious young beavers exploring pond-side thickets. I have also seen families out for an adventure, riding bikes or running or walking a dog. I love this path and on it I have burned off a lot of steam while doing some of my best thinking and reflecting.

Recently, I was taken aback by the great oak tree I have admired since my own college-aged children were small, laying down across the path, its massive root system exposed for all to admire. Standing perhaps 20 feet in the air, the root circumference was a testament to the hard work that tree had done over the course of its life. We had a freak storm this past autumn, many trees were in full leafed-out form when a foot or so of wet snow fell on Halloween day; an enormous number of otherwise healthy limbs -- and in cases like this, whole trees -- were forced to surrender. This particular specimen, with its generous canopy and seemingly perfectly placed branches, had been a particular favorite of mine. The root ball was intricate, delicate and broad, essential to the many years of life this tree had.

My own roots in natural medicine may not go back as far, but they do go wide and deep and do inform all that I do in work with patients, and my writing and teaching. Briefly, here's what naturopathic doctors believe:

  1. We should support the healing power of nature -- that the body's innate ability to heal is strong and that we can also capitalize on the healing energy of foods, plants, light, and other natural substances.
  2. We best identify and treat the root cause of illness whenever possible.
  3. We ought to aim, like all physicians, to uphold the classic tenet: First, do no harm. We look for low risk methods that have few to no side effects.
  4. We'd better educate patients. Knowledge is power, so we work to educate patients about healthy eating habits and other healthy lifestyle changes, as well as on how to decrease and manage stress. We give good explanations as to why and how things work both with the body and with our approaches. We welcome questions from our patients. During this information age, we are often partners with patients who may come in quite well-informed.
  5. We love to use preventive measures whenever possible. We strongly believe in the axiom, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."
  6. We believe that our health is determined by physical, mental, emotional, genetic, environmental, social and spiritual factors, so we strive to treat the whole person.
  7. We embrace advances in medicine, both diagnostic and treatment, and commit to staying informed so we can make the best possible referrals for our patients as needs arise.
  8. We want to work with patients to create specific healthy lifestyle and natural medicine plans that take into account personal risk factors, heredity and particular vulnerabilities to future illness.

Keeping true to my roots allows me to stay focused in my continuing education efforts, and guides my hand when creating a plan for a patient, whether treating for an acute condition or for more challenging chronic diseases and overlapping diagnoses. I love having a medical philosophy that is clear and consistent and that does not shift. I love being able to look at new approaches that may come along and to ask myself, "Is this within the bounds of the philosophy I so embrace?" And if not, to let it go. It is easy to be loyal and dedicated to an elegant philosophy, especially one that leads to effective treatment patients with so many kinds of complaints.

I continue to rollerblade past where that tree used to stand. It's been moved off the path now, but I use the memory of that image to remind me to go deeper and stay true to my naturopathic medicine roots.

For more by Amy Rothenberg, ND, click here.

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