People are starting to look at treating the entire body, instead of merely treating symptoms and naturopaths are who you go to for those needs. There is a movement towards natural health, and naturopaths are on the forefront of it.
We have the privilege to interview Dr. Sara Jean Barrett, ND who shares her beliefs and methods with us. She is a practicing family ND in Minnesota, and has successfully treated a multitude of patients.
Sara Jean Barrett, ND
Alternative Solutions for Health
1221 W 106th St
Bloomington, MN 55431
Q: Please give us some background regarding your credentials. What type of education did you pursue to become a naturopath (naturopathic physician)?
Dr. Sara Barrett: I graduated with a B.S. in Biology from The Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) in Atlanta, Ga. During my undergraduate education I worked as a research assistant investigating breast cancer and as a nursing assistant. I knew there had to be more to medicine than what I was seeing in patient care or research. Luckily I was told about naturopathic medicine by an academic advisor at Georgia Tech. I did some research and knew this was the right career path for me. I switched from pursuing an MD to an ND and attended the Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine in Tempe, AZ
Q: A lot of people are confused about the legitimacy of naturopathic medicine. Can you expand upon your educational pursuits to explain the similarities and differences in training that you received as opposed to an allopathic practitioner?
Dr. Sara Barrett: Naturopathic doctors are trained in 4 year post graduate medical schools that are accredited by the U.S. Department of Education. The first two years are mostly basic science training (with some naturopathic modalities included) while the second two years focus on clinical training and expanding on naturopathic modalities (physical medicine, herbal medicine, homeopathy, nutrition and more). MDs and DOs have a similar medical school structure with the first two years being basic sciences followed by two years of clinical training. A major difference is that naturopathic clinical education is largely focused in a family practice setting and for MDs and DOs clinical education is largely focused in a hospital setting. All three types of physicians must pass board exams to become licensed. Naturopathic boards include pharmacology, physiology, disease pathology etc similar to MD and DO boards (I used MD study manuals to study for my naturopathic boards). ND boards also include acupuncture, herbal medicine, nutrition, homeopathy, and other naturopathic modalities that MD and DO boards do not cover because it is not in their education or scope of practice.
Q: Are you a member of any additional professional organizations? Do you have any other credentials or accolades (public speaking, published author, etc.)?
Dr. Sara Barrett: I am a member of the Minnesota Association of Naturopathic Physicians and the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians. I have been published in the peer-reviewed journal Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine.
Q: What inspired you to practice naturopathic medicine as opposed to allopathic medicine?
Dr. Sara Barrett: I felt that in doing research we were looking at the wrong end of things. We were looking for modern treatments for cancer or diabetes but we weren’t looking at what caused these ailments. As a nursing assistant and from shadowing doctors I saw patient care first hand and I knew there had to be more to medicine. Visits were rushed, the same prescriptions were being handed out over and over again. Honestly from a practitioner standpoint it felt boring! There was no variation in patient care. When I learned about naturopathic medicine it was everything I was looking for. Naturopathic medicine looks for the root cause of illness and focuses on prevention. We approach patients as a whole person and treat them as individuals. Every day is exciting and different. Even if every patient comes in with the same chief concern they will likely all have different treatment plans.
Q: What are your views on the relationship between allopathic medicine, naturopathic medicine, ancient healing practices, and modern scientific research?
Dr. Sara Barrett: I think every form of medicine has its place. If I were in a car accident I would hope there are highly skilled MDs waiting for me at the ER. I think research is vital. I am craving more research in alternative fields. I think when all the practitioners can respect each other and work together everyone wins, especially the patient.
Q: What are your views on allopathic medical practices and medications? How do you view the relationship between allopathic diagnostic procedures and natural healing methods?
Dr. Sara Barrett: I think that medications serve a purpose and have saved countless lives. But I also think that over prescribing and poor prescribing have hurt and ended lives as well. I feel that the gentlest methods of treatment should be utilized first moving into more powerful treatment methods (ie medications and surgery) if gentler methods are not enough.
Naturopathic doctors utilize blood work, ultrasound, X-ray, CT, MRI, most standard diagnostic tools. Establishing a correct diagnosis is very important for both allopathic and naturopathic doctors.
Q: Do you practice naturopathic medicine in general or do you focus your practice on the treatment of certain, specific conditions. Do you feel you are an expert in the treatment of a particular disorder or disease; or, do you prefer to work with specific groups of people (children, women, diabetics, etc)? Please explain.
Dr. Sara Barrett: I am a general practice family doctor. I treat a variety of conditions. I love the challenge of being ready for whatever comes in that day whether it is eczema, hot flashes, earaches, diabetes, high cholesterol etc.
Q: If a new patient with varied medical conditions walked into your office, how would you explain your diagnosis methods? Would you order bloodwork and tests that most patients consider part of allopathic medicine? What procedure would you follow in terms of testing in order to create a diagnosis and treatment plan, and how would you explain it to someone who is unfamiliar with naturopathic medicine?
Dr. Sara Barrett: I treat patients on an individual basis. What blood work I run will depend on their condition and what they have had run previously. There are a variety of tests I could order that again really depend on what is going on with that patient. I think in this modern age of technology and lab testing we have lost the art of a really good history and physical exam. Doctors have practiced for a long time relying on what they feel, see and hear from the patient. I do a comprehensive physical exam and a very thorough intake, which is often my best tool to really decipher the root cause of their concerns.
