From shopping organic to examining the ingredients listed on the label, there are many ways you can start living a more natural lifestyle in 2020. But when it comes to seeking a more natural approach to health care, it can be hard to know where to start. What does the term “natural medicine” even mean? Are there different types of doctors who specialize in a natural approach? How do you find the right provider for your health needs and goals?
For more information around this topic, we spoke to Dr. Corina Dunlap — a board certified naturopathic doctor who specializes in women’s health. Here, she answers some of the questions our community has about taking a natural approach to health care.
LOLA: What does it mean to take a more natural approach to your general and reproductive health?
DR. DUNLAP: It’s about not jumping to the most medicalized solution first, but about elevating the innate ability of the body, treating the root cause and minimizing risk. The core of a natural medicine approach is about finding the least invasive and most effective solutions first.
LOLA: When should I explore a natural approach to my health?
DR. DUNLAP: When you start to feel dissatisfied with a conventional approach — perhaps you are sick of experiencing the compounded side effects of medication on top of the existing symptoms you are treating with that medication — it could signal readiness for a natural health pivot, or lifestyle and nutritional changes.
LOLA: Which type of natural medicine provider is right for me?
DR. DUNLAP: Start your research by talking to people you trust, or other specialists in the field. Reviews can also be a great resource.
Here are the different categories of providers you could explore:
· Naturopathic Medicine Doctor (ND or NMD): Naturopathic medicine is a distinct primary health care profession. It emphasizes prevention, treatment and optimal health through the use of therapeutic methods and substances that encourage self-healing and a root cause approach. A personalized treatment plan could involve elements like hydrotherapy, homeopathy or Holistic Pelvic Care. Naturopathic doctors tend to view the body, mind and spirit as interconnected pieces.
· Integrative Medicine: Integrative medicine is a form of medical therapy that combines practices from alternative medicine with conventional medicine. This may look like using natural therapies (botanicals, vitamins and nutrition) combined with conventional therapies (like pharmaceuticals). It also includes different diagnostic methods from various medical models, such as combining Ayurvedic medicine with Western medicine.
· Medical Doctor (MD): An MD is the doctor we commonly think of in the United States: a practitioner who follows a biomedical model when diagnosing and treating patients.
· Doctor of Osteopathy (DO): A DO is very similar to an MD in terms of required medical training, but with a bigger emphasis on a holistic approach. The biggest difference between DOs and MDs is that they receive additional training on the musculoskeletal system, meaning they can do osteopathic manipulative treatment. This is helpful for individuals with muscle pain, migraines or carpal tunnel, and means the doctor can use touch to diagnose and treat some disorders.
· Functional Medicine: Functional medicine has a similar philosophy to integrative medicine, but uses a systems-oriented approach to identify the underlying causes of disease. Most practitioners view each patient as an individual with their own unique root causes for their symptoms.
· Homeopathic Doctor: Homeopathic doctors believe that treatment should be individualized to each patient, and remedies are often derived from plants and minerals. The same disease in different patients could have different treatments based on characteristics such as the temperament and physical build of the patient.
LOLA: What advice do you have for someone who feels overwhelmed switching to a more natural approach to health care?
DR. DUNLAP: Trust in your body to heal. Our bodies are more powerful than we’ve been led to believe. Don’t expect a quick fix. Be ready to do the work. It’s likely going to be a transition, and not a linear journey, but many find deep satisfaction as they experience the changes. It also doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing approach. Using natural medicine or pursuing a “natural lifestyle” doesn’t mean that you disregard other types of medicine or experiences. Many approaches can work in tandem.