Imagine a university dedicated to healing, not just the body, but the mind and spirit, too. Imagine an education devoted to healing the whole person, including the techniques of different cultures over many centuries that have helped people heal.
Appearing in your imagination might be the equivalent of the National University of Natural Medicine, located in Portland, Oregon. I was fortunate to be at its commencement ceremony earlier this summer, when my granddaughter Hanna received her master of science in nutrition.
The keynote speaker at the ceremony was Dr. Lise Alschuler, a naturopathic oncologist (as well as cancer survivor herself) and clinical professor of medicine at the University of Arizona. In her talk, Dr. Alschuler spoke about the importance of integrative medicine, which includes the knowledge and experience of both M.D.s and N.D.s (Naturopathic Doctors).
Anyone who has suffered from a disease—from cancer to fibromyalgia—knows that M.D.s can do a lot of good, but their knowledge is limited (often confined to what shows up on standard tests or scans).
Persons dealing with disease also need help and guidance with their mind and spirit as they battle illness, as well as with their bodies when tests and scans can’t reveal why they’re suffering.
Naturopathic medicine provides that mental and spiritual guidance, as well as focusing on the body’s intrinsic ability to fight off disease. It also includes other approaches, like acupuncture, which helps alleviate pain in ways traditional medicine often cannot, without using prescription drugs.
I was impressed with the diversity of graduates at the NUNM ceremony, those receiving bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees, women and men, younger and older persons, of many different cultures. Each of them seemed to radiate a vibrant inner joy.
I was particularly proud that my granddaughter Hanna had chosen a field, naturopathic nutrition, which, though currently little known, will become, I believe, more important as each year passes.
The increasing respect American society has for persons like Hanna and Dr. Alschuler can be seen in the number of university medical schools that in the past had been limited to conventional medicine. These schools are now including among their faculty naturopathic doctors to provide an integrative approach to medicine.
Besides Arizona University, other medical schools that feature integrative medicine include the University of California at San Francisco, Brown University and the University of Massachusetts.
These medical schools are expanding prospective doctors’ knowledge of a holistic approach to patient care, looking at the whole person, not just individual organs or tissues within the person. These medical schools also emphasize the importance of preventive, not just curative, medicine and the importance of promoting wellness, not just treating sickness.
The Westside of Merced County has only a few people who focus on wellness and the health of the whole person. One of them is Lisa Roper-Parolise, who has recently opened her service as KreaTive ChanGes in Los Banos.
Her challenge, as well as other persons who deal with wellness more than sickness, is that health insurance usually doesn’t cover this approach. I predict that this gradually will change, as more and more traditional doctors and medical schools recognize the value of holistic health care.
My granddaughter Hanna, now living in Sacramento, was able to find employment with the Sacramento Naturopathic Medical Clinic, working as a holistic nutritionist and certified health coach. SNMC is lucky to have her, and her clients will also be fortunate.
Imagine, for example, having a PNC (a personal nutrition coach) who could take the time to listen to you, understand your health goals and then offer you a plan for healthy eating which would be not only beneficial but also enjoyable.
In talking a little with Hanna, I realized that’s how she’d like to help people, by offering them an ongoing nutritional plan that could enable them to fight off disease and stay healthy as a continuing, sensible lifelong process, so they could eat nutritional foods they like.
Recently two journalists, Meghan O’Rourke and Ross Douthat, published books providing their accounts of dealing with illnesses which traditional medicine couldn’t treat.
In her book “The Invisible Kingdom: Reimaging Chronic Illness,” O’Rourke talks about her search for help with her autoimmune disease, which causes great discomfort and pain but which dozens of traditional doctors couldn’t figure out.
In his book, “The Deep Places: A Memoir of Illness and Discovery,” Douthat talks about his battle with Lyme disease and the inability of many traditional doctors to diagnose and help him.
Both O’Rourke and Douthat discovered that nontraditional approaches like naturopathic medicine for treating their illnesses were much more helpful than traditional medical approaches.
I agree with O’Rourke and Douthat, who both say we should not discount or denigrate traditional medicine to help fight and often cure disease and illness. M.D.s know a lot. I can attribute much of my current longevity of 76 years to M.D.s who have helped me.
But I also agree with both writers that if we as a society are going to make any real advances in health care, we must also turn to and rely on what are currently called “nontraditional” medical approaches. I hope these approaches will soon become standard ways to help all of us live healthier and longer lives.