Interview with John Monagle about Naturopathic Medicine
Dr. John Monagle owns and operates the Marin Center for Natural Medicine, which is a state of the art medical clinic and natural pharmacy located 15 miles north of San Francisco in Larkspur (part of Marin County). John (who also goes by JK) has dedicated himself to helping others live their lives better, longer, and stronger through natural medicine. He is an expert in a variety of progressive sport therapies including Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP), a treatment for regenerating and repairing connective tissue in the joints and Prolozone Therapy which is beneficial in repairing painful arthritic joints using the regenerative power of ozone. John treats a variety of clientele ranging from NFL superstars to the weekend warrior athlete, the old to the young, and everyone else in between.
Here are my 5 questions with John and his answers:
1) What do you see as the primary differences between Naturopathic Medicine’s approach to sports medicine versus a conventional Allopathic medical approach?
The primary differences are in the treatment of sports injuries, and whether the ailment is acute or chronic. Allopathic medicine has two major approaches; drugs and surgery. In my opinion, drugs do not heal, they relieve symptoms. Pharmaceuticals may help temporarily, but are also dangerous in that they can mask a problem that needs to be addressed and therefore risk causing further damage to the area, not to mention the addictive properties of pain killers. The other option in conventional medicine is surgery, which in my opinion, should only be considered as a last resort when every other alternative has been explored and there is absolutely no other choice. Period.
Two of the major tenet’s of Naturopathic Medicine are: Treat the underlying cause of illness; And treat the whole person. Following these principles, I address not just the injured area itself, but the whole body. I put my patients on a regimen of nutraceutical supplements to help build their energy, increase their healing strength, and decrease their pain. Then, with regard to the injury, whatever it may be, I use therapies to heal the area, and not just remove the pain. I treat a lot of chronic joint pain from normal wear and tear, or from repetitive use in sports or exercise like running, swimming, biking, lifting weights, etc.
One of the main tools that conventional Medical Doctors use for pain is a steroid injection, primarily Cortisone. These doctors mean well, because it does help with the pain. The problem is, it is like cutting the wire to the “check engine” light in your car. The pain may be gone, but the tissue is not fixed. In fact, multiple cortisone shots only serve to weaken the connective tissue further, because they block any possibility of healing in the affected area. The other non-surgical treatments of conventional medicine are pharmaceuticals like anti-inflammatory medicines, pain killers, and steroids, all with a host of negative side effects and no true healing effects.
2) In Western medicine (after far too long in my opinion) we are finally seeing clinicians and practitioners focus on prevention. For instance, doctors are making more of a concerted effort to prescribe exercise for mild hypertension rather than wait for it to progress and treat the problem with pharmaceutical drugs. Is this paradigm shift in ideology affecting Natural Medicine as well?
I think Natural Medicine is the paradigm shift. It is the way Naturopathic Doctors are trained to think about health in the first place. It is an ideology of true health and one that is far older than pharmaceutical medicine. It is affecting more and more doctors every year, and the beauty is, it is coming from their patients not wanting to take a drug or have surgery. More and more people are recognizing the downside of being a slave to prescription drugs. Thanks to the Internet, they are more informed about health in general and they want healthier alternatives; and they want their doctor to know about these alternatives.
3) Personally, I’ve had mixed results with both Non- Western medicine and Western medicine. Acupuncture cured some chronic arthritic pain I had in my thumb – where traditional pain relievers could do little to ease the ailment. Conversely, I tried to treat my insomnia with acupuncture – the approach was met with limited success – so I began using Lunesta which has worked wonders. Do you support the theory that the multiple disciplines augment each other? Is the best path for a patient trial and error to figure out what works best?
I do think that multiple disciplines augment and complement each other. Usually, you can’t get everything you need for your health from just one practitioner or modality. I think the best path is one that works for the individual. Contrary to what some might have you believe, it is important to be participant in nurturing your well-being. The more informed you are with the choices you have, the better you can tailor your own health care approach.
4) If you could clear up one misconception about Naturopathic Medicine what would it be?
That we are not “real” doctors or that we didn’t go to a “real” medical school. Anyone who does a little bit of research (www.naturopathic.org)
can learn that a Medical Degree from a Naturopathic Medical School is equivalent to any MD degree from an Allopathic Medical school. The first two years in either program are nearly identical. We take the same classes, use the same textbooks, and learn the same basic facts about how the body works, pathology, diagnosis, and yes, even pharmacology. I have a DEA license to prescribe pharmaceuticals, but I hardly ever need to use it, because I prefer to use natural and less toxic medicines. I’ll take it one step further and say that the didactic part of an MD’s education ends after their second year, when they begin rotations and learn more about disease management through the use of pharmaceuticals or surgery.
Conversely, in Naturopathic Medical after our second year, we begin rotations and seeing patients in a clinical setting, but we continue to take classes in our 3rd and 4th year to learn about Homeopathy, Botanical Medicine, Intravenous Therapy, Physical Medicine (Chiropractic, Physiotherapy, Physical Therapy), Chinese Medicine, and most importantly, Nutrition (where the average MD school might teach two weeks). Our board exams after year two and four are in the exact same subjects and are modeled in the same manner as an MD.
We are licensed Primary Care Physicians, and are exceptional at treating chronic illnesses by getting to the root cause of the problem.
We can order lab tests, radiographic imaging, and perform minor surgery if we choose to do so in our practice. When it comes to Primary Care and Family Practice Medicine, we resemble the “old fashioned doctor” who knows the family and makes an occasional house call as opposed to a focus on cranking out cases. We treat patients with the best of what modern Natural Medicine has to offer (based on the latest scientific and clinical research).
5) Thinking back through your years of practice, what is your favorite sport/fitness related success story (rehab, prevention, or otherwise) regarding Naturopathic Medicine?
I treated one of the Oakland Raiders who was told he couldn’t play in the game that upcoming weekend because of a pulled muscle. I saw him for two days in a row, and did several trigger point injection therapies and a prolotherapy treatment. In three days he was back on the field, playing full speed and ready to go on Sunday. His coaches were so surprised, they gave him a random drug screening to see if he took something illegal. He laughed, took the tests, which all came back negative, and played a great game.