This is funny and yet it’s not! 

I can relate to this cartoon after spending eight unnecessary years on antidepressants. The cartoon wrongly assumes traditionally trained doctors consider alternative natural treatment.  Actually, a patient would need to look for a doctor who treats with natural modalities. That is exactly what I had to do when I was getting worse on psychiatric drugs.

A national survey in 2012 revealed that more than 30% of adults and 12% of children use non-conventional health care approaches. This is according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.

Unfortunately, “alternative” is not recognized by the traditional medical community. They referred to it as non-science based treatment. It is not that alternative treatment is not tested. The problem is the funding is not available the same as it is for large pharmaceutical companies. Also, alternative treatment is in the same category as precision medicine or individual treatment. Unique biochemistries create more variances. Thus, making clinical trials more challenging. Whereas, pharmaceutical tests are designed to treat the masses never identifying the individual needs. In some cases, one-size-fits-all drugs cause more harm than good to those with intolerances for the drugs.

Distinguishing medical treatment

  • Mainstream/Traditional – A practice focused on the use of pharmaceuticals, management of symptoms and consequences of disease and dysfunction. 
  • Complementary – This is a non-mainstream practice used together with conventional medicine (drugs, radiation, or surgery).
  • Alternative – A non-mainstream practice used in place of conventional medicine and treating the root cause rather than the symptom.
  • Integrative – This is a non-mainstream practice using conventional and complementary approaches together in a coordinated way. It also emphasizes a holistic approach—including mental, functional, spiritual and social wellness treating the whole person.
  • Functional medicine – Another term that treats the whole person and is closely related to naturopathy.

Mainstream doctors providing “complimentary” treatment sometimes only means they are using medication off-label. In other words, using a familiar drug to treat another condition. Common complementary health approaches include natural products. These include supplementation, deep breathing, yoga, Tai Chi, meditation, massage, chiropractic or osteopathic manipulation, special diets, acupuncture, relaxation techniques, and guided imagery. 

Ask questions and never allow a doctor to dismiss any concerns. It’s important to be comfortable with any form of treatment. Don’t be alarmed if a natural treatment is not covered by insurance. It doesn’t mean it’s not safe. The reality is there are many pharmaceutical treatments covered by insurance that have no efficacy of evidence that they are helping. In fact, in some cases like opioids for pain treatment end up with addictive qualities actually harming patients.

Demystifying titles

Recently I was asked the definition of a D.O. Below is a clarification of practitioner titles:

  • M.D. is a Medical Doctor with a traditional medical school degree. He/she may have added on integrative and functional medicine training. He/she can order tests and prescribe medications.
  • D.O. is a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine and is similar to an M.D. in the services offered. He/she can prescribe medication and are also able to become surgeons. Focusing on the body as a whole.
  • D.C. is a Doctor of Chiropractic treating orthopedic dysfunction. Practicing functional medicine but cannot prescribe medication.
  • N.D. is a Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine using systems of treatment that avoid drugs and surgery and emphasize the use of natural agents. Prescribing based on their license and state regulations.
  • N.P. is a Nurse Practitioner and although not a doctor can own and operate practices and prescribe medications. 

Look for doctors that

  • specialize in complex chronic conditions
  • view themselves as a partner in your health
  • is willing to provide an outline of expectations for your treatment
  • makes you feel comfortable and non-judged
  • doesn’t rush and is willing to spend time to answer all questions

Avoid doctors who

  • recommend expensive testing or excessive supplements without weighing the cost and benefit
  • dismisses diet as a form of treatment
  • recommends harsh detoxes
  • promises cures
  • doesn’t listen, makes you feel it’s not your decision or makes you feel uncomfortable

Choose doctors who are interested in promoting health by treating the root cause rather than managing the symptoms. Preferably an alternative with a comprehensive approach that looks deeper at molecular interactions. Check reviews before making an appointment. Unlike the cartoon above start with a natural treatment option! 

Here are some resources for finding natural doctors:

The American College for Advancement in Medicine

The Institute for Functional Medicine

The Walsh Research Institute

Also, the Alliance for Natural Health USA is a large international organization. They are dedicated to promoting natural and sustainable health. Focusing on protecting consumer healthcare freedom of choice through good science and law.