There's a new doctor in town, a naturopathic doctor, to be precise.
Joan Waters graduated from the National College of Natural Medicine with a four-year, doctorate degree in naturopathic medicine and an emphasis in gut health and, after practicing in Fort Collins, Colorado, she's decided to move her clinic to the "Deep Freeze."
"I moved up here to be closer to family," said Waters, adding, "When I moved up here, which I call the Deep Freeze...I decided that I have to have at least one clinic in a warmer location, so I also opened a clinic in Colby, Kansas."
Her plan is to have Detroit Lakes as her "base" clinic, which is located in the Healing Hub on Washington Avenue, kiddy corner to M & H or just across the street from Red Willow. Then she will make a loop about once a month, depending on demand and weather, to visit her other clinics in Colby and Fargo. She says the travel will help her fulfill her goal of practicing in rural, underserved areas-and it will help her fulfill her love of travel.
Waters says her practice is easily mobile, so it's not affected by travel. Once patients have their first visit with her, they have the option of doing over-the-phone consultations or a VC appointment, which is a HIPAA-compliant Skype session.
What is naturopathic medicine?
Waters describes what she does as "functional medicine," as opposed to conventional medicine.
"Functional medicine is when you don't need a diagnosis to help the person, so you support the organs that you find are not functioning properly," she said. "A lot of times, I end up doing testing."
Some of the testing that Waters does is exactly the same that conventional doctors do (blood tests and such), but some of the tests are not recognized in conventional medicine, like some genetic testing she provides.
"That's why we can help because we have a different way of looking at the body," said Waters, adding that functional and conventional medicine work best when they work together. "I want the patients to get the best of conventional medicine and the best of naturopathic medicine."
Though she acknowledges their differences.
One piece that's a little different is the "normal" range Waters looks at when she runs a test, where some clinics and hospitals may have a very wide normal range, Waters looks at what a person's normal range should be based on their age, gender, and level of health. Then, there are the tests that aren't recognized by conventional medicine or, at least, they aren't recognized as legitimate by insurance companies because insurance companies won't pay for them.
"Some of the tests are not recognized, even if there's a lot of research, it takes a while for them to be recognized for some reason," said Waters, adding that while her testing method may be different from conventional medicine, it's very beneficial for her when treating a patient.
"You've gotta find out what the cause (of the illness) is," said Waters, adding that a lot of her tests are meant to tell her how a person's organs are functioning. Then, once she figures out which ones aren't functioning properly and which one stopped functioning properly first, she's able to support that organ "and the body, in all its infinite wisdom, heals itself."
Part of finding the cause of illness in someone and then finding the correct way to support that person also comes from the patient's medical history as well as looking at their current lifestyle. In Waters's eyes, everything is connected.
"Somebody might come in for anxiety, and then I ask them about their gut health. The whole body works together. All the organs work together," she said. "Sometimes, it could be a gut problem causing a nutrient deficiency that causes a brain problem."
This way of looking at the body allows her to find and treat a number of ongoing problems, like autoimmune diseases, infections, and food sensitivities. Waters also looks to things in a person's environment, like mold, which she says is often a big factor jeopardizing health.
Waters is trained as a primary-care doctor who treats all kinds of things, but she says one of the biggest issues she deals with is an unhealthy gut, which is causing other problems.
"A lot of patients that come to me have unhealthy guts," she said, adding that nearly every treatment plan she prescribes includes a diet change. "Naturopathic medicine is not for the person who does not want to change their diet. It's not for everybody, but it's just a life changer for a lot of people."
In addition to a change of diet, Waters prescribes herbs rather than prescription medications to treat illness. In the state of Minnesota, naturopathic doctors are not certified to prescribe medications, but that doesn't bother her any. She prefers herbs as a treatment method.
"To my knowledge, there are not bugs (antibiotic-resistant bacteria) that are resistant to our herbs yet," she said, adding, "I get these people who get recurrent urinary tract infections and just can't get off antibiotics. That's a perfect client for naturopathic medicine because the bugs are still sensitive to herbs because they're new."
Waters says her goal is to be the end-of-the-line doctor for people who have tried every other option. She does her best to cure issues that have either gone undiagnosed or not been treated properly and, she says, many times she is able to help people in just a few visits-seeing her is not a lifetime or lengthy commitment by any means.
"My job is to work my way out of a job with every patient. I need to help them understand how the body works. Teaching is, like, the big part because they learn not only how to resolve their current condition, but they can prevent other ones from occurring," she said.