Naturopathic Medicine Naturopathic physicians are trained primary care doctors. We have gone through 4 years of medical school followed by state licensing exams. Many of us also do residencies; I completed 2 years of residency after graduation. What is unique to naturopathic physicians is our philosophy. We look at the entire body as a functioning system, and we look for the connection between multiple symptoms, rather than treating each one as a separate entity. For example: headaches, constipation, and hypothyroidism. What do they have in common? Rather than see these as separate issues needing separate treatments, an ND would try to see if there was a connection and an underlying imbalance. For example, maybe a toxin overload (constipation will increase this likelihood) caused the thyroid to slow down (a safety mechanism aimed at decreasing the circulation of those toxins) and the circulating toxins are causing headaches. Or maybe this person has an undiagnosed autoimmune disease, such as celiac disease, that is causing nutrient deficiency & antibodies to attack the thyroid as well. As physicians, we are able to prescribe drugs when necessary. We order lab testing and imaging. We refer to specialists when that will be helpful. And we take a detailed intake looking at your entire life: diet, history of illnesses, toxic exposures, lifestyle, family history, and even your genes, so that we can get a full picture of you. Your unique self. And this full picture of you as a whole – not as a set of independent parts – guides us in how to help you feel the best you can feel. Neurotransmitter Testing Urine neurotransmitter testing examines metabolites of various chemicals that are active in your brain (as well as elsewhere) so that we can diagnose any imbalance. You have inhibitory neurotransmitters and excitatory neurotransmitters. When they are in balance you feel happy, motivated and clear-headed, and are able to sleep through the night. When they are out of balance you can feel depressed, anxious, thick-headed, or unmotivated, as well as wide awake at 4:00 am. We are all walking bags of chemicals. So often people tell me that they are scared that this is just who they are. They are just an anxious person. They are just depressed. I am sure that is not true. I know for a fact that the chemicals coursing through our bodies and bathing our brains help to form our mood and our outlook on life. When we change these chemicals, we change our moods. And most people have had the experience of feeling really good and then feeling really bad, with nothing external changing. This is because the chemicals inside have changed. Treatment Once we understand which neurotransmitters are out of balance we can begin to support your own body’s ability to normalize these chemicals. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins and the building blocks of neurotransmitters. Giving very specific amino acid therapy, aimed directly at your particular imbalances, helps your own body to make more of them. “How did my neurotransmitters get so far out of whack?” is a question I often hear. And the answer is different for everyone. Stress can burn through your neurotransmitters. Surgeries, chemotherapy, emotional and physical traumas will also increase the rate at which you use up your neurotransmitters. If your diet is low in protein or if you for some reason aren’t absorbing your protein (parasites or inflammation), you will not have the building blocks necessary to make neurotransmitters. Even your genes play a role here – sometimes we’ve inherited enzymes that break down our neurochemicals more quickly or more slowly. Drugs versus Amino Acids SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), such as Prozac or Paxil, are drugs aimed at increasing serotonin in the brain. These drugs do not actually get your body to make more serotonin, they prevent the reuptake (the removal) of the serotonin once it has been released. The problem is that serotonin is only one chemical in the brain. There is also dopamine, GABA, glutamate, and others. All of these neurotransmitters interact with one another to keep us balanced. When we are out of balance, it is usually more than one neurotransmitter that is off. Ultimately, being able to support your body to make more or less of the various neurotransmitters is the best way to get back into balance. What I have seen over and over is that after using amino acid therapy for a period of time, a patient’s body is able to build back its stores, and over time you don’t need them anymore. And, if for some reason things in your life change and you need them again (we all have stressful events happen), most people are quicker at realizing they need amino acid support, rather than waiting until their symptoms become unbearable.