Tips from a Naturopathic Medical Student

Join the AANMC and President of the Naturopathic Medical Student Association – Blake Langley for an informative session on what it takes to thrive as an ND student!

Here’s what you can expect to learn:
-A day in the life of a naturopathic medical student
-What to expect from naturopathic medical school
-How to balance school and life responsibilities
-How to build your resume and experience as a student to prepare for a career you will love
-Advice for prospective students

*Webinar does not qualify for CE

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To view the archive of past webinar recordings, please click here.


About the Presenter

Blake Langley is in his sixth year of studies in naturopathic and Chinese medicine at the National University of Natural Medicine. Hailing from the southeastern United States, he was raised in an area of the country underserved by naturopathic medicine. The therapeutic order and 6 principles of naturopathic medicine strongly guide his approach to patient care. He serves as President of the Naturopathic Medical Student Association and represents the voice of naturopathic students at the Integrative Health Policy Consortium and the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians. He additionally serves as the Founding Co-Chair of the Student Committee of the American Society of Acupuncturists. With his passion for advocacy and administration, Blake hopes to integrate these into the next step of his career: residency.

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*The information you submit in this registration will be used to inform you of updates to this event and will enroll you in the AANMC newsletter. The AANMC values your privacy. Please see how we protect your data in our privacy policy .

Naturopathic Approaches to IBS

With a worldwide prevalence of 10-20%, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is an exceedingly common functional bowel disorder.1 Diagnosis is complex because IBS is typically made as a diagnosis of exclusion. This means that all other potential causes need to be ruled out before the diagnosis is confirmed. Symptoms of IBS can include: abdominal pain, irregular bowel habits, alternating constipation and diarrhea, gas, and bloating.2 Often times, these symptoms can be quite restricting to an individual’s quality of life. People who suffer from IBS report having to limit their activity levels about 20% of the time, and also experience a poor health-related quality of life.3 Pharmaceutical-based treatment options are minimal, with only two strongly recommended drugs available.4 An IBS diagnosis can also result in significantly increased medical costs. IBS patients incur around 50% more health care costs than those without IBS.1 In the US alone, IBS costs are estimated at some $20 billion annually.5 The combination of loss of quality of life, limited medical treatment options, and elevated costs of treatment lead many to seek out other means of treatment, including naturopathic medicine.

“IBS is a disorder with a complex set of triggers, none of which would be individually sufficient to produce symptoms, but may do so when combined. Food sensitivities, unbalanced flora, and improper fermentation can set up a condition in the gut that then only takes a trigger, like emotional or physical stress or a dose of sensitive food, to cause reactions and symptoms. Natural treatment is based on the concept of ‘The Four Rs’: Remove, Replace, Re-inoculate, and Restore.”

Wm. Thor Conner, ND

Graduate, National University of Health Sciences

IBS can be a frustrating condition to manage, with at least half of sufferers turning to therapies outside of conventional allopathic medicine. In one survey, approximately 10% of individuals who used alternative medicine for a gastrointestinal complaint reported using naturopathy.6 The systematic approach and individualized care provided by naturopathic physicians involves the integration of modern medical knowledge with natural treatment options. Research confirms that naturopathic approaches to IBS are distinct from those offered in a conventional medical setting.1

“When I see a new patient, I give them a very detailed digestive health questionnaire that helps me to understand their risk factors for various GI conditions, their current symptoms picture and what kinds of things trigger their symptoms. I then spend about an hour speaking with them, going over their history and performing a physical exam to make sure I fully understand the picture. If I find that additional testing or referrals are necessary, I may also order these at the first visit.”

Lela Altman, ND, LAc

Graduate, Bastyr University

“Most patients who visit my practice have tried eliminating foods from their diets, seen many providers, performed numerous GI tests and still don’t have answers for why they don’t feel well. IBS generally does not start over night. So, I try to determine, what has brought the patient to this point? I like to consider myself trained as a detective as well as a naturopathic doctor to understand the why this person has developed IBS. An initial patient visit should be extensive. I cover a thorough time line of health history, evaluate past health records, document treatments tried and understand who my patient is as a person. It’s my goal to think outside of the box for events that could have led to the development of IBS. Once I have an understanding of the most likely reason for their distress, I systematically start there, while working through other possibilities.”

Crane Holmes, ND

Graduate, National University of Natural Medicine

“I take a complete history, including other systems that may be disturbed by the digestive imbalance. I look at dental history, NSAID and antibiotic use, other allergies and diagnoses, immune and liver function and microbiome condition. When necessary I will order lab tests, food sensitivities and allergy panels, SIBO breath tests, flora and stool analysis, micronutrient assays, as well as any indicated standard testing. The aim is to find which set of symptoms that the patient is showing and to tailor an individualized treatment plan to meet the root cause.”

Wm. Thor Conner, ND

Graduate, National University of Health Sciences

Though not all treatments work for all individuals, there are a number of means by which naturopathic medicine addresses the underlying functional imbalance associated with IBS.

