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Naturopathic medicine is a distinct system of primary health care - an art, science and practice of preventing, diagnosing and treating conditions of the human mind and body. The foundations of naturopathic medicine were laid on a foundation of the knowledge, techniques, and traditions of the nature doctors, eclectics, homeopaths, hygienists, and vitalists.

The emergence of naturopathic medicine occurred in the late 1800’s, during a ripe time in history for newer medical models. Our familiar allopathic medicine was established in the mid 1800’s alongside homeopathic medicine, then chiropractic and osteopathic models of care emerged at the beginning of the 20th century. A revived interest in naturopathic medicine occurred in the 1950’s, and was slowly resuscitated over the years.

Recently the interest in naturopathic medicine has been growing rapidly. Modern naturopathic doctors use these older forms of medicine blended with evidence based medicine and cutting edge science.

Naturopathic medicine is organized philosophically by these principles:

Primum no nocere. First Do No Harm.

This tenet is shared with medical doctors, yet naturopathic doctors generally have a slightly different interpretation of harm. We strive to use the least amount of force necessary to promote healing. And whenever possible avoid suppression of symptoms, which can occasionally lead to harm further down the road.

Tolle causam. Treat the Cause.

Discovering the underlying cause of symptoms is what sets naturopathic doctors apart from many other medical professions. We use state of the art lab testing, patient interviews, intuition, and our training in diagnosis to uncover the cause of disease. Rather than suppress or eliminate the symptoms, we search to work with the cause of the symptoms to find a state of health.

Tolle totum. Treat the Whole Person.

When a patient presents to a naturopathic doctor, the many facets of that person are taken into account. Physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, environmental, societal, and genetic health are all considered. Naturopathic doctors have training in counseling, and many have personal spiritual practices. We are also up to date on the latest genetic testing to tailor treatments to each person.

Vis medicatrix naturae. The Healing Power of Nature.

The life force, however one may interpret it: Brahma, prana, God, creative intelligence. A body given the proper circumstances will endeavor to heal itself. The classic example of this is the healing of a cut. The body innately “knows” how to do this work, and it is done without our conscious attention to it. Naturopathic doctors look to find where someone’s life force may be weakened, and identify where it is strong. We have many tools to use to encourage and enable each patient’s vis to do its job.

Docere. Doctor as Teacher.

As a onetime teacher, I appreciate this tenet. Naturopathic doctors will often spend an hour in a visit passing on information to the patient so that they feel empowered with the knowledge of how to gain more control over their health. “The successful doctor of the future will have to…do more teaching than prescribing.” Lindlahr, 2013.

Preventare. Prevention.

Isn’t there a saying that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure? Using risk factors, and the genome, naturopathic doctors focus on preventing disease so that their patients and their communities may thrive. “People are beginning to realize that it is cheaper and more advantageous to prevent disease than to cure it. To create and maintain continuous, buoyant good health means greater efficiency for mental and physical work; greater capacity for the true enjoyment of life…” Henry Lindlahr, 1913.

The Therapautic Order

Putting these principles into practice, naturopathic doctors will often use the Therapeutic Order as their guide when co-creating health with a patient. The Therapeutic Order consists of seven levels of intervention, from least to greatest.

Remove Obstacles to Health

Obstacles can present in many ways, is it an unhealthy work environment? A 6 cup a day coffee habit? Moldy living conditions? Finding out what obstacles exist for a patient can help to make treatment plans feasible and attainable for patients.

Stimulate the Healing Power of Nature

Gentle therapies that often include popularized “self-care” routines, exercise, meditation, homeopathy are employed to fan that spark of vital force in each patient.

Strengthen Weakened Systems

This often includes taking a deeper look at healthy sleep patterns, optimal nutrition, and may include some supportive intervention such as nutritional supplements or changes in diet.

Correct Structural Integrity

Naturopathic training includes physical therapies such as naturopathic manipulation. It could also include naturopathic physical medicine interventions like hot and cold water therapies.

Use Natural Substances to Control Symptoms

This step is usually what people expect when they visit a naturopathic doctor. This includes introducing herbs to control hay fever symptoms, for example.

Use Pharmaceutical Substances to Control Symptoms

In Maine, naturopathic doctors have a limited prescription formulary, and can prescribe for most primary-care related concerns. If what you need is outside of the formulary, we maintain wonderful relationships with other practitioners and will work with a patient’s prescribing doctor to get the proper medication.

Use Surgery, Radiation, Chemotherapy

Other than minor surgery, naturopathic doctors in Maine cannot prescribe or administer at this level of intervention. At this point, we often will refer a patient on to a trusted medical doctor colleague, and can continue to support the patient while they undergo more invasive treatments.


The therapeutic order is a touchstone for doctors as they devise treatment plans for each patient. A doctor may find it necessary to jump in at the fourth level, using natural substances, as a first step in someone’s treatment. Alternatively they may believe that there are too many obstacles to health (think: cigarette smoking, living with moldy carpets, etc.) that need to change before any other intervention can be applied successfully.

© Sarah Buck 2018
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