The Principles of Naturopathic Medicine
By Charley Cropley, N.D.
I saw five clients today each with a different medical diagnosis: Squamous cell carcinoma of the vocal cords, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), chronic fatigue syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis and ADHD. How can I best help them?
From the perspective of conventional medicine these are five different disorders, with completely different causes, and are to be treated with five completely different protocols: one with radiation, surgery and chemo, another with Ritalin and so on. The medicine prescribed for rheumatoid arthritis would be completely ineffective probably even harmful for ADHD or IBS and vice versa.
From a Naturopathic perspective each of these clients will also receive a different course of treatment. However their treatments will not be as radically different as in conventional medicine. Usually their therapies will have a lot in common especially in lifestyle improvements: nutrition, exercise, rest, stress reduction etc. In fact the bulk of their protocols will be identical.
“Treat the patient, not the disease.”
One example that illustrates how many seemingly different illnesses can be benefitted by the same or similar therapies was Dr. Max Gerson’s nutritional protocol for cancer. Dr. Gerson was a medical doctor who practiced according to Naturopathic principles in the 1940’s and 50’s. At the beginning of his book “A Cancer Cure: Results of 50 Cases” Dr. Gerson listed approximately 30 different diseases all of which he claimed were markedly benefited and often healed entirely by his intense nutritional regime. These included such seemingly diverse diseases as rheumatoid arthritis, MS, Lupus, Migraine headaches and ulcerative colitis. When asked by skeptics how it was possible that the same single therapy could benefit such an array of different illnesses Dr. Gerson explained it was because his therapy was not directed against any particular illness; in fact, it was not AGAINST anything. His focus was primarily on restoring each person’s entire metabolism rather than a single isolated metabolic process such as the immune system, digestion or hormonal balance. His protocol focused on the whole person and on what supports Healing rather than focusing on their so called “disease” and what destroys disease. His protocol nourished and purified the whole body and by so doing strengthened the body’s general, non-specific mechanisms for self-healing. A stronger, better nourished body could then heal whatever so called disease it had.
Whatever benefits a person will usually benefit, not necessarily cure, but benefit, whatever illness that person has. If the same patient had migraine headaches, asthma or arthritis my nutritional recommendations for each would have much in common: Remove injurious substances such as food additives, hydrogenated fats, aspartame etc., replenish trace mineral and vitamin insufficiencies, identify and remove allergenic foods and employ cleansing and purification regimens.
In conventional medicine five different patients all with rheumatoid arthritis would presumably receive essentially identical medications; five with ADHD would all get Rytalin or some variation. In contrast a Naturopathic approach to five different patients with rheumatoid arthritis could offer five unique, not entirely different, but definitely individualized programs. One person might be best benefited by nutritional therapies, another by therapeutic exercise and structural therapies and another by resolving the stress in their marriage or finances. Studying or “diagnosing” the patient not their “disease” is how you determine these individualizations.
While I will often recommend the same medicines as a conventional physician prescribes, my reasons are completely different. I value conventional medications as useful to control pain or symptoms; however I would never consider them a complete or successful treatment. To me they are only palliative. They are able to provide valuable relief while the patient engages in the lifestyle changes and natural, non harmful therapies which actually address the causes of their illness. My goal is to get the patient off these harmful medications as rapidly as possible whereas to a conventional physician they constitute their entire treatment.
“Vis Medicatrix Naturae”
The Healing Power of Nature
Naturopathic physicians hold as an ideal the restoration of their patients to living in greater harmony with Life. Meaning they would eat as nature designed them to eat, their movements would be relaxed, poised, balanced, coordinated, in harmony with gravity. Their thoughts and emotions would be appropriate to what Nature/Life is doing in the present moment etc.
This is a common ideal or prescription for every patient. It is like the Ten Commandments in that the prescribed solution to everybody’s problems with life is the same. However each person faces his own unique challenges to implementing these Universal prescriptions. This is where the role of teachers, priests and physicians comes in. (The word doctor comes from the Latin word “docere” which means teacher.) A physician’s essential work is to teach her clients to correct their errors of living and guide them to living in harmony with the laws of the universe i.e. with the way things work.
“Find The Cause.”
Whether a patient is implementing a program as rigorous as Dr. Gerson’s or simply trying to gain control of their sweet tooth, each person will face her own unique challenges in changing her deeply seated habits. On one level the cause of a disease such as diabetes or obesity may appear to be due to sugar and sweets. However simply informing a client of the ways sugar adversely effects them is rarely sufficient to enable them to stop eating excess sweets. The superior physician must help her patient discover the causes that impel her to compulsively eat sweets. Then the patient must be trained how to strengthen her power to govern her appetites wisely. Mastering ourselves is the most difficult and most rewarding of all work and is the foundation of all Healing.
Naturopathic philosophy teaches that in order for a patient to be able to follow the doctor’s instructions they must heal the three root causes of all sick behaviors. These are ignorance, indifference and lack of self-control. What heals ignorance is wisdom. What heals indifference is love. And the union of wisdom and love in action IS self-control.
“Physician, Heal Thyself.”
This principle instructs Naturopathic physicians that the greatest way to instruct their patients is by example. A physician has Healed her own body by healing her ways of eating, moving, thinking and relating. She has learned that the power to master her own actions comes from the cultivation of wisdom, love and self-control. To the degree she has done this she is then able to teach her patients these virtues.
In summary, conventional medicine has diminished its effectiveness and done great harm by believing that our Health problems and their “cures” both lay outside ourselves and are unrelated to the ways we live our lives.
In contrast the principles of Naturopathic Medicine guide doctors to primarily study not illnesses but to study themselves and the unique individual who is their patient. A doctor’s first power is her confidence that if she were in her patient’s condition that she would be able to heal herself. Her second power is her understanding of and love for her patient. The study and practice of these two principles produce a radically different doctor. Not one who “cures” supposed illnesses but rather one who teaches individuals. Teaching, not curing is the high art of healing and is reflected in a third principle of Naturopathic Medicine, “Docere” a Latin term meaning “teacher”. The ideal Naturopathic Physician is the “Physician-Teacher”; One skilled not only in the use of medicines but also capable of teaching a willing patient how to free herself from illness by freeing herself from her own ignorance, indifference and lack of self-control.