Manage Mental and Emotional Stress

The gut is home to the “enteric nervous system” also known as the ‘second brain’.7 This intricate neuronal network allows us to feel the inner world of the gut and its contents. Digestion is the main duty of this system, which includes breaking down ingested foods, absorbing nutrients, and eliminating wastes, and the synchronized muscular contractions that move it all along. As many experience, digestion can be intimately related to an emotion or stressor. It is very common for chronic digestive issues to be connected to an emotional or stress component. Those with IBS often present with accompanying disorders including those impacting the mental/emotional state. Studies have shown that patients with IBS report an average of five (four physical and one mental-emotional) additional conditions.8  Researchers went on to note that specific diagnoses, such as generalized depression, anxiety, insomnia, and tension headaches, were associated with decreased quality of life, greater impairments to mental and physical function, distress, more severe symptoms of IBS, and worse pain symptoms.8 Developing a strategic program to help manage stress and realign the balance of the nervous system can be integral to managing chronic digestive disturbances. Implementing activities such as mindful breathing, yoga, earthing, qigong, tai chi, journaling, and many other techniques can be helpful in reducing stress and reconnecting with the body.

“I ask the patient to keep a diet diary that includes symptoms, bowel movements, and self-care, like meditation and exercise. This serves as an educational tool for them to become aware of what they are eating and how it relates to their digestive health.”

Wm. Thor Conner, ND

Graduate, National University of Health Sciences

Dietary Considerations

The use of food as medicine is as old as the practice of medicine itself. When it comes to IBS, food plays a central role in that many people with IBS note significant association between the foods they eat and the appearance or exacerbation of their symptoms. More than 60% of patients with IBS report the onset or worsening of symptoms after meals, alterations happened within 15 minutes in 28% and within three hours in 93% of these patients.9

“Identification and elimination of food sensitivities and allergies is the first thing that should be addressed. I commonly use an elimination/challenge diet because it is diagnostic and therapeutic at the same time, but some patients prefer lab testing. We also need to eliminate foods and habits that irritate the gut alone, like alcohol, coffee, smoking and not coping well with stress. The basis of the diet for this period of time should be whole food, plant centered, and properly prepared (cooked), to provide rest for the digestive system.”

Wm. Thor Conner, ND

Graduate, National University of Health Sciences

Some examples of dietary considerations that may be helpful in IBS management include:

Assess and address food sensitivities, intolerances, and allergies

Although it can be extremely difficult to identify single, specific food items that are causing a reaction, a staggering 84% of IBS patients report consumption-related symptomatology to at least one food item.9 A food intolerance is a nonimmune-mediated adverse reaction to food that can be caused by any (non-protein) food component, and is much more common than food allergy. 10 Studies have shown that those with IBS will try to extrapolate which foods cause them the most issues, revealing that 62% of IBS patients limit or exclude foods from their diet.11 Among the most common methodologies for determining adverse food reactions is an elimination and challenge trial. This is typically a multi-phase protocol that involves short term (typical time frames are three to six weeks but it can be longer) elimination of a specific food, category of foods, or even several categories of foods then consuming the suspected foods again one at a time to monitor for potential reactions. The impact of elimination diets can be very profound. One study of IBS patients who underwent an elimination diet demonstrated statistically significant improvements in stool frequency, pain, and quality of life scores.12

Increase fiber Intake

Inadequate fiber intake is extremely common in modern society with less than 5% of people actually getting the recommended basic 19-38 grams daily.13 Fiber is well known to improve a number gastrointestinal complaints, and is among the most often suggested dietary interventions in primary care.9 Fiber helps to support normal bowel function and elimination habits. A note of caution however, in some instances fiber may cause an increase in gas and bloating due to bacteria in the digestive tract producing gas as they metabolize the fiber. In these instances, balancing gut bacteria with adequate probiotics can be helpful.

Special diets

Food elimination through various dietary protocols provides structure and can help patients identify and remove food allergies or sensitivities. Examples of dietary systems that include an elimination component include gluten free, Paleo and low-fermentable oligosaccharide, disaccharide, monosaccharide, and polyol better known as low-FODMAP. Patients who reduce their FODMAP intake have noted improvement in abdominal pain, bloating, and flatulence. Some studies have reported that a gluten-free diet reduces diarrhea as well as abdominal pain and bloating.10

The standout therapy when it comes to managing IBS is the low-FODMAP diet. This dietary system was developed by Drs. Peter Gibson and Susan Shepherd of Monash University. FODMAPs are short chain polysaccharides that are limited in small intestine absorption but are highly fermentable by the bacteria in the small intestine to form short-chain fatty acids.14 The low-FODMAP diet has been shown in at least 10 randomized trials to result in a positive clinical response in 50%-80% of patients with IBS, with improvements in bloating, flatulence, diarrhea and global symptoms being among the most notable.15  A low-FODMAP diet involves three stages.16 Stage one is classified as an elimination phase, which lasts between three and eight weeks and involves strict elimination of all high-FODMAP foods. Stage two is the re-introduction phase where high-FODMAP foods are reintroduced one at a time for cycles of three days each. This phase allows an individual to both determine which selective FODMAPs they are sensitive to (since it is uncommon to be sensitive to all of them) and how much FODMAP they can tolerate. In stage three, a long-term personalized FODMAP protocol is implemented based on the findings from stage two. This final stage is important for supporting long term compliance through dietary variety and flexibility, which are linked to improvements in both quality of life and overall gut health.17

Supplements and Herbal Options

It is always the goal in naturopathic medicine to find and remove the cause of disease, however in some chronic conditions, this can take time and patience. While naturopathic therapies are at work, supplements and botanicals may be used to manage and decrease the expression of symptoms.

