Is Naturopathic Medicine Nothing More than a Placebo Effect?

This morning I spoke to a group of physicians and dietitians at Swedish Hospital Issaquah, and I left in tears. I managed to save my tears for the car thank god, and with a few hours behind me to process I am now grateful that I am still sensitive enough to feel the meaning in what was said. Here is what I let get to me: though I have been in private practice as a Primary Care Provider for over eight years, and though I volunteer many hours per week to help improve my own skills and the political standing of my profession, I still crumbled when I heard two MDs essentially write off Naturopathic Medicine as little more than a Placebo Effect.

It should not surprise me, since I have had many similar interactions in the past. But in this day and age, when healthcare quality is getting so much publicity, doesn’t it seem to be time for us to all work towards the common goal of patient health? I am a critical thinker, and a rational person, if anything erring on the side of too critical. There are many things that naturopaths do in practice (need we mention injecting someone with his or her own urine?) that I consider absurd, unsafe and irrational. But to write off an entire profession based on the lack of research or lack of a clear understanding of how it works to me seems wasteful.

Let me be very clear that my practice is in no way based on the Placebo Effect. There is no way any physician can survive in an ethical manner if there are not quality results coming out of a practice. Here are four things I tell my patients, and you can be the judge:

• My goal is for you to not come back. What this means is that if I do my job correctly, you will be well after a few visits and you will come back only as needed.
• More testing does not necessarily add up to better medicine. I often talk my patients out of unnecessary testing, including many of the tests that other naturopaths order at the first visit.
• More supplements does not equate to better health. AND I SELL SUPPLEMENTS. But I often am the one talking my patients out of taking more supplements, and encouraging them to let food be their medicine.
• Naturopaths work up a ladder of intervention, but also refer and consult when necessary. It does not behoove me to continue to see a patient who does not improve or only improves temporarily; I will consult via phone or send the patient for a consult in order to enhance a patient’s care. There are SO MANY WONDERFUL SPECIALISTS out there (who are comfortable enough with their own skills that they are enthusiastic about sharing management with another qualfied practitioner), and I am grateful for those who are willing to co-manage and share their expertise. This always ensures that a workup is complete, that the best person for the job is performing that job, and that the patient receives the most comprehensive, safe and effective care possible.

SO is naturopathic medicine all placebo? I’m sure on occasion this could be true, but not more than in any other profession. Do people get better faster when they feel they are being truly listened to? Yes absolutely, and I do think that at times this is why many patients prefer a naturopathic physician. This morning one of the more vocal critics was an Allergist who reported that so many patients complain of food allergies, but when his testing comes up negative (as he reported it so often does), he really thinks it is all in their heads. What I was too shaken to do was to thank him for behaving this way, because many of those patients walk through my door, are listened to, and are able to make changes and take action to actually improve their health and see symptoms resolve.

If that is the placebo effect, then I am all for it.

6 Responses

  1. Carol R says:

    The above message shows an intelligent, caring, compassionate, rational and reasonable physician whom I am proud and honored to know and love. You and your work speak for themselves, Dr. Bizzy

  2. I have had the blessing of a professional relationship with Dr. Bizzy for many years. As a Psychiatric Social Worker in private practice, Dr. Bizzy is the one place my patient’s can be heard and treated gently with complete understanding and compassion. So if you are weary of arrogant medical primary care physicians who are dismissive and unavailable, please go to Dr. Bizzy.

    Even though I have been providing psychotherapy to the community for 14 years, and have 34 years of professional experience, I often find MD’s skeptical and uninterested in my point of view. When I explain I have an expertise ins psychopharmacology and make suggestions for our mutual patients, I find them dismissive and short sighted.

    More and more we are appreciating the connection between mental, physical, emotional, and preventative health. Dr. Bizzy is ahead of her time!

    Catherine Kendall, LICSW
    Owner
    Sammamish Counseling, LLC

  3. Ted Johnson says:

    I second Carol’s comments.

    But would also like to add that… the objective of medicine is to make a patient feel better and get back to work at full productivity. So, even if it was a placebo that accomplished that – that’s fine.

    Furthermore, a placebo (by definition) can do no harm. Which is a sharp contrast to… medical procedures (surgery) and prescription drugs (which often have side effects). So, from a purely macroeconomic perspective, a strong argument could be made that the more people who were cured by placebos, the better off we all would be!

  4. admin says:

    Great post Dr. Bizzy!

  5. Pat Tellvik says:

    I have been a naturopathic patient for 35 years – first with Dr Leo Bolles of the Bolles clinic, Bellevue, and for the past 5 years with Dr Jonathan Wright and Dr Hinchcliffe of the Tahoma Clinic in Renton. My insurance pays for Dr’s on my plan (the Tahoma Clinic does not take insurance) but I only go to them to be diagnosed and then I go to my ND to be treated. Dr Wright is also a MD – the best of both worlds. I tell the Swedish Dr’s this upfront and have found 2 of them very receptive however, I saw a family practitioner at the Overlake Clinic in Issaquah and she wanted to put me on a bunch of meds for the rest of my life that I refuse to take and when I told her I wanted to treat my issue’s holistically first she asked me to find a physician that could support my vision and that she did not feel comfortable continuing a therapeutic relationship! It’s sad that a majority of physicians just want to give you drugs and are not open to holistic medicine. I have many stories to tell about how these Dr’s changed my life along with friends and family.

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