• Megan Little

Looking Back, Thinking Forward

You might have seen a few posts I made in the last week on IG about a book I received from my Mother-in-law, Nancy. The book is Health and Longevity by Joseph G. Richardson, MD a professor of hygiene from the University of Pennsylvania. The original Copy write was 1909 and the edition I have is from 1912. There are 17 contributing authors from around the world including Russia, Japan, Austria, and the United States drawing on various specialties in the field of health, wellness, and medicine in the early 1900s. The University Of Pennsylvania School Of Medicine is one of the oldest in the United States, having been founded in the 1700s.

Three shelves of apothecary bottles with gold labels

With more than 1400 pages, it will take me a while to pour through this huge volume of information. But, I can already tell I’m going to enjoy it. One of the things that I love about this book so far is the inclusion of naturopathic therapeutics. They didn’t call them that in the book, but they are things like hydrotherapy (based on Sebastian Kneipp’s works) and botanical medicine. Medicine has come a long way since Health and Longevity was published, and even further since the 1700s when the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine was founded. I’m thankful for the use of pharmaceuticals, specifically antibiotics. The first one, salvarsan was discovered in 1910, followed closely by penicillin in 1928.1

Naturopathic Medicine is sometimes considered to be ‘quackery’ because of its roots in traditional modalities for treatment like hydrotherapy, homeopathy, nutrition, and botanical medicine. However, Naturopathic Doctors also attend 4 (or 5 years) accredited medical programs where they learn all the same basic sciences as traditional MDs and DOs. NDs learn pharmacology and minor surgery to round out their natural therapies. While we often have different approaches we share a similar philosophy of doing no harm to our patients. After graduation and upon licensure we are required to maintain continuing education similar to our counterparts. Many NDs specialize in different areas such as digestive health, hormone health, chronic infections, and autoimmune conditions among other things. We are skilled practitioners at blending old wisdom, like that found in this book, and comparing it to the modern treatments we have today.

We weigh the therapeutics of this the ‘old’ against the new, taking into account how to do the least amount of harm. We are taught to look at current research and use figures like “number needed to treat” when evaluating the need for pharmaceuticals and procedures. Although I am no longer in practice as a medical provider I still use several resources to stay current in preventative medicine, natural medicine, nutritional medicine, and medical research that is being completed.

  • PubMed: PubMed has more than 34 million citations for biomedical literature and is managed by the National Library of Medicine. I have an account set up (100% free!) to email every week a summary of the new articles released for the week on health topics I’ve set up alerts for (sleep medicine and health coaching).

  • The NNT: The Number Needed to Treat is a website that provides quick summaries of evidence-based medicine. It takes common medications and procedures and provides evidence on how many people would need to be treated with that medication or procedure before someone gets a benefit from it. On the flip side, they also look at the number needed to harm, and how many people are treated with the medication or procedure before one might experience harm (negative side effects).

  • Natural Medicines: Comprised of a massive database of supplements and ingredients and provides evidence-based research on their effectiveness for various conditions. It also provides an interaction checker and many other resources for providers.

  • UpToDate: An online medical encyclopedia that provides information on evidence-based medicine, differential diagnosis, condition-specific treatment, treatment algorithms, drug interactions, dosing information, and more. Articles are written by leading physicians and pharmacists and are reviewed regularly so that the information is current.

  • Examine.com: Another great resource for nutrition and supplementation information. They are not sponsored by any organization, government department, a supplement company, or famous medical providers so that they can remain unbiased in their opinions. They do not even sell ads on their website. They provide summaries of nutrition studies, explore various diets and their possible benefits as well as challenge nutrition myths.

Woman sitting on bed with books and laptop researching

Research into ‘natural’ treatments is catching up, but still not at the same level as allopathic medicine. Looking back at where we have been while also thinking forward about where we can go is a fine line to walk. We want to offer the best medicine and the least harmful while identifying the root cause. Looking back we hold onto some of our traditions, the wisdom that has been used for treating disease and illness for 100’s years (chamomile tea anyone?) but also thinking forward we can embrace that there is time for modern medicine as well and a time to leave the old school behind.

1. Hutchings MI, Truman AW, Wilkinson B. Antibiotics: past, present, and future. Curr Opin Microbiol. 2019;51:72-80. doi:10.1016/j.mib.2019.10.008

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