What is Naturopathic Medicine?

We spoke with Dr. Rebecca Georgia, a naturopathic doctor in Madison who specializes in nutrition, counseling, herbal medicine, homeopathy and craniosacral therapy. Dr. Georgia believes she gives patients the “tools for a healthier life.” We talked to her about her training, healthy tips for patients and the alternative healthcare field.

Madison Magazine: Why does naturopathy appeal to you? Why practice naturopathy over “western” medicine?
Rebecca Georgia:
When I was eighteen, I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. I was put on heavy drugs like steroids and there were a lot of side effects. As I went through my undergrad at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, I majored in human biology and became a health food manager at Festival Foods. I started learning how to eat and how to choose the correct food. I started looking for a different route on how to become healthier and how to find an underlying cause for rheumatoid arthritis. I didn’t want to cover up a symptom; I’d rather work on prevention and try to use the least invasive treatment as possible. In my practice now, there are times for extensive treatment but a lot of times you can start out with stuff that is less harmful.

MM: With what kinds of alternative medicine do you treat patients?
I use a variety of treatments: nutrition, counseling, herbal medicine, different nutrients and homeopathy. I’m also trained in craniosacral therapy, which is a combination of chiropractic and message therapy, where I gently manipulate the bones and muscles of the body. I’m also certified in Firstline Therapy, which is for people who want to lose abdominal weight. It reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease.

MM: What type of training is needed to become a naturopathic doctor? How long did it take to receive your degree?
After I received my bachelor’s degree I went to the University of Bridgeport - College of Naturopathic Medicine, which is a four-year program. I learned the basic sciences like anatomy and physiology. I also learned alternative and complementary practices such as nutrition, homeopathy, botanical medicine, physical therapy, herbal medicine and sports medicine. We have to take courses in pharmacy so we understand interactions of drugs and things like that. There are only five schools in the U.S. that do a naturopathic medicine degree. From there we are licensed as primary care physicians. Currently, Wisconsin does not hold a license for Naturopathic Doctors.
Naturopathic doctors are regulated on a state by state basis. The Wisconsin Naturopathic Physicians Association is working on fund raising and proposing a bill so we can be called primary care physicians, order labs, and be covered by insurance. For information or ways to support Naturopathic medicine in WI visit www.wisconsin-nd.org

MM: What are the most common misperceptions in either naturopathic doctors or the alternative health scene in general?
People don’t recognize how highly trained we are. In most states we are trained as primary care physicians. We can order labs, X-rays. Some people think that alternative medicine could be expensive. Insurance doesn’t cover it in Wisconsin because we are not licensed. However, if you work on prevention, then you don’t have to pay money in the long run. Even for people who don’t have health insurance, we can order labs that are cheaper than an office visit. If you focus on wellness and prevention, you won’t need to see a doctor all the time.

MM: Why do you think consumers are becoming more interested in alternative and complementary medicine fields like naturopathic medicine?
People are starting to realize there are different ways to become healthier. Some people are taking so many medicines. People don’t want to live with chronic disease for the rest of their lives; [they] want different solutions and want to actually change their health. We are getting more health conscious.

MM: Who typically seeks your services?
I tend to see a lot of women from the forty- to fifty-five-year-old range, especially going through menopause. A lot of people that are dealing with depression, anxiety and mood disorders are coming in to see me. In Wisconsin I don’t have many male patients. I’m starting to see an increase in children with Attention Deficit Disorders and Autism. Parents get frustrated that their child is not healthy and often the medications are not helping all of their child's condition. They are looking for answers and other ways to help their child.

MM: How do you help children with Autism or Attention Deficit Disorder?
I typically recommend a diet free of processed food, refined grains, artificial colors, and flavors. Also, I usually do some testing looking at food sensitivities, neurotransmitters, or heavy metals. I try to find an underlying imbalance which is different in every child. Once I find the underlying cause, I recommend support nutrients and the child will often get better. It can be a long and difficult process depending how severe a child’s condition is. The child and parents need to work to together and make the necessary changes in order to see positive results.

MM: How has your well-being and health changed since practicing naturopathy?
RG: I’ve gotten much healthier and I don’t take any prescriptions. I know what supplements to take. I’m in one of the healthiest times in my life. I’m taking various preventive measures. I have a lot of energy, more than what I had when I was younger. I’ve improved my health and my family and friends’ health around me since becoming a naturopathic doctor.

MM: How do you feel the patients play a more active role in naturopathy treatment?
Patients need to play an active role. In order to help yourself, you need to make changes. We give the patients tools for a healthier life. We teach them how to eat and how to reduce stress. If patients are not successful they haven’t done the work.

Our first appointment is an hour and half long. We get to know the patient: their full history, chief complaint, what their eating, and how they handle stress. The more I know the more I can help. I figure out why they have the symptoms they have. I can go through the reasons why people suffering from symptoms and people feel satisfied at the end.

MM: What is your best health advice? What products do you use and what do you do on daily or weekly basis?
RG: Everyone needs to be able to eat a healthy diet. People need to eat more whole grains, good fats, like olive oil and reduce bad fats in their diet. I’d recommend eating more vegetables and fruits. Fish oil is so good for your brain, heart and skin. Right now vitamin D is one of my priorities because you get it from the sun and in the winter, the sun is not out. Vitamin D helps increase your immune system, helps prevent Seasonal Depression and cancer. I’d also recommend a good multivitamin, do cardio and weight bearing exercise at least 3 times a week. If everyone’s healthy, then everyone is happy.

Rebecca Georgia works at the Family Clinic of Natural Medicine. 4710 E. Broadway, Suite 190. 222-2700. familynaturalmedicine.com

—Dena Goldstein

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