We all want to make the best use of our healthcare dollars, but choosing a doctor can be a very stressful experience. Do you go to a medical doctor, an acupuncturist, a chiropractor, or a naturopath? We have many choices in the US, allowing us to choose the right doctor for the right condition.
But how do we navigate these choices?
Before we can choose a doctor, we must first choose the correct system of medicine for our needs.
There are three major healthcare delivery systems to choose from: Allopathic or Western medicine, Naturopathic medicine, and Traditional or Indigenous systems of medicine.
In fact, each of these systems of medicine plays a fundamental role in what I might call, a balanced approach to health care. Knowing which to choose, and when, will help you create the healthcare dream team you deserve.
Join me as I explore and evaluate each of these health care systems, and build your team now, before you have an issue or illness.
Allopathic (Western) Medicine
Allopathic, or western, medicine is practiced by medical doctors (MDs) and is designed to save lives and eradicate the symptoms of disease. It focuses on the treatment of disease and uses pharmaceutical drugs to suppress the expression of that disease.
In general, western drugs are designed to do the job for the body. For example, if you have high blood pressure, a medicine to lower the pressure might be prescribed, with the knowledge that this drug will never treat the cause of the hypertension.
At the same time, high blood pressure for any length of time will significantly increase the risk of a heart attack or stroke. So, while the medicine will not cure the blood pressure, it may extend a life by preventing a cardiovascular event. Without this kind of intervention, many people would die unnecessarily.
The downside to western medicine is that pharmaceutical drugs often have side effects, or they stop working because the body builds a tolerance to that drug.
In the best case scenario, the drug masks pain, saves or prolongs a life. In the worst case scenario, the medications cause side effects that require more medications with more side effects. All too often, this results in a situation where medical doctors keep adding medications to address the side effects, instead of replacing the ones that are not working.
Seniors can end up stacking or combining ten or more meds, and even the best biochemist would be challenged to predict the interactions and potential side effects.
This scenario has given western medicine a bad reputation in some circles, with segments of the population totally against any sort of western medical intervention.
Personally, I feel this is a dangerous attitude.
I have seen in my practice on numerous occasions, parents reluctant to take their children to a medical doctor for a cold because of fear they would just prescribe antibiotics.
Make no mistake about it, antibiotics save lives. I have seen children die because parents waited too long to have their child seen by a doctor out of a reluctance to give antibiotics.
Are there safe and effective strategies to avoid needing antibiotics? Yes! I wrote my book, Perfect Health For Kids, to help educate parents in preventative strategies so that children’s colds last just two days, rather than two weeks, while encouraging parents to use western medicine when needed.
Though, while raising our six children we have only needed antibiotics a couple of times, I would shudder to think of having to raise children without access to them or western medicine in general.
When to See Your MD:
I always tell my patients that if you are debating whether or not to go see your MD about a certain condition or symptom, you should definitely go. If you are concerned that they will only prescribe antibiotics and you want a more cause-directed approach, be careful. Do not overlook a potentially serious infection that needs urgent antibiotic treatment.
Remember, at the same time you can also consult with your traditional or naturopathic doctor about cause-based strategies, how to mitigate the side-effects of medication, and support the immune system during a course of treatment.
Western medicine is often referred to as “traditional medicine,” but there is really nothing traditional about it! Truly traditional systems, like Ayurveda and Chinese medicine, have been time-tested and practiced traditionally for thousands of years.
I also include Chiropractic medicine in this category because similar practices existed in many indigenous cultures. In fact, a big part of why I was accepted by my Ayurvedic teachers as a student in India was because I was a “natural chiropractic doctor,” rather than a medical doctor. Interestingly, during my training in India, I spent time with traditional “bone setters,” who did adjustments akin to chiropractic adjustments.
Also in this category are the traditional medicines of all indigenous tribes and cultures, many of which have not been introduced to the Western milieu as of yet, and all of which offer their own unique wisdom.
The premise of traditional medicines is quite the opposite of western medicine. While western medicine is about doing the job for the body, traditional systems are about bringing the body back into balance so that the body can heal itself.
