Addressing Pathology with Portland Natural Medicine
Will a naturopath treat the pathology behind my symptoms? Is there a treatment that will work with my individual needs? Is there more I could be doing to get better?
Disease often has many layers of causes. There’s the underlying imbalance in the body that allowed disease to arise. Behind that, there are often lifestyle factors contributing to the imbalance. Then there the pathological changes in the body that trigger our physical symptoms. All of these causes are interrelated, which means they all need to be addressed to achieve full health.
Pathology occurs when tissue changes in the body disrupt normal function. By the time these changes show up, the disease process has often been going on for some time. While naturopathic physicians prioritize finding and removing the underlying causes, we will also tend to the pathological imbalance.
High blood pressure, for example, is often a symptom of narrow, hardened arteries—the pathology. But what caused the arteries to harden? Usually the culprit is chronic inflammation, which stems from poor diet and the inability clear toxins effectively. Improving diet, exercise and stress levels will help bring the body back into balance, but undoing all that damage takes time. Meanwhile, the patient remains at high risk for stroke unless the pathology is also treated.
In this case, a naturopathic doctor would address the pathology with herbs or medications to lower blood pressure while also helping the patient make the necessary lifestyle changes to stop chronic inflammation from further damaging the arteries.
When visiting a natural health doctor, our Portland patients can expect to receive treatment aimed directly at the pathology of their disease, while also addressing its underlying causes. But what that looks like will vary from patient to patient.
How naturopaths treat pathology
People often mistakenly believe naturopaths don’t prescribe pharmaceutical medications. But we often treat pathology using the same standards of care as any medical doctor—even if it means using pharmaceuticals that directly treat the malfunctioning physiology.
That doesn’t mean we’re not different. If there’s an herb that works as well as a drug, we’ll use it. If lifestyle changes can alleviate the effects of disease quickly enough, we’ll focus on those. When standards of care that typically work for large portions of the population aren’t meeting a patient’s individual needs, we’ll find a better solution.
Although naturopathic medical students study pathology with the same intensity and depth as standard medical students, the naturopathic medical student learns to apply that information in a different context,” say naturopathic doctors Joseph Pizzorno and Michael Murray, authors of the Textbook of Natural Medicine.
The effects of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), for example, can often be quickly alleviated through dietary changes and herbal therapy to heal the esophagus. Since we can treat the pathology quickly through natural means, we don’t typically prescribe pharmaceuticals. The effects of asthma, on the other hand, often take a year or more to eliminate naturally, leaving the patient with life-threatening symptoms. In this case, a naturopath will usually prescribe medications according to the standard of care while also proceeding with natural treatments to eliminate the disease.
Our strength is that we see people as individuals and recognize that there’s no one-size-fits-all treatment plan. Each customized treatment plan needs to focus on the biological system that lies at the center of the case. In one patient, the focus might initially be on digestion and later shift to address chronic stress. A different person with the same complaints might need to focus on stress immediately. The physicians at our Portland naturopathic clinic are skilled at evaluating people’s individual needs and using a combination of science and intuition to design individualized treatment plans.
Pathology and the treatment pyramid
Treating pathology is only part of an effective strategy to restore the body to balance. While standards of care address some important issues, they often fall short when it comes to achieving full health.
For patients who seek natural medical care, Portland naturopaths provide treatment based on a pyramid system of modalities consisting of:
Diet and lifestyle. The things we do day in and day out form the base of the pyramid since they have the biggest impact on our long-term health. Diet supplies the building blocks our bodies use to regenerate, while movement, sleep, stress and relationships are woven into the fabric of our daily lives. High stress, for example, puts us at risk of a heart attack, while lack of exercise—especially for women—can increase our risk of dying from any cause. According a California State University study, a simple 10-minute walk can increase energy and mood for up to 2 hours. Since these are areas that must be addressed before healing can take place, naturopaths spend a lot of time helping patients optimize the lifestyle factors that form the basis of their health.
Homeopathy and physical medicine. The next layer of the pyramid consists of homeopathic treatments and other energetic medicines such as flower essences. These nudge the body toward a healthier, more balanced state. The third level includes hydrotherapy and physical medicine to promote proper functioning on a structural level and improve the two-way communication between brain and body. Naturopaths can also help patients integrate difficult emotions or thought processes through different types of bodywork or massage, such as:
- Shiatsu massage
- Abdominal Massage
- Holistic Pelvic Care
- Craniosacral therapy
- Emotional Freedom Technique
- Naturopathic manipulation
- And more….
Herbs and supplements. Moving up the pyramid, the naturopath begins zeroing in on specific pathologies or organ systems with botanical medicines, vitamins and other natural substances. The beauty of these natural medicines is that an individual herb or vitamin can often help support multiple systems at once. Chamomile, for example, calms the nervous system while also helping to improve digestion. Some can even be administered intravenously in higher doses to achieve a more potent therapeutic effect.
Drugs and surgery. At the top of the pyramid we find more aggressive therapies such as pharmaceutical drugs and minor surgery. A naturopath may use them if the pathology or disease is severe, but never in isolation without some foundational support from modalities lower on the pyramid.
As we work with patients through the layers of causative factors that comprise disease, Portland natural medicine practitioners use the same tools and standards for treating pathology as medical doctors—plus an additional array of herbal and physical therapies that help support the healing process.
Are you tired of taking daily medications but not taking any further steps toward health?
Do you want to restore your body to health and reduce your long-term dependency on pharmaceuticals? A naturopathic consultation can help you determine your next steps toward freedom and full health.