Wednesday, February 16, 2011

President's Message: Science and Naturopathic Medicine

By Carl Hangee-Bauer, ND, LAc
AANP President

When I was a teenager, my first career choice was marine biology. Growing up along the coast in Florida, I spent much of my spare time in nature and in the water, enjoying the marvels of life and the natural world around me, and I still spend most of my vacations in natural settings and in the water. In school, I was a science geek and took every course in biology, chemistry, physics, etc., I could. When I went to college at Florida State University, my major was Biology, with dual minors in Chemistry and Physics. It was during my four-year stint in the United States Army that my attention was redirected to the medical field (I was a Medical Service Corps Officer), which eventually led me to naturopathic medicine and my true life career.

I tell you this to let you know that I am no stranger to science. I still find it fascinating and appreciate the many ways it helps us understand the workings of nature and the world, helping us separate what appears to be the truth of things from reality. Studying naturopathic medicine, and especially acupuncture, presented me with many challenges, and I learned along the way that our medicine, as well as all other systems of medicine, are really a combination of science and art. When we work with our patients, we draw from both in order to stimulate the vis and provide well-rounded care to our patients.

Thus it has become an increasing concern to me when I read articles and blogs on the Internet blasting naturopathic medicine for being “unscientific.” These frequently polemic articles, while professing to come from scientific logic, to my eye are biased misrepresentations of the truth. They often lambast our profession and philosophy as unscientific, yet I have yet to see any one of them provide a critical analysis of research done by naturopathic physicians and researchers. It is sad that science can be used in these political ways.

This is important. As a student at Bastyr University, I remember Dr. Joe Pizzorno saying that if our profession is to be taken seriously by the larger world of medicine, we must speak in a language that everyone can understand and appreciate. That language is the language of science, and few have done more over the past 25 years than Dr. Pizzorno to increase the credibility of the naturopathic profession using this approach. While I think we all can agree that we draw both from science as well as traditional practices and experiences when evaluating the efficacy of our therapies and approaches to practicing medicine, advancing the research and science agenda remains an important step for our profession to move forward, especially with the continued interest in evidence-based approaches to health care.

Fortunately there is now a great effort within the profession to advance our understanding of how science informs naturopathic practice, especially in the realm of whole practice approaches to health issues. Dr. Michael Cronin, the AANP’s President-Elect, has been a strong advocate on the AANP Board for promoting scientific affairs. The Naturopathic Physicians Research Institute (NPRI), headed by Dr. Carlo Calabrese, is a group of academic and community clinicians, clinical researchers and other health scientists whose aim is to increase the amount of original data and analysis on the practice of naturopathic medicine for the purposes of its documentation and improvement, the discovery of potentially generalizable health applications, and to inform policy. And, of course, there is active research going on presently at all of our naturopathic colleges by well-trained and experienced researchers who are testing the theories and practices of naturopathic medicine. Much of the discussion I’ve heard lately focuses on studies of whole practice approaches to health care versus single agent actions.

On August 16, 2011, the Tuesday before the start of the 2011 AANP Convention, the AANP will be sponsoring a scientific summit. While only in the early stages of planning, it promises to be a gathering for the different players in the naturopathic profession to connect and define how the AANP mission, naturopathic research, and evidence-informed health policy can join and result in healthier patients, a more effective health-care system, and a flourishing naturopathic profession. Core discussion points will include articulating policy and practice issues driving our research agenda, where the profession is now and what future possibilities exist, and defining the core research questions relating to safety, effectiveness, and costs.

The AANP Board and many in our profession agree that where possible providing a scientific basis for our therapies and for the naturopathic approach is an important step in growing our professions credibility and inclusion in the greater health care system. How we prioritize this and communicate to the public is of vital importance.

I hope to see many of you there.

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