Healing the body shouldn't be limited to treating symptoms with pharmaceutical solutions. There are treatment–and prevention–options derived from a more "natural" approach that can be just as or even more effective for certain people and ailments. Naturopathy is not about replacing pharmaceuticals, it's about introducing patients to an entirely new set of treatment options derived from an older order of healing. In a way, naturopathy is the true base of modern medicine. The treatment methods at the center of this approach reach back thousands of years with its roots stretching across the globe. At its core, naturopathy is about stimulating the body's own, natural ability to heal itself. Sometimes, treating symptoms with a drug just doesn't cut it, especially in the long run. The naturopathic path to corporeal and psychological balance entails a far more complex, holistic approach, incorporating non-toxic herbal medicine, and non-invasive treatments like water therapy and lifestyle changes. To give us a deeper insight into this powerful school of medicine, Kelly Buechel, training to be a naturopathic doctor at the internationally renowned Bastyr University, tells us about her motivations to study this field of medicine and shares her personal approach to prevention and self healing.
A big influence in my decision to pursue naturopathic medicine was my dad. He’s an orthopedic surgeon, researcher, avid reader, and all around health nerd. He became interested in “alternative medicine” over a decade ago when he embarked on a quest to take control of his health and the aging process. From his influence, food and nutraceutical supplements became medicine, albeit sometimes very reductionistically (fruits were now a source of Vitamin C, a few Brazil nuts had enough selenium for the month to help curb cancer, and I could optimize my athletic performance with supplements like N-Acetyl Carnitine and CoQ10!). I think at my core, I love studying humans-- how we live, our sense of spirituality and autonomy, what makes us do the things we do-- but moving into a more clinical science with health and disease prevention as the focus was something that actually appealed to me as well. One of my sisters just graduated from conventional medical school and my brother is also an orthopedic surgeon, so I was encouraged from a young age to pursue the vast world of science. I never even considered conventional medical school; it was not on my radar and nothing about conventional medical school gave me the impression I would be able to understand humans and help them heal themselves from a holistic point of view. That’s not to say that it is impossible within the conventional framework, but what I saw in naturopathic medicine was an opportunity to combine so many different methods of healing that truly emphasized the healing power of nature-- one’s own natural ability to heal as well as our intrinsic human connection to the intelligence and support of nature around us. Naturopathic physicians are trained as primary care physicians, which means we can see and treat a wide variety of different conditions, and from this perspective, it allows us to practice our medicine in a very distinct way; by viewing it as an art, science, and philosophy of diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of disease, we are supporting the whole person.
On stimulating the body's natural ability to heal...
It should be no surprise to anyone to realize that we live in an extremely toxic world. From a macroscopic level of healing, we must look at the environment in which we live: our personal support systems, community, social and political constructs, and the state of our natural resources (clean water, air, plants, foods, animals, etc). Alternatively, when we view our bodies from a microscopic level, we are all a series of enzymatic processes that produce series of reactions that make other fantastic things coordinate and fall into place. There are cells and organs secreting things for proper digestion, organelles assisting with DNA repair, neurons firing synapses to keep keep our heart pumping and body moving, and so much more. What we put into our bodies, how we handle stressful situations, and even how we understand our place in the world can help these processes work better, worse, or maintain homeostasis. When our bodies are out of balance, it’s true that illness and disease can occur, but the beauty is that our body has the natural ability to heal itself, and it has been doing so since the beginning of mankind!
6 Principles of Naturopathic Medicine:
Healing Power of Nature: Belief in the body’s unique ability to heal itself.
Do No Harm: Use of low force modalities that produce the largest changes with the least force or intervention necessary to both diagnose illness and restore wellness.
Prevention: Preventing disease through lifestyle and nutrition and using naturopathic therapeutics to prevent minor illnesses from developing into more serious diseases.
Find the Cause: Find and treat the cause of illness instead of just treating symptoms, and avoiding the suppression of symptoms as this can cause the underlying disease process to progress.
Treat the Whole Person: We treat the whole body instead of isolated symptoms
Doctor as Teacher: Only when you understand your body and its health can you make informed choices about your healthcare. So much of what we do is about educating you on what is going on with your body and what your treatment options. We also see that for us to understand what we are recommending for you we also need to have a commitment to living as an example. In other words we practice what we preach
Hydrotherapy is life! We are made up of water, and I think we all have a bit of love for water in some way. Naturopathic medicine was established in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and has its origins in the Nature Cure movement of Europe. Nature Cure involves traditional uses of water for therapeutic measures and in this way, hydrotherapy, is a powerful method for easing muscle soreness, relieving cough and flu symptoms, reducing stress, improving immunity, cardiovascular health, and other uses. In one form or another, they all use one of the most elemental materials on earth. Hydrotherapy in its practical use can be done at home, but it also includes sophisticated methods for facilitating the body’s natural healing process in a clinical setting. Hydrotherapy is the first physical medicine course and treatment modality that we learn in our program and it’s so fundamental. Those can include peat baths-- hot 10-20 minute soaks infused with soil rich in minerals, alternating hot and cold treatments to facilitate muscle recovery or stimulate the immune system (contrast hydrotherapy). One popular regimen is showers of three minutes hot water followed by 30 seconds cold water, repeated 3 times, which I included below as one of my hangover treatments. Constitutional hydrotherapy, a distinct method we are taught, stimulates the body’s vital force and immune system through hot and cold towels and electrotherapy devices. A wet sheet wrap is essentially a cold wet sheet that you wrap around a person after they’ve warmed up in a sauna or steam room and you wrap them up like a burrito until they warm up the sheet. This can be helpful for your nervous system and helping your body handle stress and anxiety.
