Natural Medicine and Functional Medicine

This is a guest blog post by Gi Ming “Lili” Chan, Naturopathic Doctor. Dr. Chan is co-owner, with her husband Dr. Travis Horne (Doctor of Chiropractic), of Appalachia Chiropractic and Wellness, 20120 Route 19 Suite 202, Cranberry Township, Butler County, Pennsylvania 16066. Dr. Horne also has an office in Johnstown, PA. I greatly appreciate the care that both Dr. Chan and Dr. Horne give to their patients and am delighted to have this introduction to the type of wellness care that Dr. Chan offers.

Naturopathic medicine is a healthcare system that uses natural therapies to support the body based on the belief that the body has an inherent ability to heal itself. Naturopathy takes the holistic approach that each human being is a dynamic creation of body, mind and spirit – more than the sum of the parts. The human body is complex and intelligent, and capable of adapting and responding to the challenges of life. The role of the physician is to support the self-healing ability of the whole being.

Therapies used by naturopathic doctors include clinical nutrition, botanical medicine, homeopathy, hydrotherapy and lifestyle counseling. Natural therapies are used because they tend to have fewer side effects and because they work with the body’s natural processes. Naturopathy is often considered the medicine of long-term good health.

The principles of Naturopathic Medicine are:

Primum Non Nocere (First, do no harm)  – In conventional medicine, any harm inflicted on the patient is often seen as a necessity with unavoidable side effects. One of the most basic beliefs of naturopathic medicine is the primacy of doing no harm, which means the naturopathic physician will seek to employ the most gentle and least invasive therapies practicable. This principle reminds NDs that the benefit of any therapy to the patient includes its safety and gentleness. The risk versus benefit of any procedure is taken into consideration. A physician’s obligation is to act in the best interest of the patient.

Vis Medicatrix Naturae (Cooperate with the healing power of nature) is the core focus of naturopathic medicine. It follows the idea that each person has an incredible, inherent healing power. The Vis is the inborn power of the individual to adapt and to heal. The physician guides and supports the patient to create the conditions for optimal health and removes obstacles in order to set the stage for healing. The power of the vis may diminish with age, but it never disappears completely.

Tolle Causem (Address the fundamental causes of disease) is the principle that lead doctors to investigate the true cause of the disease. For example, recurrent migraines may be caused by an underlying food allergy or other adverse reactions to food.

Tolle Totum (Heal the whole person through individualized treatment) encourages naturopathic doctors to look at the whole person as a physical, emotional and spiritual being instead of just one set of symptoms, or one causative factor.

 Docere (Teach the principles of healthy living and preventive medicine) is an important principle of naturopathic medicine. The doctor educates patients in self-care including lifestyle modifications. When patients are educated, they may change their attitude towards health, and they often start taking charge of their own health. Patients begin to realize that health and disease are the consequences of many events over time. Providing education in the principles does not mean that the doctor forces values and beliefs onto the patient. It simply means that the doctor is ethically bound to ensure that the patient understands that there are fundamental laws of nature that, if violated, may result in disease and to provide guidance for following the principles in daily life.

Previnare (Practice preventive medicine) is the principle that involves teaching lifestyle to healthy living to avoid the need for future invasive treatments and to support the healing power of nature. Prevention can also include routine monitoring and screening for signs of disease. In addition, some powerful preventive medicine includes establishing healthy body systems, positive thoughts, nourishing relationships, a sense of purpose in life, and a personally meaningful spiritual practice that can lead us to state where we are become more resilient and less likely to develop illness.

What to expect on the first appointment:

Before the first appointment, the patient is generally asked to fill out an intake form and to submit it 2-3 days prior to the first appointment. The first naturopathic appointment takes about 90 – 120 minutes. The first interview is very important, as it is an opportunity for obtaining additional information, getting to know the patient, and establishing a trusting relationship between doctor and patient. The interview includes an assessment that addresses the whole being and recognizes the individuality of each patient. It also helps the doctor to understand the patient and his/her lifestyle in a dynamic way.

