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TRIBUNE PHOTO: SCOTT KEITH - Naturopathic doctors can order the same tests and prescriptions as regular doctors, when needed. There’s an alternative to the traditional practice of medi cine that we grew up with. It’s an alternative that’s very popular in this part of the country — Portland in particular. It’s naturopathic medicine.


One clinic that offers these services is the Center for Natural Medicine, located on Cesar E. Chavez Boulevard, where Dr. Martin Milner is medical director and CEO. His clinic is “a patient-centered primary care home in Oregon, credentialed by the Oregon Health Authority, to deliver primary care in a coordinated fashion.”

The focus at his Portland clinic is to rebuild a patient’s health.

Naturopathic medicine is involved in “getting the body to heal itself by using the body’s own self-recuperative power,” Milner said.

“We’re trained in natural therapeutics, diet, exercise, stress management, mental health, dietary supplements, herbal medicine, homeopathic medicine and prescription drug management,” Milner pointed out, adding the goal is to use natural therapeutics, as much as possible, in conjunction with conventional medications.

Dr. Tom Messinger, who is a licensed naturopathic doctor at Portland Natural Medicine, said, “In Oregon, naturopathic doctors are licensed as primary care physicians and we’re trained as such. We can do all the conventional tests (including labs, ultrasounds and MRIs) a person would get from their primary care physician. We do a lot of diagnostic workup.”

For instance, a patient might complain of a stomach ache.

“I want to make sure there are no ‘red flags,’ ” Messinger said, noting that, in some cases, he may have to refer the patient to a gastroenterologist for a workup. “If there are no red flags, I will do a workup and look for possible underlying causes, which may include food sensitivities, SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth), parasites or yeast overgrowth, and compromised digestive function.”

Naturopathic medicine has a centuries-old history, according to Messinger.

“We’re talking about ancient European traditions and East Indian and Chinese medicine traditions,” Messinger said. “We take a lot of their knowledge that they’ve been using for thousands of years. We’ve incorporated that into our medicine.”

However, Messinger pointed out that naturopathic medicine is evidence based.

“We just don’t take a lot of the ancient traditions (knowledge) at face value,” he said. “Our treatment guidelines are based on research and what has been shown to be helpful.”

In Oregon, naturopathic doctors are permitted to prescribe medications. “Most prescription drugs are within our scope,” Milner said.

Milner described the one-on-one experience at naturopathic clinics.

“The naturopathic doctor spends a lot more time with their patient,” Milner said. “We want to focus on diet, exercise, stress management, counsel our patients and get to know them personally.”

The naturopathic physician is interested in getting to the root cause of a health problem.

“Many people in the Portland area have the mindset where they don’t want to stay on a medication that manages a symptom, or even accept deteriorating health as part of the ‘aging process,’ ” Messinger said. “Instead, they want to be proactive by investigating what may be the cause of their health issue and take measures to correct that underlying cause. Working with a naturopathic doctor can be really helpful in achieving this goal.”

Our region is a hotbed of naturopathic care.

There are five naturopathic colleges in the United States and one of them is in Portland (National College of Natural Medicine, where Milner teaches cardiovascular and pulmonary medicine). “Portland is a super hotbed,” Milner said. “It’s probably the most mature city in the country in naturopathic medicine.”

Messinger, who was a registered ER nurse for 23 years before becoming a naturopath, wanted to become a doctor to help people improve their health.

“It’s very gratifying when people who have been suffering with their condition for quite some time feel much better,” Messinger said. “We turn their health around - There’s not a better feeling in the world.”

Scott Keith is a freelance writer for the Portland Tribune and the Pamplin Media Group. If you have a health tip, or story ideas, you can contact Scott at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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