“I will often prescribe herbs to help the gut heal and restore to proper function. The goal of botanical medicine in this is always aimed at restoring function and reminding the body to heal itself. The herbal combinations are chosen for the individual’s symptoms. Demulcent herbs like Deglycyrrhizinated licorice and slippery elm coat and soothe the mucosa layer, allowing the underlying cells to heal. Glutathione directly feeds the gut cells.  Anti-microbial herbs like mahonia (Oregon grape root) and hydrastis (goldenseal) to help balance yeasts and bacterial overgrowth. Enteric coated peppermint or valerian root can address cramping and spasm in the bowel. Fiber sources like flax, chia and psyllium pull double duty as fiber and mucilage.”

Wm. Thor Conner, ND

Graduate, National University of Health Sciences

The use of herbs and other supplements can help relieve symptoms. The following herbs/supplements have been shown to help manage IBS:

Probiotics: Probiotics have long been a go-to therapy for intestinal conditions, and IBS is no exception. There is a growing body of scientific evidence connecting the response to changes in the enteric microenvironment to IBS symptoms, suggesting that strategies that modulate the gut microbiome could be beneficial in IBS. Additional studies delineating the role of gut bacteria in influencing function such as gut motility, intestinal and colonic barrier integrity, visceral sensation, as well as reciprocal actions between the gut and the brain further support the role of the micro biome in IBS.18 People with IBS can have a variant composition of commensal gut bacteria including Bacteriodes spp., Bifidobacterium spp., Lactobacilli spp. and others compared to healthy controls.19 Improving the balance of gut bacteria with probiotics can help modulate IBS symptoms via multiple mechanisms. Because microbes in the intestinal microbiome compete for both nutrients and space, probiotics can limit the availability of both to pathogenic bacteria. Probiotics also leave fewer binding sites for pathogenic bacteria and secures substances that create an inhospitable environment for pathogenic microbes.19 Probiotics have also been demonstrated to enhance and protect gut barrier function as well as produce an anti-inflammatory effect.19 There is ample evidence to suggest that probiotics would benefit those with IBS.

Berberine: Berberine is not an actual herb, but an alkaloid compound derived from plants such as Oregon Grape, Barberry, and Goldenseal. It has a long history of use in both traditional Chinese and ayurvedic medicine. Berberine is available in extract form as a dietary supplement. Traditional use of berberine has been proven to have many pharmacological effects, including antimicrobial, anti-tumor, anti-inflammatory and blood glucose–lowering effects.20 Studies examining the use of berberine in patients with IBS found that berberine was well tolerated. It also reduced the frequency and urgency of bowel movements as well as the frequency of abdominal pain. Non-digestive quality of life measures such as anxiety and depression also showed improvement trends.21

Peppermint Oil (Mentha piperita): Peppermint is a carminative herb. It prevents the formation of gas or promotes expulsion of gas from the intestines. Reduced ability to expel intestinal gas with consequent gas trapping and bowel distension may contribute to abdominal discomfort/pain and bloating associated with IBS.22 Peppermint oil has a broad range of medicinal properties that may be relevant in treating the IBS patient including acting as an antispasmodic, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant as well as having immunomodulating and anesthetic activity.23 A double blind study of enteric coated peppermint oil revealed a 40% reduction in total IBS symptom scores compared to baseline.23 Additional studies confirm the benefit of peppermint oil for statistically significant treatment of abdominal symptoms of IBS. 24,25

Artichoke (Cynara scolymus): Cynara scolymus is a plant native to the Mediterranean region and is a member of the thistle group of the sunflower family.26 Artichoke has been used as an herbal medicine since ancient times and has a number of beneficial properties. It is well known for its use as a digestive support- aiding in the formation and secretion of bile which helps support the digestion of fats. It also has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, liver protective and cholesterol lowering properties.27 Interestingly, although we eat the flower bud of the plant as food, the compounds associated with its medicinal qualities are concentrated in the leaves rather than the favored bud.28 Cynara scolymus leaf extract has also demonstrated both curative and preventive roles when it comes to management of IBS. In a study of individuals who suffered digestive disturbance, but were otherwise healthy, treatment led to a 26.4% decrease in IBS incidence and a 41% decrease in IBS type digestive symptoms.29 This included a significant shift in bowel habits to a more regular pattern versus the oscillating diarrhea and constipation that is common in IBS. Additional studies of artichoke leaf extract in individuals diagnosed with IBS revealed that over a six week treatment period, there was a significant reduction in the severity of symptoms with 96% of participants rating artichoke leaf extract as equal or better than previously administered therapies.29

Move that body!