When establishing a treatment protocol, naturopathic doctors follow a specific therapeutic order:

Establish the conditions for health – As naturopathic doctors, we must first understand what is disturbing the natural state of health. We can then identify and remove disturbing factors and institute a more healthful regimen. The foundation of every naturopathic treatment is addressing the determinants of health. Without correcting the imbalances
in the determinants, there will not be a cure.
The determinants of health include:

      • Inborn: genetic makeup, congenital, maternal exposures such as toxins, drugs, viruses and psychoemotional, maternal nutrition, maternal lifestyle and maternal constitution.
      • Hygienic/lifestyle factors: Essentials: breath, water and hydration, sleep, nutrition and digestion, restoration ‘‘ Vitamin R’’ – rest, rejuvenation, reflection, replenishment, microbiome. Mental/emotional/spiritual: Consciousness: mental function and capacity, emotional states, intention, receptivity/sensitivity, compassion, nurturing relationships, sense of purpose and meaning.
      • Movement – Circulation: structural integrity, exercise and energy/qi flows.
      • Earth determinants: elements, light, cycles (such as lunar, circadian, annual), environment, geography (place), and ecology.
      • Social determinants: education, cultural, economics, governmental and healthcare.

Stimulate the Vis Medicatrix Naturae, The Healing Power of Nature – The inherent force that moves us towards health. Hydrotherapy and energy medicines such as acupuncture, homeopathy, tai chi, meditation and others are often the focus of this level.

Address weakened or damaged systems or organs – Support appropriately engaged organs and systems such as supporting the immune system when someone has an infection, tonify or sedate compromised organs and systems.

Correct structural integrity – Affects all organs via the nervous system and circulation. Such therapies include manipulation, exercise, acupuncture, yoga, stretching, physical therapy and more.

Address pathology: Prescribe specific natural substances, modalities or interventions – Prescribing natural substances for specific pathology. It is useful in advanced pathology while addressing underlying imbalances. Such therapy is useful when immediate relief of symptoms is required. Some of the therapies include nutritional supplements, botanicals, and homeopathy.

Address pathology: Prescribe specific pharmacologic or synthetic substances – It involves the use of conventional treatments and interventions such as antibiotics, antidepressants, pain killers, and more. In some states across the United States, naturopathic doctors are allowed to prescribe these medications. Pennsylvania currently does not allow it. When needed, patients are referred to medical doctors.

Use Higher Force Interventions:  Suppress or surgically remove pathology  – Often saved for last resort or primary acute intervention as in cases of trauma. In some situations, it is the preferred method. Naturopathic Medicine can support for side effects and restoration of health during and afterwards. Therapies include surgery, suppressive drugs, radiation and chemotherapy.

Naturopathic Medicine is not the same a Functional Medicine. The principles of Functional Medicine are:

Biochemical individuality – describes the importance of individual variations in metabolic function that derive from genetic and environmental differences among individuals.

Patient-centered medicine emphasizes “patient care” rather than “disease care,” following Sir William Osler’s admonition that “It is more important to know what patient has the disease than to know what disease the patient has.”

Dynamic balance of internal and external factors.

Web-like interconnections of physiological factors – the human body functions as an orchestrated network of interconnected systems, rather than individual systems functioning autonomously and without effect on each other.

Health as a positive vitality – not merely the absence of disease.

Promotion of organ reserve (the ability of the organ to recover to the original state of activity after stress) as the means to enhance health span.

How does Naturopathic Medicine differ from Functional Medicine?

Both functional medicine and naturopathic medicine are science-based. Both involve personalized medicine and use prevention and treatment of the underlying causes instead of symptoms to address serious chronic disease. However, naturopathic medicine also blends with ancient healing traditions.

Although both forms of healthcare follow the whole-person perspective, patient-centered nutrition and genetic variability, functional medicine omits the power of the Vis, the inherent vitality. One of the biggest differences between naturopathy and functional medicine is the core belief of naturopathic medicine that – if left alone – the body will heal itself. Naturopathic healing is based on the belief that even the most intense and powerful healing modalities simply stimulate the body to do the healing on its own. With such a belief in mind, only the minimal amount of intervention will be used. In functional medicine, it is often believed that a smaller piece of the puzzle is not working and needs specific external intervention (i.e., something is missing). This often leads to extensive nutritional supplementation and labwork.


Would you like to know more about how natural medicine can serve you? Wellness Made Simple and our partner professionals are happy to offer both resources and solutions.

Wellness Made Simple helps you to simplify the way YOU do well…for life!

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