Naturopaths Focus On Natural Healing Potential

article from The New SouthWest…

Naturopathic Doctor DeeAnn Saber credits Patch Adams for introducing her to the essence of health care. PHOTO BY James Patrick.

By Jan Henrikson, The New Southwest

Dr. DeeAnn Grimes Saber, NMD, may not be sporting a clown nose, but she is walking exuberance as she gives a tour of WellnessFirst!, the Transformational Medicine center she and a group of associates recently opened in Tucson.

WellnessFirst! is Saber’s response to the growing call for change in a health care system she says is broken. Saber and her colleagues offer a toolbox of services in their commitment to promote well-being and prevent illness: acupuncture, digital thermal imaging, holistic mental health counseling, colon hydrotherapy, and myofascial release, for starters. And they have just begun a pilot program of collaborative care for people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Hunter Doherty “Patch” Adams – the humanitarian medical doctor, social activist and clown who inspired the 1998 film starring Robin Williams – would doubtless don his red rubber nose and give Saber and her team a triple flip and a pie in the face for their efforts.

Especially since Saber led clown tours with Adams in Russia and Eastern Europe for 10 years, sparking the healing of kids in orphanages and hospitals.

“We’re really complex and complete beings,” says Saber, who was inspired to become a naturopathic primary care physician after retiring from touring. “My primary role is to teach and to educate people. To identify and treat the underlying cause of dis-ease and dis-comfort.”

She remembers being treated years ago by the founder of Bastyr University, where she eventually got her NMD degree. “I just said, ‘I really love this kind of care. I want someone who’s going to listen to me and work with me for an hour, an hour and a half. They’re present; they’re interested in me as a whole person.’”

In her role as functional medicine specialist, Saber offers a unique kind of in-depth care. Patients have the option of filling out a comprehensive, nearly 40-page intake form.

Saber goes through her patient’s medical records “with a fine tooth comb.” She views lab reports “so they’re optimal, not average. The average reference range is not necessarily healthy for people. I want people to be optimal,” she says. “After I’ve done all the research, I do a written report of my suggestions. Then we’ll talk about the options, and people get to pick. It’s their body and their life.”

Naturopathy, or naturopathic medicine, is a system of medicine based on the healing power of nature. It’s a holistic system, meaning that NDs and NMDs strive to find the cause of disease by understanding the body, mind, and spirit of the person. Aside from that and the required four-year medical education, what’s the difference between a Naturapathic Doctor (ND or NMD), a Medical Doctor (MD), and an Osteopathic Doctor (DO)?

There are two areas of focus in naturopathy: one is supporting the body’s own healing abilities, and the other is empowering people to make lifestyle changes necessary for the best possible health. While naturopathic doctors treat short bouts of illness and chronic conditions, their emphasis is on preventing disease and educating patients. Naturopaths receive extensive training in clinical nutrition, acupuncture, homeopathic medicine, botanical medicine, physical medicine, and counseling. To graduate, they must intern in clinical settings under the supervision of licensed professionals for at least two years.

Western medicine was revolutionized in the 19th century by advances in chemistry, laboratory techniques and equipment. Trauma and emergency medicine began in the late 1950s, when doctors returning from WWII realized the techniques they used on the troops could save lives on the home front. The MD evaluates a disease or health condition in terms of how it affects certain parts of the body only, and chooses to specialize in a particular field, taking additional training and further examinations to be licensed by the board of his or her specialty.

The DO evaluates a person’s health in terms of viewing the body as a complex related network, believing any disease affects the whole body. A DO receives additional training in the muscular and skeletal system, and also in muscular and skeletal manipulation.

In the mid-1920s to 1940, the use of naturopathic medicine declined. It was not until the 1960s that naturopathic-style holistic medicine became popular again. Today, naturopaths are licensed medical care providers who offer a variety of natural therapies, including homeopathy, vitamin and mineral supplements, Traditional Chinese Medicine, relaxation techniques, and herbal remedies.

“Picture a doctor who can take the best of conventional medicine and combine it with the best of alternative medicine,” says Dr. Paul Mittman, president and CEO of Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine (SCNM) in Tempe, Ariz., one of six such colleges in North America.

