How Naturopathic Medicine Can Help IBS
Last updated: December 2019
As a naturopathic physician who specializes in the treatment and management of digestive health conditions, I am often asked what naturopathic medicine can offer a patient struggling with IBS. I am always happy to answer this question because, in my opinion, naturopathic physicians are some of the most well-suited providers for IBS patients.
Training of naturopathic physicians
A naturopathic physician, sometimes also referred to as a naturopathic doctor or ND, graduated from a 4-year graduate-level doctoral program from one of 8 nationally accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges1 found in the United States and Canada. Through these accredited institutions, NDs receive basic science education and biomedical training that is comparable to that of our conventional MD colleagues, with a strong emphasis on disease prevention, optimizing wellness and natural and non-pharmacological approaches to chronic conditions.
In order to practice in licensed states, such as Washington state where I practice, naturopathic physicians are required to sit for rigorous board exams and complete yearly continuing education requirements to maintain licensure. Many naturopathic physicians, including myself, elect to complete accredited post-graduate residency training in specific medical arenas; in my case, that of naturopathic gastroenterology. The primary pillars2 of our medical training include treating the whole person, addressing root causes, and focusing on optimizing physiologic function (vs. just treating disease), allowing naturopathic physicians to approach all patients through a functional and integrative lens.
Naturopathic approaches to IBS
My IBS patients typically find me after struggling with symptoms for years or decades, often with minimal or inconsistent relief from conventional treatments (e.g., antispasmodics, laxatives, fiber, etc.) In our very first visit, I talk to patients about the “large tool kit” that I can bring to their case. Not only am I trained in many of the conventional diagnostic and pharmacologic approaches to IBS, I also have additional training in botanical medicine, diet, and lifestyle counseling, mind-body medicine, and nutrient supplementation, as well a functional laboratory evaluation, including comprehensive stool analysis, food sensitivity testing, urinary organic acid testing, among others, that can shed light on what may be contributing to a given patients IBS symptoms.
While each naturopathic physician may approach IBS somewhat differently (we are a diverse profession after all!), a recent study 3 published earlier this year demonstrated that many can agree on certain fundamentals: longer treatment timelines, as well as frequent and lengthy visits, are often needed to better understand and help IBS patients, dietary interventions play a huge role in helping manage IBS symptoms, and additional “outside-the-box” testing techniques can often provide insight into how to best help patients.
Are you curious about working with a naturopathic physician?
If you are interested in working with a naturopathic physician, please make sure that they have received adequate (i.e., physician-level) training and are licensed appropriately. You can do this by confirming their educational institution (is it one of the eight listed here?1), and ask them, which state or states license them to practice. Be cautious of working with providers that call themselves “naturopaths” or other similar names; many of these folks have received minimal training through online “coursework”, which is in no way comparable to that of naturopathic physicians.
Have you already worked with a naturopathic physician? How has your experience been similar or different to those with your conventional providers?
Which of the following symptoms of IBS do you experience most frequently?