Latest posts by Teresa Neff (see all)
People ask me why I love working in pediatric naturopathic medicine so much. Well, aside from the babies being adorable and snuggly, and the kids being creative and inspiring, I love it because the strength of body and the inner healing power of a child is remarkable to observe.
Naturopathic medicine holds that nature and the human body possess innate healing power, which we call the Vis Medicatrix Naturae, or the Vis for short. This means that left alone, nature and the human body will try to heal. Thus, we look to achieve healing by removing obstacles to healing, allowing nature to do its work. Sometimes, of course, we find that healing support is required, that the illness is stronger than the vis at the time, but this is not the norm.
In children, the Vis tends to be much stronger than it is in adults. Have you ever noticed that when kids get a fever they get a really high fever? Or that when they get a rash, it’s typically head to toe, and much angrier looking than anything we adults generally experience? We naturopathic doctors like to explain that phenomenon by saying that it’s that remarkably strong Vis expressing itself. It sees an illness looking for an entrance and it says, “not in my house.” So it mounts a vigorous response, resulting in strong symptoms, which are usually short-lived. (Symptoms of an illness are generally the side effect of the immune system battling the illness.) Since kids generally have such strong vitality, they often don’t need drastic treatment measures; they may only need education regarding illness, and some tricks to make illness more comfortable. Watching such a little human overcome illness so completely and quickly is inspiring.
Of course, sometimes some kids will need more. In this case, I love the structure that naturopathic medicine provides me; the Therapeutic Order reminds me not to overpower the little humans with overly aggressive treatments.
The Therapeutic Order
- Determinants of Health – Are the following needs being met for the patient: adequate clean water, fresh air, exercise, adequate nutritious food, emotional and mental health?
- The Healing Power of Nature – Is something preventing the body from healing itself?
- Tonify Healing Systems – E.g., series of structured sweats, hydration, and increased exposure to fresh air.
- Correct Structural Integrity – E.g. is the gut lining damaged by years of exposure to a poorly tolerated food?
- Symptom Based Naturopathic Treatment – A specific natural product that treats a specific symptom of illness without addressing the root cause; e.g., licorice for heartburn, or calendula for mouth ulcers.
- Symptom Based Pharmaceutical Treatment – A specific pharmaceutical that treats a specific symptom of illness without addressing the root cause; e.g. Ibuprofen for headaches.
- High Force Interventions – E.g. surgery
Following the Therapeutic Order, one of the first steps I generally take is to remove obstacles to health. These obstacles may include foods the child is reacting to, chemical exposures, or allergens. Another first step may be ensuring that they are supported fully in terms of physical activity, exposure to fresh air, good nutrition, appropriate physical touch, mental and emotional health and healthy water intake.
When these steps are not enough, naturopathic medicine offers many tools: food as medicine, herbal medicine, supplements, body work, hydrotherapy, and homeopathy. I love having so many lower force interventions available to me to support a healing child on his path.
On the note of food as medicine, I should mention here that one of my passions is educating parents about food for babies and toddlers. I write and speak a lot about the subjects of solid food introduction and avoiding food fights. I strongly believe that the attitudes we hold about food, and the environment we create around eating, play a large role in shaping our children’s relationships to food. I believe that the more new parents I can reach with this information, the fewer parents of 2 to 18 year old kids will be knocking their heads against the wall trying to understand why their kids will only eat chicken nuggets and fries.
People also ask me why I blog. One of the tenets of medicine is doctor as teacher. The more educated patients are about their particular health situations, the healthier they tend to be. In the particular case of parents, one of the greatest gifts I can give is to teach about the power of fever, and when and how it should be treated; or about the disease process of eczema, allergies, or asthma, and how to stop the process from within; or about how the chemicals in our environment can wreak havoc on our bodies and what can be done about it. Education is one of the most important aspects of my job, and it is the primary tool I use to empower my patients, and their parents. Blogging allows me to educate and empower even more people.
Most people I know really want to be empowered and educated. For better or worse, most people rely on the internet for that education. Unfortunately, the internet is a wealth of inaccurate and misleading information, and can be a scary place. So my goal in contributing here is just that: to empower more people than I can reach in my practice, and to convey accurate, science- based information in a way that makes sense in the context of your everyday experience with your child.