December 11, 2012 by  
Filed under Health Blog


SANDIEGO — Whether it’s using St. John’s Wort to fight minor depression or acupuncture to help manage a migraine, experts say San Diego is fertile ground for natural medicine.

In recent years, some of the region’s largest and most traditional health care systems have begun to integrate holistic and homeopathic treatments including herbs and meditation to fix what ails their patients.

The trend toward natural remedies accelerated on Sept. 14 with the opening of Bastyr University in a two-story commercial building on Sorrento Valley Boulevard. It is California’s first accredited postgraduate school that focuses on training naturopathic doctors.

“Particularly in San Diego, people want a healthy lifestyle, and naturopathic medicine is a natural fit,” said Moira Fitzpatrick, vice president of Bastyr University California.

Bastyr, which is accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, enrolled 48 students from 14 states in its inaugural class. All are embarking on a four-year graduate curriculum that puts them on the path to earn the right to list N.D. — for naturopathic doctor — after their names.


That right is not universally recognized. The American Medical Society takes a skeptical view of alternative medicine, counseling medical doctors, in its official policy, to educate patients “as to the hazards that might result from postponing or stopping conventional medical treatment.” Do a web search of “pseudoscience” and “naturopath” and a lively debate quickly appears, with bloggers and researchers questioning the validity of natural remedies.

Fitzpatrick, a naturopathic doctor and licensed psychologist, said Bastyr is doing more of its own research to prove the efficacy of the techniques it teaches, but also points to history.

“If you think about some of these herbs that we use, they’ve been used for thousands of years, and they have worked,” she said.

There is no question that naturopathic doctors, whether or not they are accepted by mainstream M.D.s, have the right to practice. In California, N.D.s can examine patients, order lab work, prescribe natural medications and perform minor surgeries in their offices.

However, an N.D. degree does not confer the full set of privileges afforded to a physician licensed by the Medical Board of California. For example, they cannot prescribe a controlled substance, administer radiation therapy, administer general anesthesia or perform surgical procedures.

Integrative approach

Dr. Mimi Guarneri, a Scripps cardiologist, has embraced alternative medicine. Guarneri helped create Scripps’ integrated medicine department, which uses a range of natural therapies, including acupuncture and yoga, in conjunction with mainstream medicine to care for patients.

Guarneri is more than supportive of Bastyr’s entry into the San Diego market — she helped lure the school to town. The doctor cited the integrative medicine efforts of Scripps and UC San Diego, as well as the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine in downtown San Diego, as evidence that San Diego was just the place for Bastyr to put down its California roots.

She added that San Diegans themselves also helped make the case.

“The level of awareness, I think, is much higher here in San Diego than in a lot of other places,” Guarneri said.

Students at Bastyr will learn a somewhat different approach to healing than they would get at a traditional medical school.

Fitzpatrick said the main difference between mainstream and naturopathic doctors is an emphasis on a holistic approach.

“We look at the whole person. We look at what’s going on in the mind, the body and the spirit,” Fitzpatrick said.

A naturopath takes more time in an initial exam, she said, sometimes as much as 90 minutes, to get a patient’s full story with a focus on basic lifestyle from diet to sleep habits. Natural remedies are at the top of the list if changes in habits aren’t enough.

“We rely on the healing power of nature. If we find a patient is nutrient deficient, we may prescribe botanicals, herbals, minerals or vitamins,” Fitzpatrick said.

Other types of nontraditional therapy, from acupuncture to aromatherapy, are also in a naturopath’s toolbox.

California licensed its first naturopathic doctor on Jan. 14, 2005, after the state Legislature passed the Naturopathic Doctors Act in 2004. Today, 450 naturopathic doctors are licensed statewide. The state’s licensing database lists 52 actively licensed naturopaths in San Diego County.

Bastyr requires all of its students to have a bachelor’s degree and to have passed a range of college-level prerequisite courses including chemistry and psychology before enrollment.

Fitzpatrick said students’ first two years at Bastyr are similar to what they would experience in a traditional medical school, with classes in anatomy, physiology, pathology, microbiology, immunology, clinical and physical diagnosis. Anatomy includes dissecting cadavers.

The final two years delve deeper into natural medicine, nutrition and natural therapies and include a residency, which will be undertaken at a small clinic on the ground floor of the school’s Sorrento Valley building. By comparison, traditional medical doctors spend three to seven years interning after four years of medical school.


Guarneri, the Scripps cardiologist and integrative medicine specialist, said she has studied Bastyr’s curriculum and found it to be thorough enough to give her confidence in graduates of four-year accredited naturopathic programs from schools like Bastyr.

But some in mainstream medicine aren’t so sure.

Dr. Ted Mazer, a physician and spokesman for the San Diego County Medical Society, said patients must be clearly informed that naturopathic medicine is not scientifically evident.

“Naturopathic physicians are not primary physicians and they don’t substitute for a primary care M.D., … ” Mazer said.

Dr. Thomas Novotny, a professor in San Diego State’s graduate school of public health, comes down somewhere in the middle. He said he worked directly with naturopaths in Northern California at the start of his career when he was a family physician. He said he backed up midwives, and saw both effective and ineffective practice of natural medicine.

“Using naturopathic approaches for pain relief or stress relief or improved nutrition, I think, would be right on target. But I just think that people would be well advised to look at naturopathy as an ancillary approach rather than as a substitution for traditional primary care,” Novotny said.

Christina Yap, who came to San Diego from Las Vegas, said her experience with the natural approach convinced her to enroll in Bastyr California’s inaugural class.

Yap said she struggled with back pain while working for a local company that did clinical trials and found that a natural approach worked better than pills.

“Through exercise and nutrition I was able to lose about 50 pounds, and I’m no longer taking pain medication that I thought I’d be on for the rest of my life,” she said.

Yap said she simply does not see natural-versus-traditional as an either-or proposition.

“If you get hit by a bus, and your arm is ripped away from your body, you don’t want to come to a naturopath and get aromatherapy; you want to go to an ER doc to get that arm reattached,” she said. “But, if you feel like you’ve gotten hit by a bus, then you would come and see us.”

Source: Bismarck Tribune. 11.12.12


Yours In Great Health,

Sar Rooney BHSc., ND., DC., DASc., GDSc. (Hons), MATMS, MNHAA, MHATO

Naturopathic Medicine Practitioner, Lecturer, Researcher


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Email: [email protected]



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