Continuing the last blog post discussion of What Is Naturopathic Medicine, this post will discuss the therapeutic modalities or forms of treatment approach, on which Naturopathic Medicine relies.

Before we get in to each modality, it should be said that, just as each person is unique in how they develop illness, respond to stressors and respond to treatments in their own individual way, so too, each Naturopathic Doctor is individualized in the approach they take to treatment and the modalities they choose to use.   Some are very broad in the modalities they choose to utilize, while others focus in on specific modalities that they have the most knowledge and/or experience with.  As well, some ND’s do continuing education within specific modalities while others add to their repertoire of modalities by learning about new modalities not taught in the current Naturopathic Medical School curriculum.

The main modalities that are common amongst most Naturopathic Doctors include:  Botanical Medicine, Traditional Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture, Clinical Nutrition, Homeopathic Medicine, Physical Therapy including Massage Therapy and Spinal Manipulation, Health Psychology and Counseling, Hydrotherapy or water cure.  Other therapies that ND’s may choose to be educated in include Intravenous Therapy, Prolotherapy, Mesotherapy, Gemmotherapy, Biotherapeutic Drainage, and many other alternative treatment options.

Botanical Medicine is the use of plants as medicine or their healing abilities, one of the oldest forms of medicine known to humans.  In fact, some of the first pharmaceutical drugs came from the extraction of specific compounds within plants.  Even today, there are many drugs that come from plant extractions, which isolate one or two specific molecules to result in a specific action.  Unfortunately, when you only focus in on one molecule from a plant, you lose the complexity of the interactions of hundreds, if not thousands, of molecules interacting, which produce not just one specific action in the body, but a variety of actions which produce a desired outcome and stimulate the body to function more effectively.   Plants can be utilized for specific actions or have a general tonifying or nourishing effect in the body.  It is this ability to aid the body in its capacity to heal and function more optimally that makes plants so useful in clinical practice.  Naturopathic Doctors learn hundreds of plants’ medicinal properties, drug interactions, and historical purpose.  Some go on to learn a great deal more plants and the use of combining plants into sometimes-elaborate formulas, which address a person’s constitution or individual makeup.  Botanical medicine is using the healing power of nature (Vis medicatrix naturae) to its fullest potential.  Utilizing plants as medicine can be as simple as using plants for food (which is medicine in its basic form), using spices for a medicinal effect (not just seasoning), drinking herbal teas, taking capsules of powdered herbs or extracted herbs, or the more common clinical or therapeutic use of tinctures or liquid extracts (herbs which are extracted in alcohol or glycerine to preserve the medicinal qualities of the plants).

Traditional Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture is one of the oldest systems of medicine in recorded history.  This system of medicine is based on the understanding that the body, mind and spirit is a complex system of physical structure and energy and thus cannot be separated from one another.  The body is viewed as having a system of meridians (pathways) and that energy flows along these meridians, through individual organs and throughout the body.  The dynamic and balanced movement of energy along these meridians and throughout the body is what provides health and healthy expression of emotions and mental clarity.  Disease manifests when energy flow is disrupted or altered or when the body is attacked by pathogenic factors (poor diet, poor lifestyle choices, wind, cold, heat, dampness, etc).  By utilizing diet, herbs, and acupuncture one is able to restore the proper flow of energy throughout the body, stimulate healing and bring balance back to the body to improve health.

Clinical Nutrition is utilizing diet, nutritional counseling and nutritional supplementation to optimize health and wellness.  Hippocrates, the father of medicine, said, “Let food be thy medicine, and let medicine be thy food.”  It couldn’t have been said any better.  Our health depends of the types of food we nourish our bodies with and nutrition should be the cornerstone of any system of medicine.  When cells receive the right information from the proper types of food and nutrition coming in to our bodies, they are able to perform or function optimally.  Without proper nutrition the body will be lacking in essential vitamins, minerals, enzymes and a variety of other essential components needed for physiological functioning.  Unfortunately, many of the public are unaware how unhealthy their diets are and what they are lacking in nutrition.  The media, marketing and convenience of certain food choices have lead our society to believe they are eating just fine when this is far from the truth. Our world is filled with fast food, premade food, chemically laden foods, preservatives, chemical flavourings, colourings and many other items, which are cheap to produce and provide no true nourishment for the body and can in fact disrupt our health.  Food should be eaten the way nature intended it, from the earth, with minimal processing of those foods.  And, in our fast paced world, many people don’t take the necessary time to prepare home cooked, nourishing meals.  This lack of investment and time over the course of a lifetime takes its toll on the body and leads to many of the chronic diseases of our time, most of which are preventable and treatable through dietary and lifestyle changes.

