Naturopathic Medicine is a form of Systems and Preventative Medicine
Systems medicine takes an integrative and holistic approach to understanding the body - understanding that there is a deep connection between the different systems within the body and also between the body and external factors (e.g. environment, relationships, resources, etc).
This approach aims to improve our understanding, prevention, and treatment of health concerns. The way medicine is often practiced is reductionist - seeing systems operating in silos without consideration for contributing variables. This leads to treatments that often only treat symptoms and do not go up stream enough to find the root cause nor addressing the likely contributing factors.
Recently I read an article in The Washington Post about a women who had spent nearly two decades in a catatonic state of psychosis. She was institutionalised and diagnosed with schizophrenia. Years later, when a systems approach was taken, doctors found that she also had n autoimmune disease, lupus and that this was likely causing neuroinflammation. Understanding the connection between neuroinflammation and mental health presentations, doctors began to treat her with immune therapy. Within months, she improved and she is now living independently and able to function.
Trichana et al. (2018) state that the body is made up of a ‘networks of networks’; organ networks, cellular networks, molecular networks, genetic networks. Naturopathy understands this in addition to spiritual networks, mental networks, socioeconomic networks, community and family networks, and environmental networks.The body is resilient and is always trying to maintain balance within and between these networks - this is called homeostasis. When healthy, we are resilient to perturbations.
As practitioners, we may work with someone whose networks are unable to maintain homeostasis - which lowers vitality and may put them at risk for developing chronic diseases. Things that might signal this include:
Metabolic dysregulation (e.g. lipid dysregulation, glucose/insulin dysregulation)
Poor sleep patterns
Chronic pain and inflammation
Taking thorough case takes is critically important when trying to understand what is happening holistically. This takes time - in my practice, an initial consultation is 90 minutes. I also work on the case for several hours after that, looking at lab results and further processing all the the information I’ve gathered.
Because we look at every system of the body during an initial consultation we can able to identify relationships and connections. These are common presentations now shown in research to have significant connections:
- gut issues with mental health presentations (Connection: Gut-Brain Axis)
- Stress and all health presentations (Connection: HPA axis influences all other networks) - metabolic issues (e.g. prediabetes/diabetes) and mental health presentations as well as hormone presentations (Connection: metabolic system influences hormones and cognitive function)
- Gut issues and hormone presentations (connection: any digestive concerns can impact hormones)
- Nutrient deficiencies/inflammatory diet and inflammation, low energy, mood concerns, hormone imbalance (connections: are you seeing a pattern? it's all connected).
Catching destabilisation early as well as understanding the deep connections between systems is a key aspect of what we aim to do as Naturopaths. We think deeply about which systems are out of balance internally and externally. From there, we look at how we can support and restore these systems and their connections. Stabilising the networks so that they can maintain homeostasis is the goal. Support might look like:
lifestyle and nutrition medicine suggestions
referrals to see other practitioners if necessary (integrated/multidisciplinary approaches enhance systems medicine)
Nutrient supplementation and/or herbal medicine where relevant and warranted
Myers and Vgar (2019) completed a systematic scoping review and found that a whole-systems naturopathic approach was positively associated with the health outcomes and quality of life for many chronic diseases including metabolic disease, depression, PCOS, cardiovascular disease, and anxiety.
I believe that PREVENTION is CURE and that a systems medicine approach to health is important.