Exercise is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle. The benefits of exercise for systems such as the cardiovascular system are well-known. Perhaps lesser known are the benefits to the digestive system. One study revealed that after six weeks of treadmill-based aerobic exercise, there was a significant improvement in the severity of IBS symptoms and quality of life scores compared to a control group as well as compared to before and after exercise intervention.30 Additional studies have confirmed the benefit of exercise on both IBS symptomatology as well as quality of life measures such as emotion, sleep, energy, physical functioning, and social and physical role were significantly improved in IBS sufferers who exercised regularly.31

NDs share IBS patient success stories

“I have a 28-year-old female patient who is in a master’s program and enjoys spending time working outside raising animals. She had a history of IBS associated with heavy, painful menses but otherwise normal GI health. After foreign travel, increased stress and some general illnesses, she developed urgent IBS-d. This urgent diarrhea greatly affected her daily life, making tending animals and leaving the house for school difficult. She had tried multiple food eliminations, herbal teas, probiotics and other supportive therapies she could find online without much improvement. Her main strategy was to avoid eating which could prolong her day away from a restroom until she was home at night.

Homeopathic podophyllum provided immediate relief for the explosive, urgent diarrhea which allowed her to feel more comfortable leaving the house. Further work revealed issues with GI dysbiosis and pancreatic insufficiency. After a few different herbal and pharmaceutical treatments to correct the dysbiosis, discovering the right pancreatic enzyme and focusing on stress reduction/sleep improvement, one year later she is having one-two non-urgent, well-formed stools per day while maintaining a healthy diet.”

Crane Holmes, ND

Graduate, National University of Natural Medicine

“A 38-year-old male patient presented with symptoms of IBS which included abdominal pain and distension. These symptoms were relieved with bowel movements that were urgent, frequent, and loose. He had been experiencing these symptoms for six months, and his quality of life was slowly deteriorating. He stopped going to restaurants with his family, as he felt extreme anxiety at the thought of being unable to control his pain and bowel movements. He traveled for work frequently, and would not eat meals with his colleagues, surviving on ginger ale, nut bars and Imodium. When he came to see me, his anxiety was heightened as his wife was asking for a separation. After gathering a full history and completing a physical exam, the assessment of IBS was made. I recommended dietary changes, botanicals and supplements to control his anxiety and GI symptoms, and counseling was provided to help him grieve the end of his relationship. After three months, his symptoms were better controlled, and while he was still struggling with the divorce, his quality of life had improved, he had started his own business, was relying less on Imodium. He was able to travel and control his IBS and anxiety with botanicals and supplements. Today, he is in a new relationship, and although his IBS symptoms flared up briefly when he started dating, he enjoys his life, eats a variety of foods, and travels without anxiety. This case really helped me understand the gut-brain axis and its influence on the balance of health.”

Poonam Patel, BSc, ND

Graduate, Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine

“A female in her mid-40s presented with a six-month history of abdominal pain, loose stools and nausea.  Her symptoms started around the same time that the she had undergone significant stress with work and family. She was diagnosed with IBS-D and recommended to take Imodium as needed for the loose stool and to reduce stress. She did this, however the symptoms never really resolved which brought her in to see me. I gave her a gut healing protocol with glutamine, herbs and digestive enzymes which helped a little, but also did not resolve her symptoms. It became clear that her symptoms were worse with some meals so we investigated food intolerances and found that she reacted to wheat, dairy and eggs. She eliminated these from her diet and her symptoms improved slightly more, but not completely. At this I ordered a small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) breath test, which was positive. Of note, the only risk factor she had for SIBO was stress.  I treated her SIBO and all her GI symptoms resolved. While she still had mild reactions to wheat, dairy and tomatoes, she was able to tolerate them much better after SIBO treatment.

Depending on the study, somewhere between around 60-80% of patients with IBS test positive for SIBO. This may be what is causing all their digestive symptoms and, in my opinion, is important to consider when determining treatment approaches. If SIBO is present, it is the first thing I work. If SIBO is missed, you won’t generally get very far with the IBS treatment until it is addressed.”

Lela Altman, ND, LAc

Graduate, Bastyr University

“I had a patient that had been treated for years for IBS exclusively with medications, to little effect. She had what she called ‘unpredictable’ gas and stool urgency, with many loose bowel movements a day, constant cramping, and bloating after meals. She also suffered from headaches and depression, insomnia and fatigue, and had different medications for each. She was told she would have to deal with the symptoms, and that they would likely get worse as time went on. She called me in what she saw as a last-ditch attempt to get some relief. She was on a diet of mostly processed foods; particularly wheat-based. I convinced her to do a basic elimination for two weeks, focusing on eliminating wheat and increasing vegetables. We also addressed the daily stress she was under and gave her some good ways to deal with it in a healthy way.

She left hopeful for the first time in years. A month later she reported having had solid bowel movements consistently through the weeks, and significant improvement in gas and bloating. She was sleeping better and hadn’t had a headache since the second week. She even found the energy to start an exercise routine. She had seen the immediate effect from removing offending foods, and using enzymes and probiotics, and found it was worth the effort. At six months she was thriving for the first time in decades and had become a vocal advocate for gut health. She even led a meditation group for her stress-filled office in an effort to improve her surroundings.”

