A young friend once described her father’s root-cause medicine job as this:

“Put a rubber band tight around your finger. Your fingertip will get hot, red and painful. Now, you can rub that fingertip, squeeze it, put it in ice, cover it with a band aid…or you can take off the rubber band. All of those first things might help the finger feel better, not be so red, or not be so obvious, but the problem is still there until you take off the rubber band. My dad takes off the rubber band.”

Naturopathic doctors are rubberband removers.

When faced with a symptom, a syndrome or a disease there are essentially three options:

  1. Suppress the signs or symptoms with palliative care.
  2. Address the cause.
  3. Don’t do anything.

Although options one and two are not mutually exclusive and option three has its place, in chronic disease, Naturopathic doctors will always attempt option two, addressing the cause, as the most sure way to create deep healing and wellbeing. Indeed, Tolle Causum, identifying and removing the underlying causes of illness, is one of the six guiding naturopathic principles.

Why do NDs address the cause?

Naturopathic doctors understand that the body is wise and strives to be well. The body’s many systems work together, constantly changing and adapting to meet the body’s needs. When a bothersome symptom appears, the symptom itself is not the problem: the symptom is the visible flag that there is a problem; symptoms are the noticeable side effects of the body doing its best to adapt and work around a problem.

NDs value the principle of Tolle Causum because we understand that the symptom is not the disease or dysfunction, but is the signpost pointing us toward the real problem. In the rubberband example, the finger is not defective for turning red and throbbing; the red, throbbing fingertip is what tells us about the rubberband. Removing the signpost without addressing its source does nothing to improve the overall health of the body. Furthermore, the symptom may be an early sign of dysfunction that could be much more severe down the road. In that case, to remove a symptom without addressing its cause would be in opposition to the principle Primum Non Nocere, First Do No Harm.

How do NDs address the cause?

In short, we ask a whole lot of “Why.” Then, we act as best as possible to support removal of the cause.

The “why” question comes in different forms, from medical history to standard blood work and imaging to less-commonly used laboratory and other evaluations.

It might look something like this: Why are you tired? Oh, because of this blood work anomaly. Why is that value high? Oh, because this nutrient is insufficient. Why is that nutrient insufficient? Oh! Because the digestion and absorption is poor. Why is the digestion poor? Oh, because… and so on, down the line.

Often times we can intervene at multiple levels to support wellness and facilitate healing, but the best, most restorative work is done at deep levels where we are able to work with the patient to remove the obstacle to cure. In the example above, one could stop after the first question, offering a daily cup of coffee–for the rest of the person’s tired life. Or after the second, offering the depleted nutrient in supplement form. By continuing onward to seek the cause, we reveal (in this case) a gut problem. Working to fix the gut problem means that the nutrient imbalance will repair itself–and so will all the other nutrient imbalances current and future, along with any related inflammatory, immune system and neurological complaints, the abnormal blood work and, importantly, the individual’s energy level.

Do NDs only treat the cause?

No. Naturopathic doctors will always seek and attempt to remove the cause of illness and disease, but there are some cases when it is also very appropriate to suppress a symptom for a period of time. For example, an individual with severe hypertension requires blood pressure control in order to protect their organs. It is necessary and wise to seek out and address the root cause of the high blood pressure, but in the meantime, that individual will need some kind of palliative herbal or pharmaceutical intervention to keep the blood pressure at a safe level.

To use the analogy we started with, sometimes you also need to do the fingertip rubbing, squeezing and icing: maybe it’s hard to find the rubber band, the rubber band is going to take a long time to get off and the finger hurts really badly, or the rubber band’s effects are threatening severe or permanent damage. In those cases, squeeze and rub away! But don’t forget to remove the rubber band, right?

Do all NDs treat the cause?

All licensed naturopathic doctors have been trained to seek out and treat the root cause of illness. It is a core tenant of naturopathic philosophy. Unfortunately, we live in an impatient world of quick-fixes and complicated illnesses. Doctors and patients alike are often too ready to stop halfway, at the point where one starts to feel better, but still a few steps before one is better. The doctors at Sunrise Natural Medicine are root cause seekers. We encourage you to be one, too, by embracing your inner preschooler and asking Why, Why, Why until you get to the very bottom of things.