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naturopathy 101


January 2014

Lauren Hunsberger


Dr. Rachel Erikson. N.D., M.S.O.M.

While the term “naturopathy” might be relatively new, the concepts and tools of the trade have been around for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Bellevue Club’s own naturopath explains why this branch of natural medicine is experiencing tremendous growth—particularly in this part of the country—and what it can do for your health and wellness.

Bellevue Club: First things first, what exactly is naturopathy?

Dr. Rachel Erikson, N.D., M.S.O.M.: In general, the philosophy of naturopathic medicine is to treat the root cause of a disease. It’s also about being able to treat the whole person and the belief that there is an inherent self-healing aspect of the body, and being able to harness that power. The definition is so broad because it encompasses so many different types of medicine, and in many ways it just comes down to a philosophy.

BC: How did you get into this line of medicine?

RE: Practicing medicine is in my blood. My father was a medical doctor and my aunt runs a veterinary hospital.  When I was in college I was following the family tradition as a pre-med student. While I was prepping for the MCAT class, I heard a naturopath talk at the University of Texas. There are barely any naturopaths in Texas, so it was something I had never heard of but was I immediately interested. After, I went to go see one myself because at the time I was dealing with a lot of asthma issues. I was on all sorts of inhalers and medications, and I was able to get off all my medications. I became very excited about this kind of medicine, and I pulled out of my MCAT class and decided to apply for naturopathic school.

BC: What was it about your personal experience with naturopathy that made you instantly change your career path? What did they find to be the root of your problems?

RE: The way naturopathic medicine works, it’s always a combination of things. It’s never just one thing. But I made a lot of dietary changes, and that helped a lot. I thought I was healthy because I was interested in nutrition and worked out all the time; I was a triathlete and a dedicated student of yoga and meditation. And I thought what I was eating was healthy, but I needed to take out some major allergens in my diet. I also worked with homeopathy, worked on my base constitution, and used some herbal formulas. So a combination of things freed me from having to use an inhaler every two hours.

BC: Aside from asthma, what other conditions can naturopathic medicine help?

RE: I essentially function like a primary care physician, so a variety of things. I work with a lot of hormonal disorders, hypertension, diabetes, cancer, obesity, anxiety and depression, chronic fatigue—and a lot of gastrointestinal disorders. A lot of people call naturopaths gut doctors, because we kind of are. Even though we work on many other things, one big element is gut health because it is the center of the body in a lot of ways. The gut is a good place to start, and from there I work on many other systems to bring the body into balance. And then, of course, I work with a lot of acute diseases, common colds, urinary tract infections; the list goes on.

BC: So maybe the better question is, What don’t you treat?

RE: We treat people not diseases, so there is always something you can do to improve someone’s quality of life.  While we do some very minor surgeries, we don’t do major surgery. I also send people to specialists if they need further testing and evaluation.

BC: You mentioned diet being an important tool, but what are some of the other modalities naturopaths use to heal patients?

RE: I work a lot with western and Chinese herbs because I have my Master of Science in Oriental Medicine, and I do acupuncture. The herbal formulas can be in a tea form or tincture or capsule and are typically created specifically for that person. I also work with homeopathy in all sorts of different ways, single remedies, complex remedies, and I use bio-therapeutic drainage, which is a form of detoxification. I also use bio-identical hormones to treat hormonal problems like hypothyroidism and menopause.

BC: How do you explain these modalities to skeptics who might scoff at herbal and natural remedies?

RE: I like to say the proof is in the pudding. You need to try it out for yourself. People that are big advocates for this type of medicine are people who have actually gone to a naturopath and worked with them over a period of time. Also, when I talk to skeptics, I tell them that a lot of this medicine isn’t new at all, especially Chinese medicine. It’s been used as primary medicine for thousands of years. 

BC: Do you rely on more modern tools in certain circumstances?

RE: Yes, if a patient isn’t responding, or if the case is severe, or if there is a chance of serious complications.

BC: What are the biggest misconceptions about naturopathic medicine?

RE: One that can be difficult is someone who comes in with a laundry list of things, including things like late-stage cancer, and they think naturopathy can heal them instantly, that you’re going to be “the one.” There is a limit to everyone and everything. We don’t have magic pills per se. It goes back to the idea that naturopathy is about a relationship. It is so much about the person taking a part in the healing process. And then there are misconceptions that we are witch doctors and there is no scientific backing behind what we do; but there are thousands of years of trial and error along with current research studies performed at naturopathic schools and by many research foundations. 

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