Nothing in Medicine is Black and White

by | Oct 5, 2015

Something has been irritating me lately. I sell and prescribe supplements for the majority of my treatment protocols with my patients in primary care. I have been doing this for over ten years and I intend to continue doing so as long as I am a practicing physician.

Here is what irks me: hearing people talk about how supplements and natural medicine can cure every disease and heal every condition. They can’t. They won’t. Just as awful: hearing people say that pharmaceutical companies are evil and corrupt and that all drugs are bad. They aren’t. They also save lives. I will never support either of these blanket statements. In my opinion they are both incredibly naive.

Can supplements provide much-needed nourishment when it is lacking? Absolutely.
Can supplements treat certain conditions? Often.
Can supplements be used in place of medications? Very often.
Are supplements ALWAYS the better choice for treatment? Not necessarily.
Do pharmaceuticals save lives? Inarguably.
Do pharmaceuticals improperly prescribed sometimes TAKE lives? YES, without a doubt.
Does this make all pharmaceuticals evil and horrible? I think you see where I am going with this…

There is a time and a place for every tool in the toolbox. I want to be very clear that this is what pharmaceutical medications are: tools. This is what supplements are: tools. I once received a serious talking to by one of my mentors Dr. Bruce Milliman for questioning his choice of an antibiotic as his first line of treatment. As a Naturopathic student, I was horrified. He very clearly and (his words) vehemently told me: It’s not the tool, it’s how you use it.


Due to this being my opinion, I have lost patients who only want to treat things “naturally.” I have also been ridiculed in front of a room full of MDs for my work as a naturopath- essentially being willing to think outside the box. I have been in arguments with naturopathic colleagues (who I usually respect) who feel that “Big Pharma” is evil incarnate. I agree that these companies are incredibly corrupt. But I also know that there are scientists working around the clock to create life-saving medications. I have been the recipient of one of these, and I will never take that for granted. I wish that a simple statement could sum up everything I feel about the use of pharmaceuticals, but like everything else in life there is no one clear answer.

Have you ever observed a loved one in the last days of life? If that person was in intractable pain, I have a feeling even the most die-hard natural medicine enthusiast would be grateful for a big old pharmaceutical dose of morphine.

Have you ever seen a person on 20 pharmaceutical medications who isn’t getting better? Even the most conservative practicing physician will feel deeply that those 20 tools might not be in use to the patient’s greatest benefit.

There is no one right answer when it comes to healthcare. Even the most experienced, brilliant physicians have been stumped by patients that they do not feel they can help. The longer I practice medicine, the more humbled I am by what I do not know. No one physician- from any school of medicine- has all of the answers. This is why I get frustrated when I hear other naturopathic physicians make blanket statements about how natural medicine heals everything- we of all people should be the ones educating the public about the essential nature of integrated care. Most importantly, we should be the ones explaining that due to the dynamic nature of the human body, nothing in medicine is never black and white.




If you would like more information about Naturopathic Primary Care, read on:

Naturopathic Medicine, if you do not already know, is an approach to healthcare that takes into account the entire person, the body’s ability to heal itself, and the mandate that as practitioners we begin by using the least invasive approach to treatment and work up from there. There is a more comprehensive explanation on our website here:

Naturopathic Primary Care takes this medicine one step further, and in my biased opinion provides the most fitting approach to first line of care for individuals and families. Because we have such a large tool box, because we are versed in both western (drugs) and “alternative” (supplements) medical treatments, our ability to treat symptoms while simultaneously addressing the underlying contributing factors to health is unparallelled.

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