Frequently Asked Questions

What is naturopathic medicine?

Naturopathic medicine is a distinct, comprehensive system of healthcare emphasizing the use of natural therapies to promote health and treat and prevent disease. Naturopathic doctors are general practitioners who specialize in natural medicine and follow six important principles in caring for their patients:

  • First do no harm - Utilize the most natural, least invasive and least toxic therapies first.

  • Identify and treat the cause - Look beyond the symptoms to effectively address the underlying causes of illness.

  • Trust in the healing power of nature - The body’s inherent wisdom to heal itself.

  • Treat the whole person - View the body as an integrated whole in all its physical and spiritual dimensions.

  • Doctor as teacher - Educate patients in the steps to achieve and maintain optimal health.

  • Prevention - Focus on promoting health and wellness, and preventing disease.

How does the training compare between NDs and MDs?

Both NDs and MDs attend four-year graduate level accredited medical schools, with similar training in the basic sciences such as anatomy, physiology, biochemistry and pathology. Most MDs go on to residencies and internships; NDs do internships and may also do residency training. NDs, like MDs, must pass state board exams to practice in licensed states. In clinical training, MDs are often trained in hospital settings which emphasize specialty views of patient care. So, the MD student may spend time observing cardiac patients or internal medicine cases with emphasis on treating specific conditions. ND students are more often trained in community clinic settings and preceptorships with NDs in private practice, which lend to more general approaches to primary care.

What is the difference between a naturopathic doctor and a medical doctor?

While there are many similarities in how NDs and MDs are trained and practice, there are also important differences. MDs are taught to focus on obtaining a scientifically-based diagnosis that then guides the therapy offered. Often these therapies are aimed at blocking or suppressing a symptom, such as using pain killers and anti-inflammatory medicines for arthritis or using an antibiotic to treat an infection. This approach is very effective especially for treating emergencies and life-threatening health problems, but it often does not work to correct the causes of health problems and has a poor track record in the treatment of chronic diseases which are difficult to diagnose, such as chronic fatigue. 

MDs by in large tend to take a reductionist approach to health care; that is they focus on treating the disease not the patient. While also using scientific methods and arriving at many of the same diagnoses as MDs, naturopathic doctors take a more holistic approach and try to understand causes behind a patient’s diagnosis so these can be effectively managed. So, for example, an ND may use herbal or nutritional substances to relieve pain and reduce inflammation in a patient with arthritis, while at the same time use therapies to support healthy joint function and restore damaged tissues.

Using a more holistic model, the ND may also look into the role that food intolerances or gastrointestinal health may play in the patient with arthritis. Uncovering these clues can be important in helping patients understand the causes of their conditions and empower them to take a more active role in improving their general health while managing their current “diagnosis.

Is naturopathy the same as homeopathy?

No. Homeopathy is a system of medicine based on the law of similars, or the principal that “like cures like.” Homeopathic remedies are made from plants, minerals and other substances which are given in extremely dilute form. Naturopathic medicine is an eclectic blend of all types of natural medicine, including homeopathy, botanical medicine, clinical nutrition, psychology, etc. Some naturopathic doctors practice homeopathy, but not all homeopaths are naturopaths.

What kinds of conditions do you treat?

We have a general practice and treat a wide range of conditions. Some examples are allergies and asthma, pain and injury, headaches, digestive problems, skin conditions, menstrual conditions, and fatigue/immune problems. Some of our patients have cancer, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C, and chronic fatigue syndrome, and we work with them to strengthen their immunity and deal with side-effects of conventional medicine.

How does acupuncture work?

According to traditional Chinese medicine theory, acupuncture works by promoting the smooth flow of Qi to organs and tissues that in turn promotes proper balance and functioning of those tissues. From western scientific research, we now understand that acupuncture influences a number of physiological functions such as release of natural pain killing chemicals by the brain, restoration of proper circulation in diseased areas, stimulation of hormonal glands and immune system function, to name a few. Research into the effects of acupuncture is still young, so there is more being discovered every year that should continue to help us understand more completely how acupuncture works.

Does acupuncture hurt?

Not really. Usually you feel a slight sensation when the needle is inserted, but it is not generally considered painful. Once the needles are in, you usually don't feel anything. As a matter of fact, some people find acupuncture so relaxing that they fall asleep during treatment and enjoy a well-deserved nap.

Do you use disposable needles?

Yes. We use sterile, disposable needles that are used only once and then disposed of according to local health department regulations.

How many acupuncture sessions will I need?

How many visits you will need depends on your individual diagnosis, the severity of your case, and the chronic nature of your condition. If you have had a chronic problem for many years, you may need regular visits to correct the imbalance in your system. Acute musculoskeletal pain or injuries are often effectively treated with a short course of treatment, twice a week for a couple of weeks. At the end of your initial visit, we will suggest a treatment plan to best serve your needs.

Do you use herbs?

Yes. Acupuncture is just one part of Traditional Chinese Medicine, and herbal medicine represents a large part of the care we provide. We use Chinese herbs, western herbs, and nutritional supplements. The Chinese herbs we use are in tablets, capsules, or tinctures. We do not require the use of herbs that you boil and drink as a tea.

Can acupuncture help me stop smoking?

Yes, acupuncture can help a person who is ready and motivated to quit smoking. We have a stop-smoking program that combines acupuncture, herbs, nutritional and behavioral counseling to help you quit smoking.

How much does a visit cost?

Like most medical fees, our fees vary depending on the complexity of your case, how much time is spent, whether your visit includes acupuncture, and other factors. A straightforward problem of low complexity will take less time and cost less than a comprehensive evaluation of multiple health problems, chronic diseases or conditions of high complexity. If you would like an estimate of fees for initial and subsequent visits, please don't hesitate to call, or contact our receptionists at She will gladly estimate the cost of your initial and return visits.

Does insurance cover naturopathic medicine?

Naturopathic doctors became licensed in January 2005. At this time, most insurance companies have not yet recognized our profession for insurance coverage; however, some of our patients have had their ND visits covered, and we recommend that you submit our bills for reimbursement. We are hopeful that more and more plans will cover this type of care as time goes on.

Does insurance cover acupuncture?

Many insurance plans today cover acupuncture. In order to find out if you are covered, you should call your insurance provider and ask if acupuncture performed by an acupuncturist licensed in the State of California is a covered benefit. You should also determine if you have a benefit for out-of-network providers (we are not contracted with most plans). The other question to ask is whether acupuncture is covered for pain only or based on medical necessity. For example, your plan may cover acupuncture if you have musculoskeletal pain but not if you have a digestive problem.

Does SFNM accept insurance?

SFNM does not bill insurance companies directly. Payment at the time of the service is required. We accept cash, checks, and major credit cards. Our receipts will be coded so that you can submit them either to insurance, a flexible spending account or HSA. 

San Francisco Natural Medicine is featured in Your Legal Guide, and offers care for victims of auto accidents.

What is breast thermography?

Breast thermography, or digital infrared thermal imaging (DITI), is a noninvasive screening procedure that detects and records infrared heat emissions from the breast. The visual image (thermogram) maps variations in skin temperature, which may indicate underlying vascular, muscular and neural disease. DITI is especially useful for detecting early lesions before they otherwise become clinically evident. These changes could accompany cancer, fibrocystic breast disease, local injury, infections or vascular disease. No radiation is used by thermography, and there is no physical contact or discomfort during the procedure.