Wm. Thor Conner, ND

Graduate, National University of Health Sciences

Due to the complexities of IBS and the intricacies of the workings of the human digestive tract, a single treatment is unlikely to be fully beneficial for managing IBS symptoms effectively. Using a multi-pronged approach that takes advantage of the various approaches available is more likely to result in adequate symptomatic control and management of the condition long term.

For questions about how naturopathic doctors treat patients with conditions like IBS, click here to find an ND near you in the United States or Canada. The Gastroenterology Association of Naturopathic Physicians (GastroANP) is also a great resource!

Learn More About Becoming a Naturopathic Doctor

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Therapeutic Benefits of Pets

We all know that eating fruits and vegetables, exercising, controlling stress, and getting enough sleep each night are vital components to overall health and longevity. But what if you found out you could further reduce your risk of heart disease and death without limiting carbs or taking another supplement? What if the same thing could reduce the risk of your kids developing environmental allergies, and improve mental health and well-being? Interested? Then it may be time to check out a local pet adoption event because these benefits (and more) are all associated with pet ownership!

“I can’t imagine life without pets. Animals provide unconditional love and acceptance. There is no way to describe all that these wonderful companions give to us.”

Gaia Mather, ND

Graduate and Assistant Professor, National University of Natural Medicine

According to a 2018 national survey, 68% of US households own a pet.1 Pet ownership comes with more than just unconditional love and endless entertainment. Additional health and wellness benefits of pet ownership include:

Improved cardiovascular risk and lower mortality

Pets are often responsible for filling their owner’s heart with love, but studies have also demonstrated that owning a pet can have added cardiovascular benefits and may even reduce the risk of death due to cardiovascular disease (as well as other causes). A 12-year long Swedish study involving 3.4 million people aged 40-80 showed that dog owners had a lower risk of death over the course of the study.1 Pet ownership has also been associated in a number of studies with reductions in cardiovascular risk factors such as high blood pressure, improved cholesterol patterns, as well as increased heart rate variability and autonomic function.2

Reduced risk of allergies and stronger overall immune system

The term “immunity” refers to not one specific thing, but a collection of mechanisms employed by the body in an effort to guard against agents in the environment. This includes microorganisms, foods, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, environmental allergens such as pollen and animal hair/dander. Pets can be a great source of a number of these, and interacting with a pet may affect immunity levels. Researchers have hypothesized that pets increase exposure to a greater number of allergens and other microbes. Published research has shown that growing up with a cat or dog can lead to fewer allergies later in life.3 Further research demonstrates that having a pet in the home can actually lower a child’s likelihood of developing related allergies by as much as 33%.4 The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology revealed that children exposed early on to animals tend to develop stronger immune systems overall.4

Enhanced stress management capabilities

Pet therapy is becoming increasingly popular and is used in a variety of ways. Many people rely on animals for support, whether in an official capacity as a trained service animal, or in the role of a house pet or registered emotional support animal.

“I know plenty of people whose lives would be significantly different if they didn’t have their companion animals helping them through life: a woman whose dog would alert her when she was about to have a seizure, and people whose assistance dogs help modulate their anxiety levels to function more fully in the world.”

Gaia Mather, ND

Graduate and Assistant Professor, National University of Natural Medicine

Veterans, children and students are just a few groups who have shown that people can experience less stress when a pet is around. A 12-month study of veterans with PTSD symptoms who were involved in a therapeutic dog ownership program revealed that participants experienced significant reductions in symptoms of post-traumatic stress, perceived stress, isolation, and self-judgment accompanied by significant increases in self-compassion.5

“As someone living with PTSD, animals have been a great source of comfort and truly a gift on my healing journey. I started riding at the age of five and cannot imagine my life without a horse. Just being in the presence of my horses, I feel a sense of peace and tranquility that heals my body, mind and soul. Horseback riding and being in nature allows me to re-balance and reconnect with myself and reduces feelings of depression and anxiety.”

Holly Wurtz, ND

Graduate, National University of Health Sciences

Children often have less developed emotional and physiological responses to stress, as well as reduced cognitive coping mechanisms to self-regulate their stress response.6 In a study of typically developing children between the ages of 7 and 12, it was found that perceived stress during a novel stressor is buffered in the presence of a dog.6 University students are another group who experience a good deal of stress. In a study of pet therapy, students experienced a statistically significant reduction in stress markers, including stress as measured on the state trait anxiety inventory and blood pressure when interacting with therapeutic animals.7

Pet therapy may also benefit the workplace. Stress is a major contributor to employee absenteeism, poor morale and burnout, and results in significant loss of productivity and resources.8 Researchers examined how the presence of dogs impacted worker stress throughout the course of a work day. They found that dogs in the workplace may buffer the impact of stress and make the job more satisfying for those with whom they come into contact.9

For some, time with pets is the ultimate stress reliever. “As a practitioner, business owner and mom, my stress levels are inherently high. Cats make a huge difference in helping me recover from stress, giving me a chance to take a break and be in the present moment.”

