Naturopathic Medicine: Is It Right For You?
As increasing numbers of Canadians seek to improve their health through natural means, the resurgence of naturopathic medicine requires its clarification and understanding. Society needs to be familiarized with the philosophy and treatments available in these age-old forms of medicine, empowering people to make educated choices as to the type of healthcare they require.
Vis Medicatrix Naturae
Naturopathic medicine is a complete and coordinated approach to health care. It is the art and science of diagnosis, treatment and prevention of disease using natural therapies and gentle techniques. “Vis medicatrix naturae”, the healing power of nature, is the foundation upon which naturopathic medicine is based. This means that the body has the ability to heal itself, which is seen when broken bones mend, and also that nature provides healing remedies, such as botanicals (herbs) that facilitate this.
The body has the ability to heal itself
The naturopathic physician views the patient as an individual, regarding not only the physical symptoms, but also the mental and emotional aspects involved. Thus, the individual is treated, not just the condition. Symptoms of disease are seen as indicators of an underlying cause of illness, perhaps due to improper body function and/or unfavourable dietary or lifestyle habits. Thus, optimizing health entails identifying and addressing “the causes”. The relationship ensuing involves the doctor as a teacher, not a healer, which empowers the patient to realize that they create and control their health, through both treatment and prevention of disease.
The individual is treated, not just the condition
Licensed Doctors of Complementary Medicine
Naturopathic doctors (ND) are licensed as primary health care physicians, who have undergone four years of pre-medical sciences (Bachelors degree) and a further four years of medical science, at one of the five accredited Naturopathic Medical schools in North America. Their education includes minor surgery, obstetrics, pharmacology, x-ray and lab diagnosis. Extra training is provided in Clinical nutrition, Botanical medicine, Oriental medicine, Spinal manipulation, Physical therapy, Homeopathic medicine, Counselling and Psychiatry.
Qualified to Refer to Other Health Care Professionals
Furthermore, naturopathic physicians are highly qualified to recognize when referrals to other health care professionals are required. They are trained to work in co-operation with all other health care practitioners, and may complement conventional medical treatment. All graduates are required to pass government-approved Board examinations for licensure as a naturopathic physician. All licensed naturopathic physicians are required to maintain their licensure by achieving required number of continuing education hours.
Thorough Intake, Lifestyle & Dietary Investigation and Testing
A variety of illnesses in people of all ages may be treated, as well as general health improvement through supporting and building of all key systems in the body, including immune function. An extensive medical history is taken, including a thorough investigation into diet, activity or work environment, exercise, lifestyle and mental/emotional factors involved. Also, if required, other tools can be utilized to assist the ND to determine the underlying causes. These include a basic screening physical exam and lab tests, such as food allergy blood testing, complete digestive stool analysis & parasitology testing, and hair mineral analysis or heavy metal urine analysis, which detects heavy metal toxicity & trace mineral imbalances.
Treating the Causes of the Symptoms Naturally
Once identified, causes may be treated through various therapies, all of which ultimately act to enhance the body’s own healing abilities. Treatments include acupuncture and oriental medicine, botanical (herbal) medicine, clinical nutrition, homeopathy, hydrotherapy, naturopathic manipulative therapy, physical therapies, dietary and lifestyle counselling.
Chinese Medicine & Acupuncture
Oriental Medicine is based on tongue and pulse diagnosis to highlight imbalances in Yin & Yang Energies, Qi (Chi) and Blood in differing organs in the body. Acupuncture & Eastern botanicals (herbs) can then be used to support, nourish, calm or stimulate the imbalanced or blocked energies in the body, which flow through meridians/channels. Acupuncture involves the needling of specific points along the respective meridians within which an imbalance is present.
Botanical medicine may include herbs from all over the world. Although botanicals are all-natural, safe and effective substitutes for pharmaceutical drugs, their effect may sometimes be dose-dependent, emphasizing the need for proper dosage, quantity and quality of the active ingredient. The other point to remember is that lack of regulation of the herbal products available, means the consumer must beware when purchasing. The use of herbs made by reputable companies (e.g. professional products) is more cost-effective because the products are “standardized” for the active ingredient and clinical studies have been done with that specific brand of product for efficacy. In addition, professional products are tested (assayed) for individual ingredients, to ensure that what is on the label is actually in the product, and heavy metal and microbial testing is also performed. Cheap products usually are less effective and “you get what you pay for”.
