In our medical culture of treating the symptom rather than preventing the disease, it’s refreshing when the latter is the chosen approach, especially with the youngest patients of all.
And Dr. Matthew Baral chooses the latter. A naturopathic pediatrician, Baral also teaches his patients – and their parents – how to prevent future illness. Naturopathy is based on the belief that the human body has an innate healing ability that can be enhanced by natural means.
This philosophy was ingrained in Baral from the start. “My parents were strong proponents of natural medicine,” he says. “They raised me vegetarian and used herbal remedies when I was sick.” Both of his parents were high school teachers; his mother also taught yoga.
It’s no wonder a component of Baral’s interactions with his patients, and the public, is education. He teaches about the latest natural therapies, diet and exercise. He instills the importance of lifestyle changes to maximize the body’s ability to evade and fight disease. He also informs his patients about environmental toxins and how they can affect a child’s health, in the short term and later in life. He combines modern medical science with traditional, naturopathic approaches in his comprehensive treatment plans.
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Baral says his Latino patients are definitely receptive to natural medicines, although some families prefer conventional medicine. “But most are happy to treat their children naturally,” he says. “It’s a pleasure to talk with a parent who is familiar with herbal medicine, since I use it so often.”
Baral received his naturopathic medical degree in 2000 from Bastyr University, a nonprofit, private university world renowned for its stringent curriculum and stalwart research. In his third year of medical school, Baral took a pediatrics class. He saw working with children as “an opportunity to affect a patient’s life at the most influential time possible.”
Baral says hands down, obesity and the resultant diabetes that comes with it later in life is the most prevalent problem among children It is estimated that 50 percent of Latinos will develop diabetes in their life. “This is such a travesty,” says Baral. “It can take decades off someone’s lifespan and it is absolutely preventable.”
As if his private practice of primary pediatric care at the Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine isn’t enough to keep him busy, Baral has a second private practice in Phoenix where he treats children with autism and their related conditions. He also serves as the medical director of the Hamilton Elementary School Clinic, a free pediatric clinic that provides care to the students of one of the most impoverished school districts in Phoenix.
He is also the chair of the Department of Pediatrics and Associate Professor of Pediatrics at SCNM. He designed the first Naturopathic Pediatric Residency program in naturopathic medicine and serves as its director, and he is the founding and current president of the Pediatric Association of Naturopathic Physicians.
Baral is also the pediatric contributing editor to the Natural Medicine Journal and the International Journal of Naturopathic Medicine, and has co-authored the first textbooks on pediatric integrative medicine, including Dr. Andrew Weil’s Integrative Medicine Library.
And lest anyone think he’s a slacker, Dr. Baral stays in touch with his patients and “followers” via his website, Twitter, RSS Feed and Facebook, spreading awareness about natural medicine as much and as often as he can. It’s understandable that he hasn’t had time to post an article on drmatthewbaral.com since last summer, but his tweets and Facebook posts are current. He recently tweeted “Almost HALF of [U.S.] kids are sick! A shift needs to occur in healthcare for children. This is stunning. #FB
Between teaching pediatric classes at SCNM, Baral is a regular speaker at the Phoenix Autism Society of America and American Association of Naturopathic Physicians. And when he’s not doing that, he’s conducting his own research on autism and prenatal care, among other studies.
And how does he stay healthy on top of it all? “I have a daily meditation practice, and do yoga five-six days a week,” says Baral, “and I eat healthy and take time off when it’s needed. Being disciplined about taking time off to rest in order to stay balanced is just as important!”
For more information about Dr. Baral or SCNM, visit scnm.edu.