Doni Wilson, ND, CNS, CPM

Graduate, Bastyr University

NDs share how they incorporate the therapeutic benefits of animals in patient care

“One of my patients was a depressed mother of two small children. Myself along with her other therapists, suggested that she get a dog.  She rescued a boxer and within a few months, her outlook on life and connection with her children improved significantly.”

Marizelle Arce, ND

Graduate, University of Bridgeport School of Naturopathic Medicine

“A 60-year-old woman who complained of stress and anxiety, especially related to her health, got a cat. In taking care of her cat, her anxiety levels decreased, and she felt a sense of companionship. Many people feel isolated and alone, which actually becomes a stressor and causes further health issues. Having a pet can make a huge difference for these patients.”

Doni Wilson, ND, CNS, CPM

Graduate, Bastyr University

“I ask patients about pet ownership and find that pets often have a significant role in people’s lives.  Many pet owners view their pets as family members.  For example, I saw a patient who was experiencing a high level of stress due to work and a recent divorce. As part of his wellness plan, I suggested that he make time to take his beloved golden retriever to a dog park.  He started going to the dog park on a daily basis and felt more relaxed and better able to cope with life’s circumstances.”

Holly Wurtz, ND

Graduate, National University of Health Sciences

Decreased risk of obesity and augmented activity level

Despite intensive campaigns to promote awareness and lifestyle interventions for obesity, obesity and physical inactivity continue to climb, reaching epidemic proportions. In the US, over 60% of adults are overweight or obese, and fewer than 50% achieve recommended amount of physical activity.2 Studies have found that people who walk dogs tend to have lower incidence of obesity and are 53% more likely to meet recommendations for moderate to vigorous physical activity.2 The benefits are not limited to adults. The US has seen a threefold increase in childhood obesity since 1970 with around 20% of children aged 6-19 being considered obese.10 However, research has shown that for younger children, the odds of being overweight or obese were cut in half for those whose family owned a dog versus those who did not.2

Fosters social interaction

Creating, developing, and maintaining social connections with others is an important part of maintaining our long-term health. However, for many people, this is no easy feat. Social anxiety, communication difficulties, and lack of opportunity can all be challenges in forming social bonds. Pets can be great social networkers, helping to facilitate new connections, building support and rapport with others. A 2015 study found that people who were pet owners were over 60% more likely to meet and get to know the people in their neighborhood.11 Although dog owners were the most likely to make new friends while spending time walking their dogs, other types of pets such as cats, rabbits, and even snakes can support a sense of connection as well.2

NDs share how they’ve become involved in the community because of their love for animals

Dr. Mather has volunteered at the Oregon Humane Society with her niece.  She adopted one of her two cats while volunteering.

Gaia Mather, ND

Graduate ad Assistant Professor, National University of Natural Medicine

Dr. Arce and her husband donate toys and blankets to the Yonkers animal shelter. They also volunteer their time to the Mount Vernon animal shelter and Wildlife SOS in an effort to help people realize the importance of rescuing animals. Dr. Arce and her husband are pictured below with their two dogs, both rescued from North Shore Animal League. They also have two cats which were also rescued.

Marizelle Arce, ND

Graduate, University of Bridgeport School of Naturopathic Medicine

“I have five cats, three dogs and two fabulous horses. My furry companions add to the richness of my life. I have volunteered with pet rescues for over 20 years and currently work with two rescues, FurKeeps Cat Rescue and Adopt a River Cat Rescue. I foster cats and kittens until they can find their forever homes and am very privileged to work with a remarkable group of people in rescue who are dedicated to helping both animals and people. We encounter many situations when working in pet rescue in which people need temporary homes for their animals due to unfortunate circumstances such as illness, job loss, domestic violence or homelessness, for example.  We also connect people with resources in the community to help provide support.  It is very rewarding to be able to help my community and be of service to both animals and people in need.”

Holly Wurtz, ND

Graduate, National University of Health Sciences

“I run a not-for-profit organization called Cat Care. Our mission is to care for feral cats in Port Jefferson on Long Island. We also care for a colony of 25 cats on my property. We also have a dachshund and a snake.”

Doni Wilson, ND, CNS, CPM

Graduate, Bastyr University

In summary, pets can serve a multitude of therapeutic functions in addition to being a loving member of our family. The decision to bring a pet into a home should not be taken lightly, however. Pets are a lifelong commitment – so make sure you research care, temperament and lifespans of the animals you are considering, and adopt from reputable locations or rescue organizations. By picking the right pet for your family, you will not only improve your health, but the health of your pet as well!

Learn More About Becoming a Naturopathic Doctor

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Blake Langley – ND Student

“NUNM changed my life. The person I was six years ago is very different from the man and clinician that I am today.”

Laying the groundwork to become an ND

Hailing from southeast United States, Blake Langley, Naturopathic Medical Student Association President and ND student, knew medicine was his calling since middle school.

“Realizing there was a significant lack of focus on prevention and chronic disease management other than polypharmacy, I began researching holistic healthcare professions. That’s when naturopathic medicine fell into my lap. At my first site visit, I felt like I was home.”

