Naturopathic Medicine: How Prescriptions Fit In

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Do Prescription Drugs Have a Place in Naturopathic Medicine?

plate of pills with chamomile flowers

The word “prescriptions” is not a term you’d expect to hear in naturopathic medicine. Naturopathic doctors (NDs) are known for tailoring their treatments toward a more natural approach when it comes to their patients. Every person is different, which is why we want to treat the person, not just the disease.

Once you’ve seen the innate healing abilities of the human body, it becomes easier to rely on natural methods. But that doesn’t mean conventional medicine and natural medicine are mutually exclusive.

So do prescriptions have a place in Naturopathic Medicine? Here’s the answer.

What Do We Know About Prescription Medicine?

Licensed NDs are, simply put, primary care providers. We go through extensive training so that we’re prepared and qualified to diagnose, prevent, and treat acute and chronic illnesses.

A common misconception is that NDs aren’t trained in conventional medicine, but that’s not true. Naturopathic education just goes beyond conventional methods.

We’re required to learn about pharmaceutical drugs during our four-year medical education. And, depending on state regulations, we can also prescribe medication.

Naturopathic Medicine: How Prescriptions Fit In | Naturopathic Dr

Our training is reinforced through a minimum of 1,200 hours of hands-on, clinical practice.

Naturopathic medical programs are licensed, recognized, and accredited by the United States Department of Education.

We have to be well-versed in Pharmacology because it’s a part of the Naturopathic Physicians Licensing Examination (NPLEX). You cannot become a licensed ND without passing this exam.

When we study pharmacology, we educate ourselves on the primary therapeutic uses, mechanisms of action, potential adverse side effects, and drug interactions of common medicines, including prescription drugs, controlled substances, and over the counter medication.

We’re also trained in prescribing and managing pharmaceuticals for some of the most common concerns in the primary care practice.

So we know a lot about it. But do we use it?

Going Beyond the Conventional

While we receive extensive education in pharmacology, comparable to the education received in conventional medicine, Naturopathic medical training goes a step further.

We also receive training in botanical herb/drug and supplement/drug interactions and in identifying nutrient deficiencies as a result of long-term drug use.

Botanical Herb/Drug and Supplement/Drug Interactions

Naturopathic Medicine: How Prescriptions Fit In | Naturopathic Dr

According to a study commissioned by the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), 75% of Americans take dietary supplements.

Yet, many of these people don’t disclose this information to their doctors, perhaps because they don’t consider it a risk factor when combined with other prescription drugs. However, this is vital information for a doctor to know.

NDs take about 130 classroom hours of botanical medicine education so that we can identify and treat these interactions.

Our botanical medicine training includes the science and practice of utilizing medicinal plants and extracts to improve health and wellness, or to treat acute and chronic disease.

With this training, we’re better equipped to serve our patients and protect them from harmful interactions.

Identifying Nutritional Deficiencies as a Result of Long-Term Drug Use

While prescription drugs are useful for treating many illnesses, some of the most commonly prescribed and recommended drugs can interfere with our production and use of necessary nutrients.

Naturopathic Medicine: How Prescriptions Fit In | Naturopathic Dr

These nutrient deficiencies can present themselves in different ways, including anemia, fatigue, weakness, and weight loss, among other things.

Commonly prescribed medicines for acid reflux, heartburn, cholesterol, and more can contribute to these deficiencies.

Because we’re so informed about nutrient deficiencies, we’re able to identify the signs and recommend nutritional and botanical methods to deal with the harmful side effects of these medicines.

We can also help our patients transition to more natural methods when they’re being overmedicated or when they’re ready to come off of prescription medicines and supplements. Even for common medicines used for headaches or migraines can be addressed from the root causes.

Do We Use It?

Like conventional doctors, we can and do use prescription medicine to treat our patients.

Where we differ from conventional doctors is that we try not to prescribe medicine at the first sign of trouble. Instead, we want to get to the root of what’s causing the problem so that we can try to use natural methods to treat or eradicate it.

There are scenarios where we will prescribe medicine.

Naturopathic Medicine: How Prescriptions Fit In | Naturopathic Dr

For example, if a patient has lost or forgotten their inhaler during a trip and needs a prescription, we will place one for them. When they returned, we would meet with them to reevaluate their needs.

We also collaborate with conventional doctors for many of our patients, especially in cases of chronic pain. After all, we both want what’s best for you, and we both want to find a way to alleviate your pain.

We recognize that there are many scenarios in which prescription drugs are useful and necessary to treat an illness. In these cases, we often integrate these medications into our treatment plan, instead of merely relying on them.

For example, when it’s necessary to supply antibiotics to our patients, we take care also to provide probiotic food recommendations or supplements.

We do this because antibiotics tend to wipe out the necessary and good bacteria in our bodies in its quest to get rid of the harmful bacteria.

By prescribing probiotics, we keep your body in balance while we fight the cause of the issue.

You should never have to sacrifice any part of your health to get better, which is why we combine prescription medicine with natural treatments.

The Body’s Inherent Ability to Heal Itself

Naturopathic doctors focus on the healing properties of the body because we’ve seen the ways in which it works to regulate itself.

Naturopathic Medicine: How Prescriptions Fit In | Naturopathic Dr

Once you understand what the body needs to heal, you can tailor your treatments toward this natural process without the intervention of prescription drugs. And that’s what we do.

In 2017, more than a million people in the US misused prescription stimulants, 1.5 million misused tranquilizers, and 271,000 misused sedatives.

In an age where prescription drug misuse is more and more common, we focus on how you can use nutrition, supplements, and other natural methods to boost your body’s innate healing abilities.

So do prescription drugs have a place in naturopathic medicine?

They do, but in moderation.

Conventional medicine and naturopathic medicine don’t have to be mutually exclusive. And in most cases, they aren’t.

If you have questions about the body’s inherent ability to heal itself, or about the role of prescription drugs in naturopathic medicine, come into my office today, and we’ll start you on the road to more natural healing.

About The Author:

Picture of Dr. Karen Threlkel, Naturopathic Physician, Washington DC

Dr. Karen Threlkel, Naturopathic Physician, Washington DC

Dr. Threlkel received her degree of Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine from The National College for Naturopathic Medicine (now called The National University of Natural Medicine) in Portland, Oregon. She also holds a Bachelor Degree in Kinesiology from The University of Maryland. She is licensed in Naturopathic Medicine by the Government of the District of Columbia Department of Health. Dr. Threlkel is a member of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians, past president & current member of the Washington DC Association of Naturopathic Physicians.

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