Q: In what instances, if any, would you tell a patient that allopathic treatments would be safer or more effective than a natural or alternative treatment? What criteria do you use to decide when a person should be seeking allopathic remedies as opposed to natural?
Dr. Sara Barrett: Naturopathic doctors are trained to identify emergent and life threatening conditions. If I see someone in my office that I suspect may be having a heart attack, stroke, etc I will call an ambulance. I was educated in pharmacology and understand allopathic medication so I always give my patients alternatives. You can try deglycyrrhizinated licorice for your heartburn or some OTC alternatives. I think there are certain conditions, cancer for example, that are best treated by allopathic and naturopathic medicine working together. If I think a patients case is severe I might refer them to a specialist to co-manage their care. I think it is important that every medical professional recognize their limitations and refer when necessary. For example, if I had a patient who was recently in South America and seems to have a strange infection I would refer them to an infectious disease specialist for a proper diagnosis because I don’t have a lot of experience in that area.
Q: What are some of the most common ailments you see that are effectively treated with natural methods? Please give an example.
Dr. Sara Barrett: GERD, endometriosis, PMS, infertility, diabetes, high cholesterol, constipation, diarrhea, IBS, IBD, eczema/psoriasis, allergies, asthma, PCOS, thyroid concerns, insomnia, this could be a long list…
Q: What are some of the greatest obstacles you face when practicing naturopathic medicine?
Dr. Sara Barrett: Insurance. Patients ask all the time if they can use their insurance for naturopathic medicine. I want this medicine to be accessible to everyone but sadly in Minnesota naturopathic doctors are not in network providers. On the other hand becoming an in network provider limits what treatments I can use with patients. So I am not sure insurance is really the answer. I just wish there was a way to make this medicine more accessible to patients.
Q: What instance, in your mind, stands out as one of your greatest success stories in treating someone via naturopathic methods?
Dr. Sara Barrett: There are so many! Saving organs from removal (uterus, ovaries, gallbladder), reversing type II diabetes, controlling fatigue in MS, the list goes on!
Q: What type of diet plan do you generally recommend to your patients? A lot of people automatically assume that following a naturopathic plan means eating a vegetarian or vegan diet. What are your views on the importance of having (or avoiding) animal proteins and fats?
Dr. Sara Barrett: The diet I recommend to patients is based on their constitution, their condition, and what is feasible for them. Some people thrive on animal protein and others don’t do well at all. The diet may be one that eliminates food sensitivities, emphasizes liver health, a GAPS diet, s paleo-type diet, a vegetarian diet etc. I think the commonality in the diets I recommend is that the foundation is a variety of vegetables and fruits with minimal refined sugar and refined carbohydrates. I guess you could say I emphasize a whole foods diet in general.
Q: What are your views regarding the use of probiotics and digestive enzymes? Do you find that the majority of your patients benefit from these types of therapies?
Dr. Sara Barrett: Naturopathic doctors often say that health starts in the gut. When a patient has a variety of concerns that seems overwhelming- start with the gut. Most of our immune system in located in our GI tract! Ancestrally, humans all over the world ate some sort of fermented food. It was (and still is!) a wonderful way to preserve foods. With modern pasteurization and sterilization requirements fermented foods have fallen out of our western diet. Fermented foods provided us with a rich colony of bacteria (probiotics), which have countless roles in our GI tract. I always tell patients they can eat fermented food a few times per week or take a probiotic, but they must be getting good bacteria into their gut one way or another!
Q: Today’s society sees a lot of people suffering from conditions that lead to chronic pain. From a naturopathic perspective, what are your views on pain management?
Finding and treating the cause is #1. Is it nerve pain? Muscle pain? Skeletal pain? Could it be a vitamin deficiency? Could it be a mind/body manifestation? Could it be a structural issue? Studies now are linking fibromyalgia with chronic infections.
There are so many ways to approach pain. Reducing inflammation, using acupuncture and bioacupuncture, skeletal manipulation, bodywork, injection therapy, herbal medicine, dietary modifications etc. I do think that sometimes pain medication is warranted and patients should be educated about how to properly manage that medication. Pain medication addiction is skyrocketing in our country and I would like to see more natural approaches used first with medication used only when absolutely necessary.
Q: Diabetes and high blood pressure are two very common conditions impacting society today. What is the thought process behind treating these conditions via naturopathic methods?
Dr. Sara Barrett: Not only are they common but they are continually on the rise. Both conditions are largely preventable and treatable with diet and lifestyle modifications. I also generally use herbs and supplements with these patients. The thought process behind treating diabetes is to control their blood sugar. This is generally achieved through diet and patient education. I encourage patients to monitor their blood sugar several times per day to learn how different foods affect their blood sugar. I also use supplements to protect their tissues from the damaging effects of high sugar and insulin as well as promote insulin sensitivity. For high blood pressure there can be many causative factors from a sodium/potassium imbalance to stress to food sensitivities. Again finding and treating the cause is crucial.
Q: If there was one piece of advice regarding naturopathic health care you could give anyone who would listen, what would it be?
Dr. Sara Barrett: Naturopathic medicine can be a life changing experience for many patients. Go to the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (naturopathic.org) website and find a doctor. You have nothing to lose but everything to gain.
Q: What is best way to contact you to book an appointment, visit your clinic, or ask for a phone consultation?
Please visit my website for more information, to book an appointment or a phone consultation online: AlternativeSolutionsMN.com