According to Mittman, NDs or NMDs must attend four years of professional level medical programs after completing bachelor’s degrees with a pre-med background ? the same educational requirements as MDs and DOs. Naturopaths also study the same basic sciences as MDs and DOs, such as biochemistry, anatomy, physiology, neuroscience, and genetics. Arizona is one of 15 states in the country that requires naturopaths to be licensed.

“We spend $2.2 trillion a year on health care – 80 percent of that has to do with preventable, and in many cases, reversible illnesses,” says Mittman. “Diabetes, heart disease, stroke, many kinds of cancer, arthritis. So many of them are related to the way we eat, the way we live our lives. Do we exercise? How do we deal with stress? That’s really the cornerstone of naturopathic medicine.”

Dr. Scott Jamison, NMD, PC, served in Vietnam before discovering naturopathy. While a fine arts major at Emporia State University, he happened to rent a house with two naturopathic students. “The stuff they were learning seemed a lot more exciting,” he says with a laugh. He switched majors and eventually went on to graduate from the National College of Naturopathic Medicine in Portland, Ore.

He has practiced naturopathic medicine since 1982, and currently is in private practice in Tucson. He looks at several things with his patients. What foods can they eat? What treatments can their bodies tolerate so they can actually start getting well? Jamison launches an extensive process of helping them put the pieces of their lives back together with a genetic test of the Methylation Pathways. This determines how the individual body detoxifies, which genes are defective and which are working.

He adds that customized nutritional approaches bring the person, step by step, back to balance, and into life. “A key concept of naturopathy is the belief that, given proper support from naturally derived medicines, the body can heal itself.”

Genetic testing of the detoxification pathways is vital for autistic kids as well, says Jamison. ”This gives us a lot of nutritional information because there are no drug medications that help.”

With individualized nutritional support, he’s seen children with autism become “more functional. The parents are happier. The teachers are happier, but they still tend to be limited. I think we still have a lot of things to learn about conquering or managing the whole autistic phenomenon.”

Jamison believes people are hungry for rational recommendations, conventional or alternative. It’s no wonder our society is engaged in lively dialogue about affordable heath care that revitalizes and sustains. What else is more intimate than the well-being of your own body? Or more publicly debated? How can health care practitioners with different strengths support their patients and each other?

Integrative Oncology is one innovative field of medicine that is creating a harmonious note between previously strained factions of health care.

“For most patients with cancer, it’s life or death so they’re not satisfied with getting either-or,” says Mittman. “So now there’s a tremendous amount of collaboration and co-management of patients with cancer between conventional oncologists and naturopathic doctors. It’s very different than when I started out. The public is much more aware.”

According to a 2001 Harvard Medical School Survey published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, 68 percent of adults have used at least one kind of alternative or complementary therapy.

Mittman once had a patient, though, a cancer researcher, who told him, “I just have to tell you, I don’t believe in any of this.”

“She did really well,” Mittman says. “I always teased her afterward. ‘I’m glad you don’t believe in any of this.’ Because really it’s not a question of whether you believe in something or not. When we live in accordance with the laws of nature, we tend to be healthier.”

Saber credits Patch Adams for introducing her to the essence of health care: “It’s about loving the person,” she says, simply. Laughter, joy, and creativity aren’t luxuries. They are vital ingredients to sustaining the health of our minds, bodies, and spirits.

Author: Jan Henrikson is a local freelance writer.


  • Scott Jamison, NMD. 6622 E. Carondelet Dr.  (520) 296-2800.
  • Dee Ann Grimes Saber, NMD. WellnessFirst!  3861 N. First Ave.
  • Southwest College Of Naturopathic Medicine. 2140 E. Broadway Rd., Tempe, AZ 85282.  480-858-9100.

The Six Fundamental Principles of Naturopathic Medicine

  • The Healing Power of Nature: Trust in the body’s inherent wisdom to heal itself.
  • Identify and Treat the Causes: Look beyond the symptoms to the underlying cause.
  • First Do No Harm: Utilize the most natural, least invasive and least toxic therapies.
  • Doctor as Teacher: Educate patients in the steps to achieving and maintaining health.
  • Treat the Whole Person: View the body as an integrated whole in all its physical and spiritual dimensions.
  • Prevention: Focus on overall health, wellness and disease prevention. (From the Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges website:
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