Blake’s first step to pursuing his naturopathic medical education was meeting with the National University of Natural Medicine admissions team in to discuss his transcript and career goals as they aligned with the science, history, and philosophy of naturopathic medicine. “The pathway to true health and wellness comes from comprehensive care. Naturopathic medicine has a focus on each patient’s whole health, including prevention of disease and minimizing risk factors. The idea of using lower intensity interventions when safe and appropriate was so novel to me compared to the quick administration of drugs and surgery, that I knew I’d never be able to go back.”

NUNM as a springboard

“NUNM provided a safe space for me to express my opinions, study other healing modalities on top of my naturopathic medical studies, take part in a close-knit community, and live in an area of the country that has a diverse set of natural areas.”

“I discovered a year or two into my education, that the naturopathic profession has varying views on our core identity; however, the diversity of thought at NUNM provided a space for colorful discussion. I found it important to study real primary care medicine while adhering to core naturopathic philosophy and becoming an efficient and competent clinician.”

“NUNM urged me to pursue other areas of study like acupuncture and massage therapy, which will greatly increase my possible future job opportunities. I received my LMT during my time at NUNM, and practiced massage outside of my clinical experience at the school and during preceptorship.”

Furthermore, the NUNM campus’ unique old elementary school setting offered charm that the other schools could not compete with. “With easy public transit and pedestrian access, the urban setting is distinctly offset by stunning views of Mt. Saint Helens and Mt. Hood on sunny days. Within two hours, students can have access to Oregon coastlines, river beaches, mountains, deep forests, and even high desert settings. With much-needed escapes from the didactic settings of medical school, I knew NUNM was the best place for me.”

“There are so many lessons I’ve learned throughout my time at NUNM. In my personal life, I’ve learned how to only bring things into my life that bring me joy; I’ve learned how to recognize when my body, mind, and spirit need restoration; I’ve learned how to communicate better with myself, my peers, my superiors, and those outside of the realm of naturopathic medicine. However, in my professional life, almost everything has changed. I have discovered how to efficiently learn on the fly, how to manage my time and investments, how to respect the interests and approach to medicine that others have, and what it means to provide patient-centered healthcare. NUNM changed my life. The person I was six years ago is very different from the man and clinician that I am today.”

“In school, I probably volunteered a little too much of my time sitting on the Honor Council, serving as Student Ambassador, representing on additional committees, working in multiple capacities with the Naturopathic Medical Student Association, American Association of Naturopathic Physicians, Integrative Health Policy Consortium, and more. However, it is through my work on these projects that I have found exactly where I will thrive in my future practice.”

Work-Life Balance as an ND student

I have always loved organization and facilitation of others’ clarity and efficiency. Over the last four years, I have invested an average of 30 hours per week into representing students on a national level in advocacy, training, education, and opportunity development through the Naturopathic Medical Student Association. I eat, breathe, and live the NMSA at this point in my life and it augments my clinical and didactic education in a way that keeps me passionate about what we do and teach. From my volunteerism with the other organizations in the profession, I’ve found my niche – as much as I love direct patient care, I know I will continue to be involved in administration throughout my career.

Furthermore, “I find that I have greater career flexibility from adding a second degree, receiving another license (LMT), and gaining training in organizational management from the NMSA. Because my focus remains in areas of high concentration of pre-licensed states, I’m very glad to have included the Masters of Science in Oriental Medicine during my time at NUNM. I can practice in any state in the country with both licenses. Additionally, this gives me the opportunity to influence parts of the healthcare entity that may not be open to NDs right now. Most medical providers have an idea of what acupuncture is and how it works. Using my LAc to work alongside these providers and introducing them to naturopathic medicine over time can build trust, long-standing relationships, and opportunities for future naturopathic doctors to receive gainful employment throughout the levels of the healthcare system in the future.”

Future Goals

“I’m currently working toward a residency; however, my hopes for a paradigm shift in the southeast United States remains a constant urge in the back of my mind. My goals are to move into healthcare administration and use my acupuncture license to move into areas of the healthcare system currently uncharted by naturopathic doctors. There is significant room for development within systems like the Veteran’s Administration where, if people are able to become credentialed, work, and build trust in the systems pre-existing structure, facilitating ND entrance can be more easily conducted.”

“The parts of naturopathic medicine that I have developed a great passion for are in advocacy and administration. During my time with the NMSA, I’ve learned that, as much as I love providing care to patients, I need a break to work in legislation and organizations that help the background of the profession. Most come into naturopathic medicine to provide for patients, but I’ve learned that I’m a better facilitator. I plan to work on state and federal levels for naturopathic medicine, acupuncture, and integrative health and wellness to bring naturopathic physicians into systems throughout the United States for a foundational shift in the wellness of our country.”

