April 30, 2018

How do naturopathic doctors empower people to take charge of their health?

Empowering people to become more informed about their health options, more involved in decisions made about their health, and more capable of maintaining their own good health can lead to better health outcomes and lower costs.1

In addition to diagnosing and treating illness, licensed naturopathic doctors (NDs) are uniquely educated and trained to treat the whole person, to focus on prevention, and to empower patients to make lifestyle changes in order to achieve optimal health. This attention to patient-centered care is especially valuable when it comes to the prevention and treatment of chronic illnesses such as heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes.2

Among US adults, 90% of Type 2 diabetes, 80% of cardiovascular disease, 70% of stroke, 70% of colon cancer are potentially preventable by modifiable lifestyle changes. Research has shown that for many people, these conditions can be prevented or better managed through dietary and lifestyle changes—treatments that require patients to actively participate in their own care.

For example, a major study investigating the effects of lifestyle changes in patients with coronary atherosclerosis found that after only one year of following lifestyle recommendations, about 80% of participants were able bring about plaque regression and avoid surgery without the use of lipid lowering agents.3 In addition, studies have shown that proper testing, treatment, and lifestyle changes such as losing weight, adopting a healthy diet, and physical activity have beneficial effects on people with type-2 diabetes and are the cornerstones of diabetes prevention in at-risk individuals.4

With compelling evidence of the value of actively participating in our own health, why doesn’t everyone do it? There are many reasons, but one stands out: it’s human nature to want a quick fix, and taking charge of your own health takes time and work.

Naturopathic doctors work to identify underlying causes of illness, and develop personalized treatment plans to address them. They believe their patients know their body better than anyone else, and will ask detailed questions not only about their symptoms, but also about their environment, living situation, mental health and family history in order to understand what might be causing their patients’ symptoms.

Naturopathic doctors will use diagnostic tools such as detailed health, disease, and prescription drug histories, physical exams, and targeted laboratory testing and imaging when assessing their patients’ needs. Then, when a treatment plan is being considered, NDs will want to make sure their patients know their options and will collaborate with them on decisions regarding care.

An important underlying principle of naturopathic medicine is “doctor as teacher.” Naturopathic doctors will often spend 30-90 minutes with their patients and also want their patients to ask questions and interact with them to make sure they thoroughly understand their overall health, chronic issues, or diseases for which they might be at risk.

Equally important, naturopathic doctors will work closely with their patients over time to help ensure their success. For example, they might help shift their patients’ mindset to make and sustain lifestyle changes or modify their expectations about how quickly they will see improvement. Help to empower your patients by encouraging them to:

  • Get to know themselves and their body better so they can provide detailed information about symptoms and how they feel
  • Try to answer questions you may ask about all aspects of their life and lifestyle as honestly as they can
  • Ask questions, engage in a dialogue about their health, and participate in decision-making about treatment options.

Bottom line, what your patients choose to do can make as much or more of a difference to their health than any decisions even the most knowledgeable and skilled ND may make for them.

For more information on naturopathic medicine, see this blog post.

  1. Health Policy Brief: Patient engagement. Health Affairs. February 14, 2013. Accessed October 17, 2017 http://healthaffairs.org/healthpolicybriefs/brief_pdfs/healthpolicybrief_86.pdf
  2. Oberg EB, Bradley R, Hsu C, Sherman KJ, Catz S, Calabrese C, et al. (2012) Patient-reported experiences with first-time naturopathic care for type-2 diabetes. PLoS One 2012;7:11. Accessed October 17, 2017 https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0048549
  3. Ornish D, Brown SE, Scherwitz LW, et al. Can lifestyle changes reverse coronary heart disease? The Lifestyle Heart Trial. Lancet. 1990;336:129–133. Accessed October 17, 2017 http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PII0140-6736(90)91656-U/abstract
  4. Asif M. The prevention and control the type-2 diabetes by changing lifestyle and dietary pattern. J Educ Health Promot. 2014;3:1. Accessed October 17, 2017 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3977406/

This information has been provided by the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP) and the Institute for Natural Medicine (INM). The AANP and the INM would like to acknowledge Holly Lucille, ND, RN for her contributions to the content of this post.

About the INM

The INM is a national not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization that provides public education about naturopathic medicine and increases consumer access to naturopathic doctors. As a close partner to the AANP, the INM strives to increase consumer and physician choice in safe, effective healthcare that improves patient outcomes and lowers costs. For more information visit www.naturemed.org or call 855-799-4490.

About the AANP

The AANP is the professional association that represents licensed naturopathic physicians. The AANP strives to make naturopathic medicine available to every American, and to increase recognition of naturopathic physicians as the identified authorities on natural medicine. Learn more at www.naturopathic.org.

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