Naturopathic medicine: Alternative health care reform for Mississippi?

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Nicole Matis with her husband, Ron. She testified on Wednesday before the Senate Committee on Public Health and Welfare about how naturopathic medicine helped her rebound from chemotherapy treatments last year.

Larrison Campbell, Mississippi Today

Nicole Matis with her husband, Ron. She testified on Wednesday before the Senate Committee on Public Health and Welfare about how naturopathic medicine helped her rebound from chemotherapy treatments last year.

 

In July 2015, doctors diagnosed Nicole Matis with stage IV breast cancer, telling her the disease was so far advanced, she had no shot of eradicating it. She said the best they offered was to “treat the symptoms until (they) couldn’t treat them anymore.”

But in January, Matis’s oncologist found no evidence of active cancer cells. Nine months later she remains cancer-free.

Matis had defied the odds. And on Wednesday, she told members of the Mississippi Senate committee on health and public welfare that she credits her recovery to naturopathic medicine, which she received along with traditional chemotherapy. She said the naturopathic medicine improved her overall health during the rigorous chemotherapy treatments.

“Nurses were constantly amazed at how well I looked and felt (during chemotherapy). I never felt sick or lost my hair. I had little to no side effects, and I attribute that to naturopathic medicine,” Matis said.

Sharon Stills (left) and Katherine Anderson are both naturopathic doctors, licensed to practice in other states. They spoke on Wednesday before the senate committee on public welfare to advocate for a way of licensing naturopathic doctors in the state.

Larrison Campbell, Mississippi Today

Sharon Stills (left) and Katherine Anderson are both naturopathic doctors, licensed to practice in other states. They spoke on Wednesday before a Senate subcommittee to advocate for a way of licensing naturopathic doctors in Mississippi.

Matis was joined at the Capitol by two naturopathic doctors, one who is licensed in Arizona and the other in Oklahoma. Together they’re pushing for legislation that would legalize the practice of naturopathic medicine in Mississippi. Currently, only 17 states offer licensing for naturopathic doctors.

The American Association of Naturopathic Physicians says the practice emphasizes prevention and treatment with herbal and vitamin remedies, using both traditional and mothern methods.

But Dr. Lee Voulters, president of the Mississippi Medical Association, said that compared with traditional medicine, the field of naturopathic medicine is still relatively unvetted, and patients should approach these treatments with skepticism.

“Look, this is fringe medicine, and lots of people say it’s beneficial to them, and I understand that,” Voulters said. “But (traditional medicine has) very strict guidelines and training programs, and everything is very strictly monitored. And I’m not sure how strictly monitored the naturopathic field is and what’s required of it.”

State Sen. Josh Harkins

Gil Ford Photography

Sen. Josh Harkins, R-Flowood

But naturopathic medicine has something many issues in Mississippi don’t — bipartisan support. Both Sen. John Hohrn (D-Jackson) and Sen. Josh Harkins (R-Flowood) have come out as proponents of a bill to license naturopathic doctors.

“I think it’s about having every medical option available to our citizens that’s safe and effective,” Harkins said. “Who can be against that?”

 

Sen. John Horhn, D-Hinds

Gil Ford Photography

Sen. John Horhn, D-Hinds

Horhn agreed.

“I’ve always leaned toward an integrated approach in healthcare,” Horhn said. “And I think the stars seemed to be lining up on the Senate side for some serious consideration.”

Just six months ago, the stars were not aligned. A similar bill sponsored by Harkins during the last legislative session stalled on the Senate floor. Horhn said it met resistance because it’s a different approach to medicine from what most people in Mississippi are used to.

“We tend to be focused on symptoms. This is more about prevention. So it’s a whole new way of looking at health care in Mississippi,” Horhn said.

Ron Matis, Nicole’s husband, said that the bill’s progress was also hampered because it was introduced late in the legislative session.

“It was introduced later in February so there wasn’t a lot of time to do the sort of education you need to do (among members of the legislature),” Matis said.

