Spotlight: Dr. Eric Dorninger

by Colleen M. Quinn

Key to Health The office of Dr. Eric Dorninger at Roots and Branches Integrative Health Care is like any other doctor’s – professional, courteous, and committed to the well-being of its patients.

But the heart and soul of Roots and Branches distinguishes this practice from most medical offices. Dr. Dorninger practices naturopathic medicine, a holistic medical practice that focuses on natural tactics in health care. While naturopathic medicine is still growing in notoriety, currently fourteen states license naturopathic doctors, or NDs, and they are considered general medical practitioners.

So how did Dr. Dorninger come to find his place in such a unique medical field? He has always had a passion for wanting to help others. Growing up, he admired people like fire fighters who were dedicated to public services. Dr. Dorninger initially wanted to work as an ER doctor, and he trained with emergency personnel in his twenties. Around this time, he developed a heart arrhythmia, a condition in which the heart beats irregularly. During his search to heal his heart, Dr. Dorninger also found himself in a search for what he wanted to do in life. “I realized that I wanted to help human suffering,” he says, and focused his professional attentions on family medicine.

Dr. Dorninger was drawn to medicine that was more lifestyle-focused, which differs from most conventional medical practices, and also more natural ways of treating illness and disease. With its holistic approach to medicine, Naturopathic medicine turned out to be a perfect fit. After receiving a BA in Kinesiology from the University of Colorado and training as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT), he studied at Bastyr University in Seattle and is board certified in naturopathic medicine by the North American Board of Naturopathic Examiners. He also holds a Master of Science in Acupuncture and completed a two year residency in a family practice.

Putting his twelve years of experience to work, Dr. Dorninger began his own practice four years ago, Roots and Branches Integrative Health Care. Along with his naturopathic work, Dr. Dorninger has an array of skills at his practice, including joint work with massage therapist Julia Ursetta and chiropractor Mark Greycar. Combining his education and experience in traditional medicine with his knowledge of naturopathic medicine, Dr. Dorninger addresses the individual patient on all the essential levels of mind, body, and spirit.

“Naturopathic medicine is primary care medicine that is based on a different philosophy that conventional medicine,” says Dr. Dorninger. Naturopathic medicine is dual in its philosophy, taking a holistic approach to a person’s health while still employing many basic modes of traditional medicine.

“The principles of naturopathic medicine are what distinguish naturopathic medicine,” he says. There are seven principles, and not only do they set basic guidelines for naturopathic doctors to follow, they also describe the fundamental purpose of naturopathic medicine.

The first principle is doing no harm as a naturopathic doctor, a pledge that is also a part of the Hippocratic Oath. Dr. Dorninger feels that naturopathic doctors may adhere to this oath more easily, because naturopathic methods are “lower force,” or less intrusive and more compatible with the body. A lower force method of treating a headache resulting from mild dehydration would be to drink more water rather than to take a pain killer.

“These methods are not less powerful, they simply have fewer side effects,” Dr. Dorninger says of the long-term effects of naturopathic treatments. He adds that there is indeed more responsibility on the part of the patient in terms of lifestyle choices. This is because naturopathy focuses more on preventative remedies and healthy living – something that can’t be gained from a prescription.

Lower force also means a focus on getting to the root of a health problem instead of simply treating symptoms. Migraines, for example, can be caused by a variety of things. Dr. Dorninger names caffeine, certain allergies, alcohol, and foods high in tyramine, such as chocolate, among the culprits. Curing a migraine can be as simple as eliminating coffee or getting more sleep, often times without the help of prescription drugs.

The second principle is based on the doctor as teacher, which is appropriate since the word doctor comes from the Latin word docere, meaning to teach. Dr. Dorninger says that one of the main complaints he hears from his colleagues in conventional medicine is that they don’t spend nearly enough time with their patients.

He cites an article from the New England Journal of Medicine that reported that regular exercise decreased the chances of breast cancer for post-menopausal women. It is this kind of simple knowledge that doctors don’t always explain to their patients. Knowledge is power, and one of Dr. Dorninger’s priorities is to pass this power along to his patients.

“We try to spend lots of time with each person,” he says. Initial consultations last about two hours, and each following visit is given at least an hour. “Our job is to educate [the patient] on how to heal themselves,” he says, “It’s empowering people through education, to understand their own bodies and reclaim their health.”

Dr. Dorninger stresses the importance of teaching others how to take care of themselves. The job of the doctor, he says, is monitoring specific issues. This is done not only through communication with the patient, but also implementing conventional methods like consulting with specialists and running lab tests. A naturopathic doctor uses these methods to devise a wellness plan, and to explain why a person’s health is the way it is.

