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Cabarrus Magazine

Naturopathy: First Do No Harm

Jan 02, 2018 01:59PM ● By Jason Huddle

Naturopathy: First Do No Harm

“The doctor of the future will give no medicine, but will instruct his patients in care of the human frame, in diet and in the cause and Prevention of disease.”

- Thomas Edison


Let’s preface this article by saying that, as individuals, how we approach our own health and well-being is a choice.

Naturopathy can be defined as “a system or method of treating disease that employs no surgery or synthetic drugs, but uses special diets, herbs, vitamins, massage, etc., to assist the natural healing processes.”

Naturopathic medicine centers around providing the body with the tools to keep itself healthy – finding a root cause for symptoms, not just treating them. Practitioners believe that the body has its own healing abilities. Then incorporating lifestyle changes yields the best outcome. Oftentimes, diet and exercise are the core of those changes, but the practice involves the whole person: mind, body and spirit.


Michelle Drains, N.D., M.S., is owner and founder of Riverbirch Holistic Health on Church Street in Concord. As a naturopathic doctor (N.D.), she studied counseling, nutrition, exercise therapeutics, homeopathy, botanical medicine, hydrotherapy and physical therapies in addition to certain medical sciences.

“I was raised in a family that was pretty natural-minded,” she says. “I was always interested in herbs, trying different things with my mother. But, in my youth, I didn’t know what I could do to make it a career. I thought I’d be a farmer, then I got a book from a friend about naturopathy.”

Her clients include those needing help with weight management, allergies/food sensitivities, chronic fatigue, diabetes, autoimmune disorder, women’s health, heart disease and gastrointestinal complaints, among others.

“Usually, my first step is to sit down and talk with a client...90 minutes to two hours,” Drains explains. “A lot of it is history, diet, mental health, hobbies, is there a support system at home, stress at home. What kind of foods do they crave. We’ll talk about a wellness plan, specific recommendations. It’s a lifestyle change. You didn’t get that way overnight. You never want to push the body for what it’s not ready for.

“The power of the environment impacts our health – the quality of food we eat, how much we’re exercising outside. It’s not so much about foods to avoid, but foods to eat more of. And what foods offer what you may already take in a supplement. If we have to do any types of supplements we’ll look at that, but taking too many is an issue. They’re supposed to help support what we’re doing.”

Gardening can target both the nutritional aspect of naturopathy as well as exercise. “With gardening, if you have joint issues, get some easy plants you can work with,” Drains advises. “A tower garden is hydroponic and can be used indoors or out. It’s very simple, do-it-yourself and you don’t have to bend over. You grow it in the tower and pick it. Children can get involved too.”

Drains can provide a list of local retailers where her clients can find the foods she recommends at the best price. “What’s local is incredibly important,” she says.

She also stresses exercising outside, not inside at a gym. “If you don’t like to be around too many people, or where it’s crowded and loud, walk around the greenway or in your back yard,” she says. “People can suffer from the winter blues, so we come up with strategies to get out in the environment, get sunlight, better air quality. Being physical outside gives the best benefit.”

As a graduate of the University of Bridgeport College of Naturopathic Medicine, Drains completed a four-year post-baccalaureate doctoral program approved by the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians.

While naturopathic doctors are able to perform minor procedures like natural childbirth, removing cysts and stitching up wounds, legislation for licensure in North Carolina has yet to pass. This means that Drains cannot act as a primary care physician, accept medical insurance as payment, prescribe or administer Schedule IV, V and unclassified prescription drugs or perform major surgery.

And because Carolinas HealthCare System and Novant Health are the largest medical networks in North Carolina, they’re going to work with their own in-network specialists.

“I usually get referrals by word-of-mouth or a client that got great results,” Drains says.

Last March, naturopathic doctors from across the state gathered in Raleigh to promote a Naturopathic Doctors Certification bill that would establish “educational, board certification and continuing education standards which are consistent with established national standards. The bill will increase citizens’ access to safe and effective alternatives in healthcare, improve public safety in seeking out these alternatives, and decrease healthcare costs through a strong focus on preventative medicine and the utilization of natural, low-cost therapies,” according to the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP).

As of this writing, 20 U.S. states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico have passed legislation. AANP says, “In these states, N.D.s practice as independent primary care general practitioners, with the ability to diagnose and treat medical conditions, perform physical exams and order laboratory testing.”

This doesn’t sit at all well with some in the science-based medical community who are voicing their anger and concerns over what they see as dangerous naturopathic treatments and doctors. Additionally, there’s a fear that patients with serious conditions will not get proper medical attention.