Homeopathic Medicine is a system of medicine that views the body as having a vital force (life energy) and that illness occurs when this vital force has been weakened by various factors and the stronger vital force of an illness or disease has taken hold in the body.  By taking a minute dose of a remedy whose characteristic features resemble the presenting symptom picture (set of symptoms) of the disease, using the principle of like cures like, the energy of that remedy will be enough to subtly strengthen the vital force of the patient, which can bring them to a stronger state in order to push out the illness or disease.  By using these minute doses that have been diluted through serial (repetitive) dilutions, we move farther away from a material substance from which the remedy came and more towards the energetic imprint of the original substance.  Homeopathic medicine can be utilized for acute symptoms where the prescribing is based on the most acute symptom presentation, such as a runny nose with sticky, yellow mucous.  Or, it can be utilized constitutionally, which is a more in-depth use of homeopathy where one utilizes a type of clinical questioning and directive to find all the symptoms that a patient experiences, be they physical, mental and emotional and find one specific remedy which most closely matches the whole experience of the patient and their current state in order to bring about health.

Physical Therapy and Spinal Manipulation is just as it sounds, using physical manipulations of the muscles, ligaments, tendons and joints of the body in order to optimize physical functioning.  This may include using massage, trigger point release, ultrasound, laser therapy, electrical stimulation, stretching, or adjusting specific joints.  By teaching patients about proper posture, effective movements and stretching techniques, it can retrain the body and take some of the physical burden or stress off the body.

Health Psychology and counseling addresses the mental, emotional and spiritual aspects of health and wellness.  Often this is the main obstacle to optimal health and wellness that gets the least attention when people think about improving their wellbeing.  The impact of stress on our mental, emotional and spiritual health has wide ranging effects in the body, often manifesting themselves into physical ailments.  A perfect example is when someone says they “have butterflies in their stomach” prior to giving a public speech or some other important event.  This, in reality, is the anxiety of the event causes physiological changes in their gastrointestinal system such that its manifests as a physical feeling in the stomach or gut.  Too often in our society our emotions are repressed or not expressed properly and kept inside.  This will lead to physical changes in functioning, which can cause or contribute to the development of illness.  By working with patients through counseling and other mind-body techniques, Naturopathic Doctors can teach people how to effectively handle and or minimize the impacts that daily stressors can have on the body and how mental, emotional and behavioural changes can lead to an improved sense of wellbeing and health.

Lastly, Hydrotherapy is the use of water, in its various forms, in order to bring about healing.  Water cure has been used since antiquity to bring about physiological changes and stimulate healing.  People used to go to sanitariums, which were water cure centers, for a retreat in order to heal their ailments.  By using various treatments such as cold-water baths, saunas, ice packs, herbal waters, salt rubs, or full body treatments of alternating hot and cold packs (constitutional hydrotherapy) the bodies own healing capacities were stimulated.

As mentioned in the beginning, there are other therapies which Naturopathic Doctors can be trained in and utilize in their care of patients and each has their own interest in the modalities discussed.  It lends well to a wide range of ways to help people feel better and improve health.  These treatments can work alongside conventional medical care quite effectively but are also just as effective on their own in many cases.  This is not a system of medicine of old, but one that is robust and very effective at working with the body and its own inherent healing capacities, the way nature intended. 


Shawn Manske, BScH, N.D. Naturopathic Doctor