Advice for aspiring NDs

“The greatest advice I can provide to those considering naturopathic medicine – or medicine in general – is to remain humble and open to other philosophies. In naturopathic medicine, we have the opportunity to learn from an array of lineages to promote diversity of thought and practice. As individual as our patients are, the physicians in our profession are similarly diverse. Even if you don’t agree with or understand certain practices (most commonly homeopathy or vaccination), you should train yourself to think critically for yourself without having to force any belief on another individual. Medical school is a time to explore not only your capability of gaining knowledge, providing patient care, and how you may want to practice in the future; it is also a time to understand how you work best, what your personal limits are, and challenge yourself to understand what you know and what you don’t know. I’ve seen classmates let their ego get ahead of them and create false preconceptions regarding subjects (which naturopathic medicine already has a challenge with to some extent with other parts of the healthcare community) and it has left them cynical and jaded. However, the classmates who challenge themselves to think critically and openly have noted their patient interactions are easier, their ability and willingness to learn is accelerated, and they graduate as healthier, happier individuals.”

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Dr. Carrie Baldwin-Sayre – NUNM

“It just made sense to find the root cause of illness rather than just put a band-aid on it, and use whatever natural means were effective FIRST, before elevating to riskier or side-effect ridden therapies.”

Laying the groundwork to become an ND

Dr. Carrie Baldwin-Sayre knew she wanted to be a doctor since elementary school, but it wasn’t until later in life that she found her calling in naturopathic medicine. As a young student she had never heard of medical systems outside of the conventional, Western model. As a pre-med student, she didn’t enjoy the level of competitiveness among students and what seemed to be financial motivations for pursuing a career in medicine. In an effort to stay true to her values, she changed paths and pursued a bachelor’s degree in sociology at UCLA. After graduation, she developed chronic non-seasonal rhinitis for which she was prescribed a steroid nasal spray with no explanation of the cause of the condition or use of the drug. The steroid spray didn’t work so she began her own research and discovered the now-classic book “Our Bodies, Ourselves.” The book contained a full chapter on alternative medicine which covered diet, herbs, and mind-body and referenced National College of Naturopathic Medicine (now National University of Natural Medicine) in Portland, OR. Dr. Baldwin-Sayre requested more information and was hooked. “It just made sense to find the root cause of illness rather than just put a band-aid on it, and use whatever natural means were effective FIRST, before elevating to riskier or side-effect ridden therapies.”

With her heart set on becoming a naturopathic doctor, she and her husband packed their bags and moved to Portland. While her husband attended law school, she worked full time and completed her pre-requisites at night. Seven years later, she made the transition from a lucrative career in high-tech public relations to a full-time naturopathic medical student. “As soon as I started studying the physiology, biochemistry, and mechanisms of action of nutrients and herbs, it just made perfect sense.”

NUNM as a springboard

Dr. Baldwin-Sayre describes her time at NUNM as turning point in which she found a community of students and faculty who were dedicated to an alternative healthcare approach. “That passion was important to me, and made me realize that I not only wanted to help individual patients, but also to introduce to a much wider audience the idea that we could do things differently in health care and have great success in the process. We all had different spins on how we wanted to do that, but we were absolutely united in that underlying goal.” Dr. Baldwin-Sayre’s former classmates are now her colleagues with whom she continues to work with, meet up with at conferences and consults regularly about tough patient cases.

“Living the dream” after graduation

After completing her residency in general practice and cardiovascular medicine at the Center for Natural Medicine and the (then) NCNM Health Centers, Dr. Baldwin-Sayre stayed on as an independent contractor at NCNM and then pursued a career in private practice.

“I was motivated to change my focus from private practice because of my work on the Board of Directors at the Oregon Association of Naturopathic Physicians (OANP) which subtly shifted my perspective from individual patients to naturopathic medicine as a whole. I realized the importance of helping to grow the profession and protect our rights as physicians. As the Associate Dean of Clinical Education at NUNM, I am now in a better position to do that than I ever was before.” Dr. Baldwin-Sayre currently serves as the President of the OANP.

Finding fulfillment as an ND

“I love supporting the profession in its growth and evolution. I am passionate about educating the community about naturopathic medicine and how it is changing the healthcare landscape. I really love introducing and advocating for our medicine to legislators, insurers, researchers, policymakers, other healthcare providers and just about anyone who could advance the profession and help open up opportunities for our graduates. “

Advice for aspiring NDs

Reflecting on her success, Dr. Baldwin-Sayre recalls the significance of residency in offering better opportunities for practice. Furthermore, she credits external preceptorships that helped her network with NDs in the Portland community. Many of those physicians remain important mentors in her life today.

Dr. Baldwin-Sayre advises prospective naturopathic medical students to *visit a local ND to gain a better understanding of naturopathic practice. **There is diversity in the practice of naturopathic medicine so it is important to keep an open mind with others’ approaches to treatment. She also encourages prospective students to establish a financial plan and take out the minimum student loans that you need to pursue your education. Work hard and set up opportunities to expose yourself to different types of practices to set yourself up to be the best doctor you can be!

*Find a naturopathic doctor near you in the United States and Canada.

**The scope of naturopathic medicine varies by state. To learn about the scope of practice in your state or province, visit the state affiliates of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians website or the Canadian Association of Naturopathic Doctors.

Learn More About Becoming a Naturopathic Doctor

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