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With so much information now being offered on the Internet, and with the numerous fads and celebrity-endorsed trends in health, diet and fitness, even the most savvy consumers can have trouble distinguishing solid information from theory.

In searching for more natural diagnoses and cures, many consumers have been drawn to naturopathic physicians, who are allowed to prescribe herbs, as well as pharmaceuticals. One might wonder how knowledgeable a naturopathic or functional medical physician really is, or whether you may be missing out on by rejecting a more mainstream course of care. These concerns are valid, but a new survey may help put some of those worries to rest.

Consider SIBO, or Small Intestine Bacteria Overgrowth —  a condition characterized by an elevated number of bacteria in the small intestine. The condition can cause a host of confusing gastrointestinal problems. In this case, recent survey data suggests that patients have found the diagnosis provided by naturopaths and functional medicine physicians was generally effective, often more effective than traditional approaches.

doctor writing down patient symptomsThe SIBO Action Network’s recent survey of 225 respondents examined various aspects of doctors’ knowledge of SIBO. The survey compared naturopathic and functional medical doctors to primary care physicians and gastroenterologists. With regards to the diagnosis of SIBO, higher reliability skewed towards less traditional practitioners:

  • 79% of patients received a reliable SIBO diagnosis after visiting only one functional medical doctor;
  • 60% received a diagnosis with just one visit to a naturopathic doctor;
  • Only 44% received a diagnosis after going to one primary care physician;
  • 47% did after seeing a gastroenterologist;
  • 20% didn’t receive any diagnosis until they had visited four primary care physicians.

Time to diagnosis also skewed favorably towards naturopathic and functional medical doctors, with significantly faster time for diagnosis than gastroenterologists and primary care physicians provided, in most cases. There are certainly exceptions; a few gastroenterologists specialize in SIBO, including some experts and luminaries in the field. See the entire study here for complete statistics.

Traditional medicine and practitioners are a cornerstone of the healthcare model. They rise in caliber with the continuous development of new technologies, research and resources. But for some conditions, a medical “path less traveled” may provide an equally effective approach.

** Functional medicine physicians address the underlying causes of disease, using a systems-oriented approach and engaging both patient and practitioner in a therapeutic partnership. It is an evolution in the practice of medicine that some feel better addresses today’s healthcare needs.