In Defense of Naturopathic Medicine

Recently, the King County Medical Society journal published an article by its president, ophthalmologist Richard Bensinger, MD, entitled “Not So Complementary,” in which he asserts that the public has unwittingly become affectionate for naturopathic treatments due to being conned by the media and celebrity endorsements.

He even goes as far as to argue that the media should not give credence to naturopathic medicine (or similarly, The Flat Earth Society) because “the public is in no position to critically analyze these efforts.”

“Naturopathic physicians are the only physicians with a board examination in nutrition and dietary interventions…”

He generalizes that natural medicines are not standardized and may be contaminated with heavy metals, they have not been demonstrated by scientific studies to be efficacious and work only “by activating a placebo effect,” the latter which he admits occurs for pharmaceutical medicines as well.

He further contends that despite the Washington Administrative Code definitions, naturopathic physicians should not be called “physicians” since they (along with optometrist and chiropractors) do not have sufficient training to provide medical care to patients.

It is clear that there is misunderstanding about our profession, one with strict educational (WAC 246-836-180; 10, 11, 14) and licensure requirements (WAC 246-836-020, WAC 246-836-030, WAC 246-836-080, RCW 18.36A.090), a scope of practice defined by the Department of Health (RCW 18.36A.040), and training in primary care diagnoses and treatments including counseling, nutrition, botanical medicines and other non-pharmaceutical interventions (WAC 246-836-210).

In fact, naturopathic physicians are the only physicians with a board examination in nutrition and dietary interventions (WAC 246-836-030, b), which ironically is the type of therapeutic intervention Dr. Bensinger uses to describe the first clinical study (vitamin C for scurvy). And although over-the-counter supplements are not FDA-regulated, naturopathic physicians are well-positioned to explain to their patients what natural medicine companies are third-party tested while considering efficacy and drug interactions that have been elucidated by research.

Research on naturopathic treatments like botanicals, lifestyle interventions, nutrition and vitamin supplements are continually being investigated. I would like to take this time to acknowledge local NDs who are contributing to a better understanding of naturopathic modalities by initiating research studies this year: Drs. Laurie Mischley on glutathione use in Parkinson’s disease, Ryan Bradley on vitamin D therapy, Leanna Standish on integrative oncology treatments, Erica Oberg on diabetes and health promotion, Jason Allen on environmental toxicology, Erin Sweet on integrative approaches to ovarian cancer, and Michelle Sexton on the endocannabinoid system. Please refer to the Naturopathic Physician Research Institute (http://nprinstitute.org/) to learn more about how you can get involved in research.

In lieu of misunderstandings and hostility towards a profession providing much needed primary care to patients, I encourage you to join and to encourage your colleagues to join the WANP.

Your membership support is needed so we can build bridges with other medical associations, lobby for insurance parity at the state level, and offer continuing education events to provide you with up-to-date and comprehensive naturopathic medical education as well as business and standards of practice events. Become a member and take an active leadership role for our profession or rest assured knowing that someone is advocating for our profession while you are focusing your attention on patient care.

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