With nutraceuticals you get what you pay for
Botanicals do have a normalizing effect on the body, which can enhance function overall. However, people are biochemically individual and their condition, needs and other factors may dictate doses differing from the recommended dose. In addition, different herbs may have distinct cautions to their use, such as pregnancy, high blood pressure and anxiety. Self-diagnosis and self-prescribing is not advocated, as this is usually a symptomatic approach to the problem, and does not rectify the underlying cause. It is advised to consult a licensed health care professional before starting a natural treatment plan.
Self-diagnosis & self-prescribing is not recommended
Homeopathy is the use of natural substances, including plants and minerals, of multiple dilutions. The homeopathic remedies provide an “energetic” stimulus to facilitate the body’s inherent healing ability. A constitutional remedy is usually determined by a naturopathic physician or a homeopathic practitioner, through a consultation interview to provide an individual’s entire symptom picture of the mental, emotional and physical.
Patient Stories: Betty
*Betty Parker, at 27 years old, decided to see a naturopathic physician, when she suspected something terribly wrong with her health. Her digestive symptoms were dismissed as indigestion, and her medical doctor indicated the birth control pill as the cause for her excruciating migraines. However, after coming off the birth control pill, her headaches continually occurred.
When she lapsed into depression, she was given the anti-depressant, Paxil, which decreased her sex drive drastically. With extreme fatigue, constipation, recurring yeast infections and mood swings, Betty avidly started reading up on natural alternatives, such as vitamins & herbs for her health. With a history of Candida, she visited the health food store to invest in the supplements for her symptoms. After some time, with little result, she decided to get professional help.
Patients often get nowhere trying the naturals on their own
Through consultation, physical exam and food allergy blood testing, Betty was determined as having sluggish liver function due to toxicity, food allergies, dysbiosis, varied nutrient deficiencies and hormonal imbalances. As her health coach, Betty’s ND educated her on how to rectify and maintain her diet, replenish her good bacterial flora and normalizing all systemic functions - liver, immune, adrenal gland, thyroid and reproductive organs. Together they addressed her current emotional issues through homeopathy, and the resultant counselling.
She was prescribed therapeutic doses of supplements including vitamins, minerals, and herbs to enable her to achieve better health and resolve her symptoms. She has improved emotionally and physically in finding the root cause of her symptoms, and has learnt the essence of optimal health. She now practices and maintains a healthy diet and lifestyle without pharmaceutical drugs, visiting her ND even in acute cases, such as a cold.”
Patient Stories: Terrence
“Since Terrence Martin was 13 years old, he had used any and all kinds of drugs - alcohol, marijuana, LSD, heroin, cocaine and crack, but at 37 years old, he finally came clean. Ten months later, he was diagnosed with Hepatitis C and soon after, as being HIV positive.
He chose to see a naturopathic physician because he had successfully been treated in the past with acupuncture, botanicals and relaxation, for his broken bones in his ankles and hands. He felt lethargic with no energy, had night sweats, lost his former strength and power, suffered from irritability, visual problems, and lowered mental clarity. Even slow walks required a long nap after, to recuperate. From his naturopathic doctor (ND), Terrence received high doses of vitamins intravenously, and botanicals to boost his immune system and help the liver detoxify the body from the chronic drug use. As well, the continual education he received from his ND about diet and lifestyle made him realize the necessary changes he needed to make to enhance his health.
Within one month, Terrence started to experience bursts of energy and greater mental function. After seven months, his energy has increased one hundred percent and his regained strength includes climbing hills during his walks, which he now finishes with a work out. Emotionally, the previous despair of recovery has disappeared, along with the intense fear of dying present in the first six months. His better disposition is partly due to the absence of drug cravings and a greater ability to cope with stress.”
Individualized treatment is critical to healing
Communication is Key
After selecting a naturopathic physician, it would be mutually beneficial to clarify your goals, interests and budget on the initial visit. Communicate your intentions, whether it is a specific treatment of symptoms or dietary alterations. Usually a ND will discuss the treatment plan based on the determined diagnosis, but it is up to you to relate your compliance, with respect to time and finances. Remember that a naturopathic physician is there to educate you with literature and information, and as your health coach, together you should decide how to optimize your health. Naturopathic medicine is an old age practice proven to provide the means to achieve well being. Every step you take to wellness is an investment that earns you interest - compound interest.
Wellness is an investment
This article is for educational purposes only and does not advocate self-diagnosis. Due to individual variability, consultation with a licensed health professional, such as a naturopathic physician is highly recommended, prior to starting a natural treatment plan.
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