Mike: For our readers who may not be familiar with naturopathic physicians, can you give a brief description of what an ND really is?
Dr. Pizzorno: Well, if you think about health care, there are kind of two basic philosophies -- one is kind of the interventionist philosophy seen by conventional medical doctors, where the role of the doctor is to diagnose that disease and treat that disease. And the other side of the pendulum, you might say, is more of the natural oriented kind of practitioner who believes their primary role is to promote the health of the patient rather than specifically treat disease.
Now, we do treat disease, however, we treat diseases from the perspective of helping the body get healthier so that the body can get rid of the disease. So, for example, a medical doctor might use a drug, an antibiotic, to kill off an infection when a patient has an infection. What we would rather do is look at why is that person's immune system not working the way it's supposed to, and look at what diet, herbal, lifestyle changes they need so that their immune system will work properly, and not only will that current infection go away, but they'll have less chance of infections in the future.
Mike: It sounds like it's an approach that has a lot of faith in nature and faith in the human body to heal itself.
Dr. Pizzorno: Very much so. We in naturopathic medicine have this theme called vis medicatrix naturae which is "the healing power of nature."
Mike: And you mentioned lifestyle changes as well -- what percentage of the health problems that people are experiencing today do you think can be treated with lifestyle changes?
Dr. Pizzorno: I think we have a range from what therapies are curative versus those that help the patients become healthier, but don't necessarily clear up the disease. So every patient who comes to see me, virtually everyone who comes to see a naturopathic doctor, can have their health improved. Sometimes, however, if the pathology has progressed very far, then while we can improve their health, we may not be able to get the body to the point where it can get rid of the disease entirely. But I have never seen a patient that I couldn't give advice to that wouldn't help them become healthier.
Mike: Do you think a naturopathic approach is having an impact of catching on in traditional medical schools?
Dr. Pizzorno: No question about it. I think most conventional schools now have at least one course on alternative medicine. Now, from my perspective, those courses are kind of survey or familiarization courses -- they don't actually teach much in the way of skill, but it's definitely become more present in conventional medical schools. Interestingly enough, I think it's primarily being driven by the students. The students have formed within the American Medical Association the American Medical Student's Association. They actually formed an alternative special interest group, and they've worked hard to get more alternative medicine ideas into conventional medical schools.
Mike: That's an interesting point you bring up there, some of the most pioneering people in medicine and health care, in the health industry, have been traditionally trained MDs, and yet some of the people that alternative health writers like myself tend to criticize the most are also MDs. What is it that brings an MD to your school instead of just staying in the old school line of thinking?
Dr. Pizzorno: I think there are several things, and I think it's important to recognize that conventional medicine has important strengths. If somebody has an accident, or has an infection, or a well-established disease, conventional medicine has some great tools. But for the day to day practice of health care, conventional medicine's tools are fairly weak -- this is my perspective -- and the more you change your focus from disease diagnosis and treatment focus to understanding why people are sick and how to help them to become healthy, you start realizing that the drugs aren't very useful.
For example, if you have a patient with chronic migraine headaches, you can use a conventional drug like Sumatriptan, which is pretty good in that it shortens the duration of a migraine headache, but does nothing to relieve the underlying cause of why that person has a migraine headache. So when I look at stuff like a migraine headache, I look at the patient. With the patient, while the end state's manifestation might be something like a migraine headache, a throbbing headache, they get there through a wide range of different physiological dysfunctions.
Some patients, for example, are overproducing histamine in the body. Other people are overproducing leukotreins. Still others are unable to detoxify amino acids in their diet, and others might be because their mitochondria in their nerves aren't working well enough because their diet is deficient in magnesium. So, every person is sick for a different reason.
I think one of the great strengths of natural medicine is our ability to understand why people are sick and deal with the underlying cause of their illness. More and more conventional medical doctors are getting frustrated with drugs, because by far, the majority of drugs only relieve the symptoms -- they don't deal with the underlying cause why that person is sick. And when a doctor starts saying, "Why is our patient coming back with the same disease all the time?" Or, "Why do I have to put them on lifelong maintenance with this particular drug? Is there something I can do to deal with it more deeply?", they start reading more, start reading about nutrition, start reading about lifestyle, and they start realizing, "Well, wait a minute -- there's another way of dealing with patients. I wasn't taught this in medical school." And they start learning, they start going to conferences, reading some of my books, for example, and they start practicing more like naturopathic doctors.
Mike: That's an excellent explanation, I think. People are often sending me e-mails and asking me about these diseases, and I always say, of course, go see an ND, but the right answer is, it depends on where you are in that process.
Dr. Pizzorno: Yes. It's kind of interesting -- one of the critiques from conventional medicine about natural medicine doctors is, "Well, you delayed that patient's diagnosis so that the disease progressed too far, and they were worse when they came to me." And I would say, "Well, that is a valid critique, but actually I think it's much more of a problem in the other direction." You can understand why, because from conventional medicine's perspective, the drugs they use are expensive and they're dangerous. They cause side effects. So of course they're not going to want to use the drugs any sooner than necessary. But that space between normal and developed pathology is when we should be using natural medicines most optimally. And we should have -- I know this is a dream that will unlikely come true, but our family practice doctors should be more like naturopathic doctors, and the conventional medicine, they primarily want to be specialists -- well, we should let them be specialists. That's the way their medicine works very well.
Mike: To change the subject here, how many NDs are there practicing in the U.S. now??
Dr. Pizzorno: There are about 2500 NDs in the country practicing in 14 states, they're licensed.
Mike: There are now 14 states that license?
Dr. Pizzorno: Right. We also have people practicing in unlicensed states, but right now we only have licensed practices in 14 states.
Mike: Is that one of the main agendas of the school, to get licensing in other states?
Dr. Pizzorno: Absolutely. Every state, people of every state should have the option of using our graduates to improve their health.
Mike: So, big question among readers here is how can they find an ND?
Dr. Pizzorno: Actually, that's pretty straightforward. The American Association of Naturopathic Physicians maintains a national registry of appropriately qualified naturopathic doctors.
Mike: Is there a website people can visit to do a search?
Dr. Pizzorno: Yes. It's http://www.naturopathic.org.
Mike: What do patients ask for in terms of accreditation? They just ask for a naturopathic license?
Dr. Pizzorno: Yes.
Mike: That's it?
Dr. Pizzorno: That's it. Just ask to see their license. At this time in the United States there are 4 schools that are accredited to give naturopathic degrees.
Mike: Can you list those?
Dr. Pizzorno: Yes. So you have the Bastyr University here in Seattle, there's National College of Naturopathic Medicine in Portland, Oregon, there's Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine in Phoenix, Arizona, and then there's the Bridgeport University that has a program in naturopathic medicine in Connecticut. There are also two schools in Canada -- the Ontario College of Naturopathic Medicine in Toronto, and then there's the Boucher College of Naturopathic Medicine in Vancouver, British Columbia. Dr. Boucher used to be one of my teachers, as was Dr. Bastyr.
You've been reading part one of a five-part interview with Dr. Joseph Pizzorno, the founding president of Bastyr University. Dr. Pizzorno was appointed by President Clinton in December 2000 to the White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine Policy. President Bush’s administration appointed him to the Medicare Coverage Advisory Committee in February 2003. He is also the co-author of the “Textbook of Natural Medicine” and the “Handbook of Natural Medicine.”