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November 25, 2015
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What is naturopathic medicine?

By Heather DeLuca N.D.

As a naturopathic doctor (ND), I practice as a naturopathic consultant in Northeast Pennsylvania. Naturopathic medicine is mentioned more frequently these days along with other buzzwords, such as holistic, alternative and complementary medicine. But what does this really mean and how can it complement conventional treatment that you receive from your primary care physician?

Naturopathic medicine is a form of primary care medicine that focuses on prevention and finding the root cause of illness and then seeks to restore, promote and maintain optimal health. It takes into consideration all aspects of health with use of natural therapies to address health and encourage the body’s ability to heal itself.

Not unlike conventional medicine, NDs follow certain principles that guide us in how we approach each individual. In naturopathic medicine these include: (1) First, do no harm, (2) Support the healing power of the body, (3) Discover and treat the cause, not just the effect, (4) Treat the whole person, (5) The doctor is an educator for each person, (6) Emphasize prevention. These principles help guide the naturopath’s recommendations.

Naturopathic doctors are trained as primary care physicians who have attended four-year naturopathic medical schools. It is important to understand that the state of Pennsylvania does not currently license NDs. But 17 other states do license or regulate NDs. In Pennsylvania, NDs do not have the ability to order diagnostic testing or make diagnoses that they have been trained to do. Not yet. (Bills to license NDs in New York State have been introduced in both the assembly, A7860-2013, and senate, S4828-2013.) Meantime, the role that we provide is still very important for understanding the reasons why someone is not well and the recommendations that may be made to support and optimize ones health.

Naturopathic medicine is not a replacement for allopathic medical treatment or drug therapy but a complement to one’s health care team. The goal is to optimize each person’s health in a safe, effective way. It is a system that is whole-person focused. But for many, the approach is one way that people gain tools and control over aspects of their health.

Naturopathic visits can vary depending on the practitioner, but often are about one to 1.5 hours for the initial appointment, going over many aspects of one’s health including health history, current and past dietary habits, possible nutritional deficiencies, medication/supplement interactions/deficiencies, environmental exposures and affect on current health, gastrointestinal health, in addition to current concerns. Based on that visit, an individual plan is put together taking your concerns into consideration and the approach of the practitioner. Therapies used may include clinical nutrition, herbal medicine, homeopathy, researched supplementation, therapeutic diets, naturopathic lifestyle counseling and hydrotherapy.

Building a relationship with the individuals we work with is not only supportive to the process of getting someone well, but it is also very rewarding for the practitioner. We learn more and more from each person who walks through the door. No two people are the same, and this is part of what makes naturopathic medicine an exciting option. We do not just rely on one or two options, as we have many options at hand to choose from and no two plans are the same.

We are hoping to gain licensure in the next year to be able to be the doctors we were trained to be. But that is not going to happen without support of those who want to take advantage of this option. If that happens to be you, please support PA House Bill 612 (licensure of naturopathic doctors in PA). Our goal is to gain licensure, to play a primary care role and to offer safe, effective, researched options to those want to take advantage of a more comprehensive, holistic approach to their health. In Pennsylvania, the House has passed a bill (HB 612) that would regulate the licensing of naturopathic doctors, and it is now before the Senate’s Consumer Protection & Professional Licensure Committee awaiting a vote.

[Heather DeLuca, BSN, ND, has a practice, Naturopathic Wellness Center, in Kingston, PA. She received her BS with a major in nutrition and her doctorate of naturopathic medicine (ND) degree from Bastyr University, a naturopathic medical school located near Seattle, WA. Bastyr is one of five federally-accredited naturopathic schools in the U.S. DeLuca is also a member and vice president of the Pennsylvania Association of Naturopathic Physicians (, member of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians ( and the Oncology Association of Naturopathic Physicians ( For more information, visit or call 570/287-9955.]