Another principle naturopathic doctors follow is finding and treating the cause of diseases or conditions, instead of only relieving symptoms. EMTs practice this when they respond to emergencies. For example, stopping excessive bleeding quickly and effectively. “Only about 10% [of patients] have a clear cause of symptoms,” Dr. Dorninger says. The other 90% have what is called in naturopathic medicine total load, which is a range of smaller causes that together can manifest into one big problem. Looking at lifestyle and environment in addition to the patient at hand, the primary focus is in getting to the root of the illness or pain.

In order to find the source of suffering, Dr. Dorninger uses a variety of natural and modern medical tools. “I believe deeply in basic medical science,” he says, “I use conventional medical work ups, and I refer out for labs and imaging.” Educated and trained in Chinese medicine, Dr. Dorninger also recommends holistic methods to his patients, including herbal remedies, lifestyle changes, and exercise. This blending of techniques helps him monitor the progress of his patients on many levels. “I still run all medical necessities in tandem with Chinese medicine,” he says.

The practice of holism is another essential principle to naturopathic medicine. Holism is the theory that the mind, body, and spirit come together as a whole, and each can and do affect the other. For instance, someone with chronic pains is probably more irritable on days when they are experiencing more pain than on days without pain. Conversely, an emotional or spiritual upheaval may affect the body, much like physical healing through a spiritual experience, says Dr. Dorninger. “If you feel better, I don’t care how it happens!” he says.

Naturopathic medicine is also based on the idea of the healing power of nature. “It’s important to understand and work with the laws of nature rather than oppose them,” Dr. Dorninger says, explaining that the human body is, after all, a part of nature. It thrives in its natural state and depends on natural procedures to function.

This can be seen in the body’s response to sunlight. Pineal glands in the brain produce melatonin, which induces sleep, depending on how much light is being received by the eyes. So, when the sun goes down and comes up, the body is apt to sleep and wake with it. But because of artificial light from city lights, the pineal gland makes less melatonin, leading to more sleeplessness for those who live in highly lit areas.

Perhaps one of the most defining principles of naturopathic medicine is prevention and wellness, which are considered the best cures for most ailments. Whether it is awareness of genetic predispositions or creating a wholesome lifestyle, it’s imperative to give the body what it needs to be healthy in the first place.

Also, “once you are healed, you need to know how to stay there,” says Dr. Dorninger, emphasizing the need to take care of oneself, whatever that takes. Too many times, he says, people feel guilty about and deny themselves self-care, like massages, alone time, or simply being happy.

“When you invest in your health, there is a positive trickledown effect,” he says, and such investment can mean a lot of things, including a happier, longer life. As Dr. Dorninger puts it, wellness necessitates joy, so it’s necessary to know what makes you happy.

Naturopathic medicine also targets relieving suffering, which is its final and most basic principle. Dr. Dorninger says that while he acknowledges and honors the attributes of modern medicine, especially in their immediate effects, he says that alleviation should be both short term and long term.

“Drugs and surgery are used too quickly and too often as the first line of intervention,” he says, adding that such methods, when used in this way, don’t necessarily address the cause. This can be seen in the use of some prescription drugs. When used for too long, a patient can build a higher and higher tolerance to it. They end up needing more of the drug, and fail to solve the problem that is causing the symptoms the drug is addressing. Relief is in curing the problem, not simply removing the pain.

Within any one facet of naturopathic medicine there is one common theme. That is the elimination of the source of the problem ensures a happier, healthier life. In this aspect, naturopathic medicine is no different from conventional medicine in the pursuit of overall well-being.

For naturopathic doctors, it is simply a matter of the best way to get there, both naturally and effectively. A healthy body means a healthy mind and spirit as well. A healthy, whole person is the aspiration Dr. Dorninger wants each and every one of his patients to achieve.

“My goal is to provide a safe place for people to explore their potential, whatever that is - their goals, dreams, or physical problems."

Eric may be contacted at:

Roots and Branches Health Integrative Care
5485 Conestoga Court, Unit 104
Boulder, CO, 80301
303 449-9494

About Colleen Quinn

Colleen QuinnColleen Quinn graduated from the University of Colorado, Boulder with a Bachelor of Science in Journalism and Mass Communication. A writer for most of her life, she has been writing for for over two years. In that time, she’s had the opportunity to meet with many practitioners and masters of the healing arts. Using her years of customer service experience and time as an intern reporter, Colleen provides a unique means of expression for each practitioner she meets. She believes that honest interest and open ears are paramount for learning and understanding the world around us. Through her writing, Colleen offers readers a valuable insight into the work of those who are doing so much to help others.