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A Naturopathic View on Thyroid and Hormone Balance

Interview with Dr. Kevin Passero


Updated June 15, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

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Kevin Passero, ND is a naturopathic physician in practice in the Washington, DC metropolitan area and Annapolis, Maryland, who specializes in working with patients with thyroid and hormonal imbalances. Dr. Passero completed four years of post-graduate medical education at the National College of Naturopathic Medicine in Portland, Oregon after receiving a Bachelor's Degree in Environmental Biology from the University of Colorado. Dr. Passero is currently the President of the Maryland Association of Naturopathic Physicians and is an active member of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians. Dr. Passero is also the host of the popular radio show "The Essentials of Healthy Living," which airs weekly in the Washington DC area. I asked Dr. Passero to share some thoughts about naturopathy, his philosophy as a practitioner, and his approaches to hormone balance.

Mary Shomon: Can you share a bit about your educational background?

Kevin Passero, ND: My college major was Biology, which fulfilled all of my pre-med prerequisites but introduced me to a world of study specifically focused on environmental biology. A lot of time was spent studying dynamic ecosystem environments and how all of the plants, animals and natural resources of that environment had to be in perfect balance in order for the system to thrive. Little did I know at the time that this would introduce me to fundamental concepts I use in my medical practice every day. I see the body as its own unique ecosystem, and like in the larger environment around us, everything needs to be in balance within the micro-environment of our body in order for health to thrive.

After college, I completed a four year doctoral program to become a licensed Naturopathic Doctor (ND). At the time of my enrollment in 1999, there were only two accredited Naturopathic medical schools in the country and I had to travel to Portland, Oregon to get my education. At this time, there are now five Naturopathic medical schools in the country with another one slated to open in California within two years.

Mary Shomon: Why did you decide to become a naturopathic doctor?

Kevin Passero, ND: The core philosophy of naturopathic medicine had great appeal to me. It operates under the principle that the body is a self-healing, self-regulating organism, and that the job of the doctor is to identify the underlying causes that have contributed to health imbalances and work to remove those causes while at the same time supporting the self-healing mechanism.

For me, this concept was groundbreaking. For many people, illness is a mystery. We don't know why our body has manifested with a set of symptoms and we are simply given a diagnosis and medicated in a way to cover up those symptoms. It was fascinating to me to study a philosophy of medicine that works to understand the healing mechanisms in our body and create strategies to maximize them so that the body can express health on its own. It is hugely gratifying for the practitioner and hugely empowering for the patients. It restores faith in the human form and results in truly vibrant health and not just the suppression of symptoms.

I was also fascinated with the world of natural remedies. Vitamins, minerals, herbs and homeopathics all interested me as tools for assisting health. I had a deep conviction that these tools provided to us by nature surely needed to play some role in relieving suffering and assisting people in their journey to restore health and vitality. My environmental biology training taught me the dynamic relationships between plants and animals that have evolved over human history and I felt that this connection to the natural world must certainly offer some valuable tools for healing.

Mary Shomon: Can you explain briefly what a naturopath is, for those who may not be familiar with this particular type of medical practice?

Kevin Passero, ND: Naturopathic doctors, or naturopathic physicians, depending on what state you are in, are clinicians that have been trained as primary care doctors with an emphasis on utilizing natural means of healing and focus on the prevention of disease states.

At this time, the term Naturopathic Doctor is used loosely and may refer to a variety of practitioners. I represent the type of Naturopath that has been trained at a four year Naturopathic Medical school recognized by the Department of Education and is eligible for licensure as a Naturopathic Doctor/Physician in 16 states and the District of Columbia. In the states where we are licensed, we operate as primary care physicians with the rights of most medical doctors (MDs) and doctors of osteopathy (DOs), including the ability to order any type of diagnostic test or image, perform physical examinations, perform minor surgical procedures and prescribe an array of prescription medications.

Our process of case evaluation may be similar to an MD's or DO's approach, in regard to blood tests, diagnostic imaging and physical exams, but often differs in several other areas. Most notably, this difference is seen when looking at the treatments we utilize. Although NDs are able to prescribe certain medications in licensed states, it is our preference to first utilize natural methods of healing, including nutrition, herbs, homeopathy, bio-identical hormones, vitamins and minerals.

Another major difference between what to expect from an ND vs. an allopathic doctor is the degree of time spent listening to patients and trying to understand their unique health challenges. Also, NDs frequently utilize cutting-edge functional tests that are not typically done in a traditional medical setting to identify a person's unique set of circumstances contributing to their health problems.

Some practitioners who use the term Naturopathic Doctor have acquired their education via online correspondence programs. They are not required to have the same pre-medical prerequisites as medical doctors or an undergraduate degree and are not trained to the standards necessary to provide comprehensive case management. They are also not eligible for licensure in any state or jurisdiction in North America. If these education differences are important to someone seeking care from a Naturopathic Doctor, it is important to check the doctor's credentials prior to scheduling an appointment.

Mary Shomon: What is your favorite part about being a naturopath?

Kevin Passero, ND: There are many things I enjoy about the naturopathic discipline of medicine. I truly enjoy the collaborative relationship that is established with my patients. A unique partnership is formed as a result of spending so much time with each patient working to understand all aspects of their life and health challenges. For many people, this is the first time they have experienced such openness and willingness to listen from a medical professional and it is something that is valued and respected.

Another aspect of my work I greatly enjoy revolves around my role as a teacher. It is my goal with every patient to not only help them improve their health, but also to help them understand their health. Understanding your health condition, and understanding how the tests and tools I use are going to help you overcome it, help to empower people and enhance the process of healing. It amazes me how many people with thyroid disorders who have been treated for years by other doctors do not know the slightest things about their thyroid, the thyroid tests they are given, or the thyroid medication they take. I feel that as a doctor, I must also be a teacher. If you understand your body, your illness, your medicines, and your test results, you now have a new power over your health and the health decisions you make in the future. No matter what doctor’s office you enter, you will know the basics of how to direct your care and what aspects of care are the most important for you. An empowered, educated patient ALWAYS has better outcomes and I feel it is my job to make sure each person is empowered through education.

In the interest of not having the interview be too long, I will list one more thing I find deeply satisfying about being a Naturopathic doctor -- choices. In the work that I do, I am not limited to only pharmaceutical options to help someone. I have at my disposal thousands of herbs, thousands of homeopathic remedies, vitamin therapies, minerals and many other modalities of healing to rely upon. Each person is an individual and each individual (even if they have the same health condition) may need an individualized approach to healing. What might work in one person for depression might not work in another, and the same is true for thyroid disorders or autoimmune disease or gastrointestinal problems. I have so many tools to choose from that I can customize every single person’s treatment regimen based on what is right for their body. There is no cookie-cutter approach to Naturopathic medicine. Each person is treated uniquely and we, as Naturopathic doctors, have ample tools to do this. For me, this prevents any aspect of boredom that might come from doing the same thing day in and day out. Each case has dynamics unique to that person and requires critical thinking and analysis.

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