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Treating More Than Symptoms: Naturopathy for Chronic Pain Including Fibromyalgia

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Suzanne Lawton, once a skeptic, uses naturopathy to heal illness at its source


Grab the aspirin, there’s a headache coming on! Bring on the ibuprofen, the backache’s back! Not so fast, says Suzanne Lawton, a naturopath in Tigard. Lawton uses natural medicines such as herbs, homeopathy and vitamins rather than pharmaceuticals or prescription drugs to help people in pain.

Lawton — who, as a naturopathic doctor, can diagnose, prescribe controlled medications and give injections — sees patients with asthma, allergies, diabetes, cancer, arthritis and fibromyalgia, as well as adults and children with attention deficit disorder, eating disorders and depression.

Her aim, she says, is to get to the source of the problem, rather than just masking the pain with a pill. She likes to take as much time as possible with her patients, asking them all about their lives and habits — from what they had for breakfast to how they handle stress — and often sends them home with bags of “earth medicines” such as calendula, bilberry leaf and cleavers.

Q: What exactly is a naturopathic doctor?

Suzanne Lawton, ND: A doctor who uses natural medicines to treat the mental and physical health of a patient. These medicines can include herbs, homeopathy, nutrition, supplements and various physical therapies.

The philosophy of naturopathy is to treat the whole person by finding the underlying problem and addressing it by strengthening the mental, emotional and physical health of the person. We try to use the gentlest and most natural medicines available that will give a successful outcome.

Q: Do you ever treat patients who are also seeing M.D.s?

Yes, as a matter of fact I find that patients are insisting that both types of doctors work together. There’s a great conflict with this — we do great with the specialists, but the internists often don’t understand why the patients want it. Can you imagine? A patient will say (to a medical doctor), “I will not take this medicine until I consult Dr. Lawton. She was the one that got me well.”

Q: What conditions do you especially like treating?

Conditions such as ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), Tourette’s, OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder), eating disorders, and anxiety and depression in both children and adults. It’s more than gratifying to help a child overcome a bout of depression or gain control over their ADHD and start having a more normal home and social life.

I love it when moms call and say, “Now, my biggest problem is getting my teenager home to do their chores, they are so busy and happy with extracurricular activities.”

Q: How did you begin studying naturopathic medicine?

I first started studying natural medicine in order to discourage my mother-in-law from using it. I have a great mother-in-law. About 17 years ago, over the course of a year, she went from mowing her lawn to being able to walk 20 steps before needing to pause and rest. It was a chronic respiratory condition. Conventional doctors took such a hard line: “You’re 50. Hang it up.”

She called and told me how homeopathy totally changed that. Frankly, I didn’t believe her. I figured it was the medicine her doctor gave her. But no, she had stopped taking the medicine six months earlier — because, as she put it, “it wasn’t helping and it cost a lot.” So, I went to the library, read every book I could on homeopathy, tried some on myself, and, amazingly, it worked.

Q: Was it then that you changed your line of work?

Fifteen years ago, I owned a medium-size health food store in West Palm Beach, Fla. It wasn’t long before I realized just how much my customers wanted scientifically valid information about natural medicine. In order to better serve them, I started researching herbs, homeopathy and supplements in treating medical conditions. I had been using natural medicine on my own family, but I wanted to be better able to explain why it works.

After a few years, several of my customers, all of whom had regular medical physicians, suggested that I become a doctor. They said, “We trust you, and you have really helped us.”

Q: So what did you do?

Fortunately, I had an English degree, so I only had to do the two years of science. I went to Florida Atlantic University. It was extremely hard going to school with all those really young people. As with most pre-med programs, the attitude there was, “We’re going to get rid of 50 percent of you.”

Naturopaths must complete four years of pre-med study as well as four years’ postgraduate in hard sciences, diagnosis, pathology, as well as natural therapeutics.

Having attended the standard four-year pre-med program followed by a four-year intensive scientific and medical post-graduate education, I can offer my patients the education and knowledge of a medical doctor with the expertise and philosophy of natural medicine.

Q: How do you deal with the fact that herbs are largely untested and unregulated, at least by governmental agencies?

That’s a serious problem, but for a different reason than you would expect. Those of us who use herbs have several years of intensive training. We learn not only the traditional usages, but the pharmaceutical analysis of the various herbs telling us how they interact with the body and other medications. We draw on the sizable scientific and clinical research from around the world.

It is a common misconception that herbs don’t have scientific support for their use. My real concern is that herbs in the hands of lay people and some M.D.s who have read a book rather than studied intensively can be very be harmful. Equally as harmful are pharmaceutical companies jumping on the herbal bandwagon and using either poor-quality herbs or using the wrong parts of herbs (for example, the leaves instead of the root).

Q: What are some of the health trends that trouble you most?

We are having a rising number of housewives and business people hooked on prescription pain medications for conditions such as migraines and fibromyalgia. They want to get off these drugs, but don’t know how.

People in general are looking for medical options other than masking symptoms with years on pain medications or antidepressants.

Q: You seem to really love your job — do you?

Yes, I wake up excited and go to bed content. There are not that many professions in which you get such positive feedback from your client base. It’s gratifying to hear my patients tell me that I have made such a positive change in their lives. Kate Taylor: 503-294-5116;

Source: The Oregonian. © 2003 All Rights Reserved.

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