Natural Medicine Q&A
Ask Dr. P
by Kasra Pournadeali, ND
Natural Medicine Specialist
Greetings Journal Reader;
Ever wondered if Alternative Medicine could help your condition, but didn't know who to ask? Weren't sure if an herbal remedy was safe for you? Well, after countless requests, and beginning with this issue, I am collaborating with the Journal Newspapers to bring you the area's first Alternative Medicine Question & Answer column. My goal for it will be two fold: First, to provide well-documented natural and alternative-medical approaches to conditions that affect you. Second, in the process of answering your questions, improve community understanding of the benefits and limitations of alternative medicine. Today's column focuses on questions I am most-often asked by people unfamiliar with alternative medicine. Future issues will be dedicated to answering your questions directly. Submit them by mail, fax, or email (if you want a personal response). Of course, always consult your primary care doctor when you have a health concern. But when you have unanswered alternative medicine questions, send them to us. I'll look forward to hearing from you!
Yours in health;
"Dr. P., why is Alternative Medicine becoming so popular?"
Many reasons: first, public interest in a holistic health-promoting vs. disease management approach; second, the novelty of using food, nutrition, botanical, and physical medicine to treat illness; most importantly, the positive results that alternative (or natural) medicine delivers. Plus, people recognize that natural substances usually have fewer side effects, and are less toxic than drugs.
"Dr. P., what exactly is Alternative Medicine?
That's a very good question. People define alternative medicine differently. Some think any medicine not practiced by M.D.s is alternative. Others define it by the type of therapies used. Most consider M.D. or D.O. medicine to be "conventional", and Naturopathic, Chiropractic, or Oriental Medicine, to be "alternative". This is changing as more people and doctors are using alternative therapies; which by definition then become "conventional". I try to use the term Natural or Complementary Medicine as much as possible, since I don't think people should have to decide to exclusively use either Alternative or Conventional medicine. An integration of the two affords patients the best result, which is why I practice with both conventional-medical and alternative professionals in my office.
"Dr. P., my friend recommended the herb Kava Kava for my mood, and my M.D. is concerned it might interact with my medications. How can I be sure Kava Kava is right for me?
You should consult a Licensed Naturopathic Physician. Naturopathic Physicians are the only doctors with formal education who have passed board exams in pharmacology and herbal medicine. This makes them uniquely qualified to tell you when alternative therapies are appropriate for you. I'm glad you spoke with your doctor about this, but realize that he/she will typically know little about alternative therapies, and is not required to pass exams in alternative medicine to become licensed. Mixing herbs and drugs can be unsafe, even life threatening in some situations. By the same token, the "right" herbs can often complement drugs. Bottom-line; always see an expert, and make your primary care doctor aware of all medicines you take whether they are prescription, over-the-counter drugs, or plant medicines.
"Dr. P., exactly what kind of medicine do you practice?"
I'm glad you asked. I am a Naturopathic Physician. The Washington State Dept of Health defines Naturopathic Physicians (N.D.s) as doctors specializing in Natural Medicine. Along with M.D.s, and D.O., we are trained and licensed to provide patients with general outpatient medical care. However, we have a different treatment philosophy. Instead of controlling disease symptoms with medicines, we like to find and remove "obstacles to cure". Furthermore, Naturopathic therapies are directed to not only treat your disease condition, but also create optimal health for you in the process. Therapies used by Naturopathic Doctors can include: botanical (herbal) medicine, therapeutic nutrition (or "megavitamin" therapy), physiotherapy (including spinal manipulation), homeopathy, hydrotherapy, oriental medicine, counseling, diet and lifestyle modification, exercise therapy, natural childbirth, minor surgery, and limited drug therapy.
"Dr. P., will I have to stop seeing my medical doctor after I see an alternative doctor?
No. I recommend my patients see me as their Natural Medicine specialist, although a referral from their primary doctor is not required. I typically provide patients a plan to complement their conventional doctor's therapies. True, some natural therapies can substitute for conventional ones, but many do not. Also, if you and I determine substituting conventional for natural therapies is appropriate for you, this is only done with cooperation from your M.D. Again, I believe the integrated approach is best. Always be critical though of any doctor professing to be an "alternative medicine expert" unless he/she has passed state-administered board exams demonstrating competence in botanical medicine, therapeutic nutrition, physical medicine, and homeopathy as well as the basic and clinical sciences.
"Dr. P., aren't alternative therapies unproven, or less effective than regular medicine?
Not really, although this depends on what you mean by proven. I like to describe therapies (whether conventional or natural,) as either having weak, moderate or strong evidence of efficacy. This way, you can decide which therapy is best. Naturopathic therapies have in fact been subjected to thousands of controlled studies, and more studies are underway. To assist our efforts, congress recently approved more study funding for the Center for Alternative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health. True, in this country, alternative therapies are not as well studied as patentable drugs, which provide investors a large return; but that doesn't necessarily make the them less effective. Also keep in mind that only because they work, alternative therapies have survived for thousands of years despite medical advances. Finally, be aware that many conventional therapies have weak or no evidence of efficacy, but are accepted because no better therapy has been discovered. Bottom-line; ask your doctor about the risks, side effects, effectiveness, and evidence behind all recommended therapies-whether conventional or alternative. This way, you can make an informed decision of what therapies are right for you.
"Dr. P., how can I be sure alternative medicine will work with my condition?"
You need to consult an expert. This would be either a Naturopathic Physician (if you want to see a general medicine doctor who uses natural therapies), a Chiropractor (if you need an expert on the spine, and skeletal system,) or a Licensed Acupuncturist (if you want to see someone who uses the eastern philosophy of healing. Other options are seeing a Homeopath who uses remedies believed to work on the "vital force", or an Ayurvedic provider who treats people with an Indian philosophy using diet, herbs, and lifestyle modification tailored to their constitution. Always be sure that the person giving you advice is a licensed professional. This way, you can be sure that there is a some standard of education behind the information your'e getting. I also recommend you find a provider who speaks with you at least briefly about your condition before you schedule. I do this in my practice because it gives my patients an idea of how I would approach their problem. It also gives people the opportunity to ask me questions like how familiar I am with, and what results I've had treating their condition.
For more information or to schedule an
appointment, please contact the Northwest Center for Optimal Health at (360)