What is naturopathy?

Modern medicine being at the forefront of the past two years, naturopaths haven’t exactly been in the spotlight. The San Juan Islands not only has traditional doctor’s offices but a handful of naturopaths to choose from as well.

Dr. Leyardia Black has witnessed the evolution of naturopathic medicine since 1988 when she opened her clinic in Friday Harbor. “There was a time when we weren’t even allowed to prescribe a glass of water,” she laughed.

There are currently less than 10,000 naturopaths practicing nationwide.

Black was practically born into the world of naturopathy- since her father ran a practice as well.

“It just felt natural to me,” she said.

When she first arrived in the community, she received some backlash due to a lack of understanding about the medical practice. Today, she works with local doctors when patients need help beyond the use of herbs, diet, and exercise.

Dr. Mandy Gulla has been a practitioner at Living Medical Arts for eight years. She also concurred that there is a lot of misunderstanding surrounding the profession.

“A lot of people think we are trying to take away from modern medicine or take away from it. We are not,” she said. “It is in conjunction with it.”

Black suffered from an aneurysm. She said she recognizes that if it weren’t for the brain surgeons that operated on her, she might not be alive. On that same token, she credits her naturopathic way of life for allowing her to recover.

Unlike Black, Gulla did not grow up with a naturopathic influence. She grew up in Detroit with a single mother. When her mother died young of lung cancer at 55, she said the process in which she dealt with the doctors compelled her to turn to practical and natural ways of healing. The doctors believed massage or physical movement would increase the spread of cancer cells. There also wasn’t any dietary or physical advice given.

“I was not impressed with the level of care my mother got during that experience,” Gulla said.

Taking dance classes caused her to realize how moving the body can heal, compelling her further to pursue naturopathy.

“It had a profound effect on me,” she said.

Gulla also became a midwife and massage therapist, which she utilizes in her practice.

When a new patient comes to her office, Gulla reviews all of their medical files thoroughly prior to them arriving. Sometimes her review can take up to 12 hours.

“When they come in, I talk to them about their life,” she said. “People think it’s random, but it’s not random. I learn about their family history, exposures, and experiences.”

She takes all of that collective knowledge into mind when looking at health issues.

“We look at the mental, emotional, and physical aspects that could be causing any illness.”

One of the big ideas of naturopathic medicine is encouraging clients to learn about how to help themselves as well so they can continue to do so without the help of a doctor.

Naturopathy starts with the least invasive treatment first, which might be simply water and healthy food.

“Naturopathic medicine tends to appreciate diet and lifestyle,” said Black. “When suggesting things, we usually stick with herbal and nutritional first, but sometimes a conventional prescription can be less toxic than an herb. There are many toxic herbs,” she laughed.

Regardless of the particular field or style, medical knowledge is continually changing and growing, which results in evolving practices. Currently, Gulla is looking to work with Lisa Holt’s PADs non-profit organization. PAD’s trains dogs to sniff out Parkinson’s.

“This is a very diverse field. My colleagues come from all over the world,” she said. “I have been very impressed with all of them.”