Ron Matis, more than most civilians, knows how to get a bill through the legislature. During the last session he was one of the main advocates of a House Bill 1523. The “religious freedom” law garnered national headlines and a fight in federal court after opponents said it discriminated against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Mississippians.

The bill sailed through the House and Senate with almost unanimous Republican support. Matis, who is political director for the United Pentecostal Church of Mississippi, spent months lobbying several key legislators to make sure this happened.

“One of the things that I’ve learned is that I’ve had the privilege of building relationships with a lot of folks who serve in the legislature … and I think the biggest thing is making sure that everyone is on the same page and everyone understands the benefits of this bill and the purpose of this bill … which is to make sure Mississippians have balanced integrative care that gives them options,” Matis said.

Nicole Matis with her husband, Ron. She testified on Wednesday before the Senate Committee on Public Health and Welfare about how naturopathic medicine helped her rebound from chemotherapy treatments last year.

Larrison Campbell, Mississippi Today

Nicole Matis with her husband, Ron. 

Matis, who accompanied his wife to the Capitol on Wednesday, said he is as passionate about Mississippians’ right to naturopathic medicine as he is about protecting their religious beliefs. And Harkins said this is likely to help the cause.

“Anybody that’s an effective communicator and can share their experience of how it changed their life is someone you definitely want on your side,” Harkins said.

For the Matises, who have a five-year-old son, that experience was both financially and physically draining.

Because naturopathic doctors aren’t licensed to practice in Mississippi — or any state in the Southeast  — Nicole Matis used a naturopathic doctor based in Arizona before flying to a small town in Switzerland, where she received both traditional chemotherapy and naturopathic therapies over five weeks last year. She continued both treatments back in Mississippi, using Skype to communicate with her naturopathic doctor, Sharon Stills.

If naturopathic medicine becomes legal in Mississippi, the Matises said they have plans to open a clinic in the state, together with Stills. The clinic would staff both traditional doctors and naturopathic doctors, who Stills said use predominantly vitamins and herbal regimens.

“The real purpose is not to replace traditional medicine. It’s not either/or,” Ron Matis said. “The real purpose is giving patients an opportunity to have a naturopathic doctor focus on the broader issues of their health. Mississippians deserve an option. To me that’s what this is about.”

For proponents of naturopathic medicine, licensing the practice would also open the door to insurance coverage. Ron Matis estimated that his wife’s treatment in Switzerland cost over $5,000 a week, and her current vitamin and herbal regimen costs between $300 and $500 a month.

And while some people may see prices like these as a reason to license naturopathic doctors, others argue that patients aren’t getting what they pay for.  Many of these treatments haven’t withstood the rigorous clinical trials required for even simple traditional medical treatments. And while naturopathic medical school is a four-year program, like traditional medical school, traditional doctors are required to do a minimum three-year residency afterwards. No similar training is required for naturopathic doctors.

Licensing any form of medicine is a complex process. The bill last session would have required the establishment of a separate board to license naturopathic doctors. But Voulters said any medical practice in the state should fall under the Mississippi State Board of Medical Licensure.

“(Naturopathic doctors) seem to rely on traditional medicine for the majority of the things they treat, and I think that’s a good thing,” Voulters said. “As long as it doesn’t get in the way of a traditional medical treatment and the patient feels its beneficial, and they’re being monitored by the state medical licensing board, I have no problem with it.”

Harkins agreed that the process of licensing could be tricky, given that it is all uncharted territory in the state. But he said establishing safe protocols is a priority.

“You want to make sure that whatever you’re licensing is safe. So how do you provide that oversight of certain types of healthcare? … And who has the expertise to know whether these people are operating on a level that’s deemed safe, that’s reliable and that’s not taking advantage of folks or not properly performing procedures?” Harkins said. “I want to make sure we focus on the health and the welfare of people.”

 

  • I am a former naturopathic doctor I know that licensure endangers and misleads the public. We are not trained in medicine but are heavily trained in debunked treatments and very implausible methods. Homeopathy is the worst offender.

