In Arizona, Jan. 1, 2014 marks a historic moment in health care choice. Obamacare, which takes effect then, includes a little noticed provision whose long-term impact is likely to be vast.

Under this provision, insurers will not be allowed to exclude licensed health care professionals who want to participate in their plans. The intent is to give consumers greater choice among different types of health care providers. That means patients will soon have access to holistic health care professionals such as naturopathic physicians, chiropractors, and acupuncturists.

Holistic health care relies more on lifestyle changes and natural solutions and less on invasive procedures, surgery, and prescription drugs. The new law recognizes that 40 percent of Americans are taking greater control of their health by using holistic medicine. Within this 40 percent is a small but growing number who are seeking care from the “general practitioners of holistic medicine” known as naturopathic physicians.

On Sept. 10, the U.S. Senate unanimously approved a resolution that establishes this week, Oct. 7-13, as Naturopathic Medicine Week. Congress, thereby, recognized the ability of naturopathic physicians to “provide safe, effective, and affordable health care” and urged Americans to learn more about this form of medicine.

The naturopathic approach emphasizes the body’s inherent self-healing ability — a clear divergence from conventional medicine, which tends to focus on managing sickness.

It’s stunning that nearly two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese, tens of millions are afflicted by conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes, and 70 percent of us report suffering from stress (which itself can lead to such problems as heart disease and depression). Our fast-paced, high stress, “Big Gulp” lifestyle has brought about this plague of chronic illness and an intense focus on sickness management. The result is that, while our country spends far more per capita on health care than any other nation, we rank just 37th in average life expectancy.

Tracy Gaudet, MD, director of patient-centered care at the Veterans Health Administration, describes naturopathic medicine as “a huge answer for the country… at a pivotal transformational moment” in health care. In an era when prescribing drugs or recommending surgery is a reflex action for many doctors — and patients themselves see drugs or surgery as the way to banish symptoms — an approach that highlights the causes of illness and equips people with an understanding of their body as a functional system is, indeed, transformational.

Naturopathic doctors have been around for decades; Dr. Gaudet calls us “pioneers… who have been practicing integrative medicine all along.” Today, 4,400 NDs hold a license, having graduated from accredited four-year naturopathic medical schools. NDs in general use a range of non-invasive approaches such as physical medicine, oriental medicine, botanical medicine, mind-body medicine, lifestyle counseling, and nutrition counseling.

The symptoms of chronic illness, and the costs, are spiraling all around us. It’s important to realize that disease-causing pathogens are no longer the only or main threat to health.

• Dr. Spice A. Lussier, NMD, is a naturopathic physician and medical director of Desert Wellness Center in Tempe. Reach her at (480) 820-6695 or visit

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