WebMD offers some sage advice. “Always tell your doctor if you are using an alternative therapy or are thinking about combining one with your conventional medical treatment. It may not be safe to rely only on an alternative therapy. Don’t use it for an emergency or issue that requires a visit to the hospital, like major surgery. Nor should it be used in place of conventional medicine for serious conditions like cancer and heart disease.”

The University of Maryland Medical Center adds, “Be sure to let your medical doctor (M.D.) know about any naturopathic treatment, and let your N.D. know about any conventional medications you are taking. Some treatments can interact with each other, and your healthcare practitioners will be better able to treat you if they know every therapy you are using.

“Make sure that your doctor approves any major changes in your diet so they don’t undermine your health (especially in the very young, the elderly and those with certain medical conditions, such as diabetes).”

More and more people are looking at holistic approaches to physical ailments, and naturopathy is viewed as a viable option for those who have not found relief through traditional medicine. It may also be used in conjunction with a science-based medical approach to achieve optimum results. Do your homework when choosing any physician and make sure you’re comfortable with their recommendations.



With today’s technologies, it’s a given that the human race spends more time indoors than ever; estimates range from 80 to 99 percent. It’s even been given a name: nature deficit disorder. So, what if getting back outside can aid those suffering from mental health issues like depression or anxiety?

Ecotherapy – which has been garnering more attention in the media recently – falls under the naturopathy umbrella. The practice suggests that our natural environment helps balance us, and there is a variety of different exercises that fall under the ecotherapy classification, according to

• Nature meditation: This meditation takes place in a natural setting, such as a park, and is sometimes done as a group therapy.

• Horticultural therapy: The use of plants and garden-related activities can be used to promote well-being.

• Animal-assisted therapy: One or more animals is introduced into the healing process. Some studies have demonstrated that petting or playing with a dog, for example, reduces aggression and agitation in some populations.

• Physical exercise in a natural environment: This can include activities such as walking, jogging, cycling or doing yoga in a park.

• Involvement in conservation activities: The act of restoring or conserving the natural environment can assist in creating a sense of purpose and hopefulness.

In ecotherapy, our senses take over; the sounds of nature – birds, water – as well as smell and sight are found to reduce stress. The environment operates on its own clock and we’re forced to slow down to its pace.

“There’s a pulse and rhythm in nature, and when you start to observe it and take it in, you find that everything takes time. Change is not immediate. It’s a process,” Dr. Joseph Mercola, a Chicago-based physician and advocate of natural medicine, says. “With ‘lightning speed’ Internet and 24/7 connectivity, we tend to forget this. We get so used to instant results and immediate gratification. You could say observing nature leads to greater tolerance for slowness, otherwise known as patience.”

Research has also shown that while walking is good for both body and mind, doing so in a natural setting reduces negative emotions more effectively. Walking in a mall doesn’t produce the benefits that walking outside in nature does.

In Great Britain, a study conducted by Mind stated, “A nature walk reduced symptoms of depression in 71 percent of participants, compared to only 45 percent of those who took a walk through a shopping center.”

Other studies have shown that being able to see nature – from a window or in photographs – also serves to produce positive effects in people. “For example, in a study conducted by Roger Ulrich, a prominent researcher in this field, heart surgery patients in intensive care units were able to reduce their anxiety and need for pain medication by viewing pictures depicting trees and water,” says. “Another researcher, Rachel Kaplan, also found that office workers who had a view of nature from a window reported higher job and life satisfaction than those who did not have such a view.”

With regard to children, “Studies have shown that children who live in buildings with a nearby green space may have a greater capacity for paying attention, delaying gratification and inhibiting impulses than children who live in buildings surrounded by concrete,” according to “Children who have been diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) display fewer symptoms after spending time in a green environment than when they spend time indoors or in non-green outdoor environments.”

Today, more medical practitioners are utilizing ecotherapy – or nature therapy or green therapy – as an alternative or addition to medication. Patients are prescribed a certain amount of time/days over the course of each week in which they are to get outside.

“The take-home message here is that spending time in nature can have profound benefits for your physical and psychological health. In fact, nature deficits may even be at the heart of many people’s anxiety and general malcontent – they just don’t know it. Indoor living has become such a norm, many give no thought to the fact they haven’t been more than a few feet away from concrete in weeks, months or even years,” Dr. Mercola says.

“The key is to be proactive. You have to actually plan your escapes – schedule nature time into your calendar as you would any other important activity. If your free time is limited, you may need to get creative.”

Cabarrus County offers a number of parks perfect for those prescribed ecotherapy – or not. Visit websites,, or to find one near you.

Article By: Kim Cassell

Photos Courtesy" Michelle Drains and the Carolina Thread Trail

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