    Their schools are not accredited medical programs. Instead, ND programs use an alternative accreditation process that is overseen by other naturopaths, not scientists or medical professions. Read more here: https://www.change.org/p/naturopaths-are-not-doctors

  • Paul Theriault

    Naturopathic medcine, while newer to the research field, has been studied in a number of conditions and found to be more effective and more cost effective than the standard of care.

    In this trial Naturopathic care is shown to effectively lower cardiovascular lab parameters to a greater degree than the Standard of Care: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23630244

    In this trial that approach was shown to generate savings of $1138 to society and $1187 to employers per person per year of Naturopathic care in the above Cardiovascular trial. Note this is in the Canadian context. American savings are likely to be far higher. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23630244

    These two trials resulted in an editorial in the Canadian Medical Association journal endorsing the possible delegation of some aspects of Cardiovascular care to NDs. http://www.cmaj.ca/content/185/9/747.full?ijkey=4101d0f9901e81196f33bd563ba102718e208761&keytype2=tf_ipsecsha

    Another trial found Naturopathic care more effective than the standard of care in Anxiety: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19718255

    A further Trial showed Naturopathic medicine being more effective than the standard of care for lower back pain. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18383988

    An economic analysis of the back pain trial resulted in a savings of $1096 per patient in direct healthcare costs and $1212 in employer costs. Again, American figures are likely to be even higher.
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18383988

    Naturopathic medicine has an increasingly sophisticated research basis, and has demonstrated repeatedly its safety and suitability in many health care environments. Mississippi would do well to license NDs to their fullest scope of practice.

  • Claire Cliche

    Re Ms Hermes comment – Misinformation and personal vendettas are detrimental to public health and safety. What ms hermes states regarding accreditation is false.
    AANMC member schools are not only programmatically accredited, they also maintain regional accreditation with the same agencies that accredit large colleges and universities. Here’s a post w more info
    https://aanmc.org/news/recognize-quality-naturopathic-medical-college/

  • Rae Nicole

    Loving the move toward greater and safer options for health care, and the increasing support amongst the public and current medical establishment alike for naturopathic medicine. 😀

  • Louise Johnson

    Child patients of NDs are significantly
    less likely to receive vaccination

    Although many CAM practitioners claim to support immunization schedules and state they inform parents of what the CDC and ACIP recommendations are, a study in the Maternal and Child Health Journal in 2010 found that:

    “Children were significantly less likely to receive each of the four recommended vaccinations if they saw a naturopathic physician. …Children aged 1–17 years were significantly more likely to be diagnosed with a vaccine-preventable disease if they received naturopathic care. … Pediatric use of complementary/alternative medicine in Washington State was significantly associated with reduced adherence to recommended pediatric vaccination schedules and with acquisition of vaccine-preventable disease. “

    (*measles/mumps/rubella, chickenpox,diphtheria/tetanus/pertussis and H. influenzae type B)

    for study referenced see
    Pediatric Vaccination and Vaccine-Preventable Disease Acquisition: Associations with Care by Complementary and Alternative Medicine Providers
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2924961/
    Matern Child Health J. Nov 2010; 14(6): 922–930. doi: 10.1007/s10995-009-0519-5
    Lois Downey, Patrick T. Tyree, Colleen E. Huebner, and William E. Lafferty

  • Christopher Hickie

    Dear legislators in Mississippi: Naturopaths are anti-vaccinationists. You license them and they will destroy your public health infrastructure that hinges on the high vaccine rates you have. I say this to you as an Arizona physician (pediatrician, MD) and scientist (MD) who has watched Arizona’s vaccine rates plunge over this last 10 years thanks to groups like naturopaths (who as quacks are unfortunately licensed to practice in AZ even though they don’t understand a damn thing about science or medicine) tell parents it’s ok not to vaccinate and that diseases like pertussis and measles are not dangerous. Arizona has had a lot of measles and pertussis outbreaks this last decade. How many has MIssissippi had? Zero. Do you really want to screw that up by licensing these greedy, pseudoscientific snake-oil peddlers? –Chris Hickie, MD, PhD.