Your personal strengthening and treatment regime?
I get asked this a lot, and it’s important to note that every person is individual and may need different things depending on the state of health, occupation, gender, age, and so many other factors. For me as a student, I take an adrenal adaptogenic herbal formula 5-6x a week to support my adrenal glands, which are these little organs that sit on top of your kidneys like party hats and coordinate so many different processes in your body-- most importantly, producing hormones like cortisol (which helps regulate metabolism and helps your body respond to stress) and aldosterone (which helps control blood pressure). They also secrete adrenaline (think, your fight-or-flight reaction) and sex hormones estrogen and testosterone. I also take a daily probiotic for my immune system and gut health. I alternate with some other supplements, and sometimes it just depends on how I’m feeling; these would include magnesium, CoQ10 and a B-complex for energy, different herbs for liver health (turmeric, artichoke, milk thistle, shisandra berry), and Omega-3/fish oil. Otherwise, I view food as medicine, including herbs. Cilantro, rosemary, oregano, thyme, black pepper, turmeric-- spice up your food and get your daily dose of herbs that way! All of those herbs have great medicinal properties that I won’t get into here, but we certainly learn about them in our botanical medicine classes!
Your Personal Cures For:
Prophylactic Measures (Hangover): Water with each drink, eat a meal balanced meals of protein / fat / carbs when consuming alcohol, I like to take liver support herbs like milk thistle, artichoke, turmeric, N-acetyl cysteine, schisandra berry before or during drinking. Eat a small amount of protein and carb before you go to sleep. In the morning, contrast hydrotherapy in the shower (3 mins hot, 30 seconds cold three times, end on cold! Wrap up in bed, relax, and warm up for 30 minutes). Have some mineral rich herbal tea nearby like raspberry leaf tea, or nettle tea. Pedialyte (plain flavor). Sip coconut water. B complex. Magnesium if also headache. Nausea would be helped with fresh ginger tea (or CBD oil).
Stress/Headache: Lemonbalm, chamomile (in a tea, as tinctures), kava kava, magnesium supplement or in an epsom salt bath, lavender essential oil (diffused). Stay hydrated! This is key! Limit intake of caffeine if you can, and use it as a treat, not as a crutch. Sleep! Sleep hygeine-- stay away from blue lights (computer, phone, iPad, etc) at least 30 minutes before you close your eyes to sleep. The lights affect your REM cycle and could leave you more tired in the morning and with less of a restful sleep overall. I also use yellow tinted glasses that are supposed to counteract the blue light if I can’t put my phone or computer away that early. I have an app on my computer called F.lux that fades the blue light to yellow light as the night approaches. iPhones have this “night feature” now as well.
Cold/Flu: Rest, recover, listen to your body. A cold or flu is your body’s way of telling you that you need a break. It’s a warning sign that you might be doing too much, or you just didn’t have the vitality to fight off whatever you were exposed to.
Mood balance: Exercising, walking in nature, spending time around nature, movement like yoga and pilates, dancing! Basically do whatever helps you feel good in your body, or what keeps your spirit centered and grounded. If you have a passion, incorporate it into your weekly routine and don’t neglect finding time for yourself. Foster friendships with people who understand you even when you are at your lowest.
Hormone balance: I’m still trying to figure this out. I’ve switched to organic tampons that do not have bleached cotton or dioxin. Most of them do, so you have to go out of your way to ensure they are free of chlorine and perfume. I’ve been using an app recently that helps me visualize where I am in my cycle-- the Follicular, Ovulatory, Luteal, and Menstrual phases-- and I feel more connected to my body and my cycle because of this. Exercising 5x a week is extremely helpful; usually alternating between walking in nature, or pilates, yoga, and strength training with weights. Staying adequately hydrated especially during your menses is critical.
Stomach issues: Probiotics. Aloe vera juice. Glutamine powder in water (or aloe). Bitters 1-10 minutes before a meal for digestive issues. Apple cider vinegar in water or lemon juice in water 20 minutes before a meal for indigestion or GERD. Stay hydrated. Eat plenty of fiber (vegetables!).
Favorite tincture: I try to make my own tinctures as often as possible, that way you know your source and you can combine things that might not be on the market. Right now I love my schisandra berry glycerite (which is a tincture (alcohol extraction) combined with glycerine which is a clear sweet liquid that is added but does not raise blood sugar. Honey could alternatively be added for extra medicinal purposes). I used the “folk method” of making a tincture and didn’t measure out the berries, but filled an 8 oz jar about ⅓ of the way up with the berries, covered in 100 proof alcohol, and then covered with a lid. I shook the jar daily with love and good intentions (as my botanical medicine lab instructor would say) and then strained after 2 months. I added the glycerine at the end to balance out the flavor since schisandra berry is known as the 5 flavor berry-- it has all five basic flavors: salty, sweet, sour, pungent (spicy), and bitter. The sweet is accentuated by the glycerine. It’s a beautiful pink color and tastes awesome. We learned this herb in our liver health section of botanical medicine and it’s also supposed to be good for your brain! Helps with mood stability, sleep, memory, and fatigue. It’s known as "PARTY HAPPINESS" (because you’ll think, ‘life is so much better now that I've taken Schisandra’).