Rather than suppressing the signs and symptoms, traditional practitioners were taught to listen carefully and understand the individual who had those symptoms. It was understood that the human body was designed to heal itself and healthcare systems like Ayurveda, Chinese medicine, and Chiropractic, were founded on this principle. Other systems that share this fundamental approach include homeopathy, modern herbalism, and cranial sacral therapy, along with many others.
Traditional systems of medicine consider diet, lifestyle, exercise, nutritional support, detoxification, massage, yoga, breathing, meditation and psychology as part of an integrated preventative and/or healing plan.
With a thorough evaluation of an individual’s nature, state of balance and imbalance, along with a detailed health history, these practices were employed as a comprehensive approach to helping the body heal itself.
I firmly believe that traditional medicinal systems are the first line of defense against illness and disease, as they are premised on the concepts of prevention. If the body cannot restore balance, then western medicine is an available alternative.
When to See a Traditional Practitioner or Consultant:
The key word for the role of traditional medicine is Prevention. In ancient times, Ayurvedic and Chinese medical doctors were paid only when folks stayed healthy. If someone got sick, they were not paid – thus motivating the doctors to keep everyone healthy.
As long as there is no life-threatening condition, I would suggest this be the entry point into health care, as traditional medicines attempt to restore balance and thus promote a natural healing response without dependencies.
Naturopathic Medicine – The Middle Path
Naturopathic medicine attempts to take the best of traditional medicine and the best of western medicine and combine them into a new, more natural yet modern approach.
At its core, the emphasis of naturopathy is lifestyle, diet, nutrition, and exercise, but the practice also relies heavily on dietary supplements. Some of the more potent supplements, like amino acids and herbal extracts, act more as natural medicines than tools to boost self healing.
The diagnostic process is much like that of western medicine, and the supplements are often aimed at the symptoms of disease rather then the treatment of the cause or the individual who has the disease. More and more naturopaths, or NDs, are starting to include traditional medicines in their practice to broaden their scope. As such, naturopaths can offer a variety of services and one should shop around to help choose the one that is aligned with your beliefs.
Bio-identical hormones, digestive enzymes, and natural laxatives are some good examples of naturopathic medicines. Like pharmaceutical drugs, each of these help do the job for the body, but in a more natural way than a western medication.
By contrast, a traditional system like Ayurveda would only use such therapies once all attempts to help the body restore its own balance have failed.
Generally, most naturopathic medicines are side effect free and, because they are gentler than pharmaceutical drugs, there is less risk of the body building a tolerance. If the naturopathic support was not strong enough, western medicine would however be the next logical choice. Remember, western medicine saves lives!
When to See Your ND:
In some states, naturopathic medicine is licensed and even covered by some insurance carriers. For milder cases, NDs may replace an MD for those who are looking for a more natural approach. Many NDs also employ traditional medicine techniques, offering preventative support as well.
The majority of NDs fit the needs of clients who have a medical diagnosis that is not life-threatening but may require medication. Naturopathy can provide alternatives to certain medications while helping to address the cause of the condition.
Ancient Wisdom in Modern Times
One of the biggest healthcare issues in the west today, and the one that is bankrupting our health care system, is chronic disease.
A wise approach to chronic disease requires stress management, lifestyle counseling, diet, nutrition and exercise – all the tools of traditional medicine. And while many ancient practices are outdated, many of these time-tested therapies have been well studied and are showing up in western wellness centers today.
Personally, I believe we can learn much from practices that have lasted for thousands of years. Antibiotics, by contrast, are not yet one hundred years old. With antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria rampant, I highly doubt antibiotic therapy as we know it today will exist much past its 100 year birthday, and we may have to employ more and more traditional strategies of prevention and holistic healing.
The Best of Three Worlds
Today, we are seeing the early stages of a real integrated medicine system. Hospitals are opening prevention centers and employing alternative therapies. Cancer clinics are using acupuncture to support their patients, and some chiropractors are doing manipulations in hospital settings.
Even in a fully integrated system of health care, we as the consumers must find our way to the right practitioner for the right condition.
In general, it could be said that naturopathic medicine uses natural therapies to do the job for the body, as compared to western medicine, which uses drugs to do the job for the body at any cost, while traditional medicinal systems help the body to do it for itself naturally.
All three have their place, and every family would benefit from having access to a skilled practitioner in each of these systems.