A colleague of mine - Dr. Sapphire Vanderlip and myself will be joining this month's Meeting of the Minds: Is there healing beyond medicine, this Saturday, October 17th from 5pm-7pm at the Railway Pub downtown (see map below).
Can't attend? No sweat! Below is the information we will be sharing. Feel free to leave a comment or email if you have any questions.
Intro & Scope
We attend 4 year post graduate medical programs . In the first 2 years we take the same core science courses as a medical doctor [and] we take basic science boards after that. During the 3rd and 4th years we focus on Natural and conventional medicine practice and after that we write clinical board and BC board exams. To become licensed in North America we must complete 3 days of standardized examination. In BC, To maintain BC licensure we complete continuing education requirements every year. Naturopaths are regulated provincially and each regulated province (or state) has different scope. In BC we are regulated and the title “Naturopathic Doctor” is protected. We are able to order standard labs tests, like blood and urine tests and we can prescribe certain pharmaceuticals. We are also allowed to use acupuncture and certain intravenous and injection therapies. Since 2008, naturopathic medicine has become a regulated profession in British Columbia and in 2009 became the first province in Canada to grant naturopathic doctors prescribing rights!
Treating the cause: Allopathic v. Naturopathic Medicine
We are a small profession and many people don’t know what we do. To oversimplify: the central difference between naturopathic and allopathic medicine that your family doctor practices is that naturopathic medicine focuses on treating the cause of illness. Allopathic medicine often treats symptoms. Symptoms are the manifestation of the body’s defence system activated against an obstacle in an attempt to self-heal, auto-regulate or adapt. For example, a fever raises body temperature and stimulates white blood cells to overcome an infection. Unless that fever is dangerously high, we would not try to stop it. Another example would be in cancer care: we have surgery and chemotherapy that can remove cancer cells but it does not address the underlying cause of cancer, so often the cancer will return. While surgery, chemo and radiation can be an important part of treatment, a naturopath will go further in trying to treat the underlying cause of the cancer itself, for example compromised immune function.
Our training is focused on identifying and treating the underlying causes of disease to promote recovery and to prevent recurrence.
The Body’s Natural Ability to Heal Itself
Naturopathy is fundamentally about bolstering the body's natural ability to heal itself. The natural function of the body is to produce health and wellness, and disease occurs when the body’s self-healing mechanisms are compromised. For example, 70% of our immune system lines our digestive tract and many patients with immune system challenges like chronic colds and flu, urinary tract infections and autoimmune disease benefit from supporting gut health with probiotics, beneficial fiber and targeted nutrient supplementation. In this regard, naturopaths study both disease and wellness. We spend a lot of time with our patients, learning about how all of the systems in their bodies are functioning so that we can find the blockage or blockages that prevent the body from self-healing and adapting.
Treatment of the Whole Unique Person
The ability of the body to self-heal is a holistic process, as such, naturopaths attempt to address the unique complex of physical, mental, emotional, genetic, environmental, spiritual, social and other factors that are involved in a patient's health and wellness. We are often criticized because we don’t have a standard of care like MD’s. This is because no two people are exactly alike. They may have found themselves with the same disease or problem, but what lead them there may be completely different. For example, one of the most common goals patients come to us with is weight loss. The difficulty with weight loss is that we gain weight for many reasons. What works for one person may do nothing for another person. In one case weight gain may be due to hormone imbalances and another may be due to lack of exercise or a poor diet. It doesn’t matter how much a person exercises or how healthy they eat, if the hormones are not balanced, they will not be able to lose and keep off weight.
Tools / Modalities
Naturopaths employ a wide variety of modalities, however diet and lifestyle are the most powerful tools that we have. Another important tool we use is herbal medicine. Plants have incredible healing power. In fact, many pharmaceuticals mimic the structure of plant substances. For example, aspirin is made from a component of the willow tree. Although plants have been used for centuries, the push for double blind placebo controlled trials is not strong. You cannot patent, and thus, make huge profits off of plants. Some naturopaths use homeopathy, which is the use of very small doses of natural substances based on the principle of like curing like. Homeopathy is not well understood, however there are some naturopaths and homeopaths who seem to use it with success.
We also use acupuncture, an ancient form of medicine with a history of thousands of years, where fine needles are used to rebalance the body. We inject and intravenously supply vitamins, minerals, plant extracts, homeopathics and local anesthetics. We are also trained to do chiropractic adjustments and find that proper postural alignment is vital for health. These are the foundational naturopathic modalities that all naturopaths are trained in but naturopaths may decide to train and focus on other approved treatment methods as well. What often surprises people is that all naturopathic doctors in BC are also trained in minor surgical procedures. This includes diagnosing skin issues and if non-cancerous, removing the lesion.
What to expect when you go see a naturopath
When you go see a naturopath you can expect a comprehensive intake where your doctor inquires about your past medical history, family history, current concerns, social life, work life, and personal health goals. This process can take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour and is vital for the patient’s care. Your doctor wants to make sure that a complete case is taken and a relevant physical exam is completed. The fourth naturopathic principle is Doctor as Teacher. The goal is to provide YOU, the patient, with the information and guidance you need to be in control of your health, to get you back to doing things that you love, so that you’re living the life you want. Your naturopathic doctor will have a tailored plan and depending on your health concerns and goals, you may receive dietary recommendations, lifestyle changes, an acupuncture treatment, a chiropractic adjustment, a herbal tea or tincture, among other things. Your doctor will recommend that you follow up as needed to monitor progress or continue treatments as necessary. Follow-up appointments can range from 15 minutes to an hour, depending on the treatment.
Common Perceptions of Naturopathy
When I tell someone that I’m a naturopathic doctor, I usually get one of three responses, “Oh, what is that?”, “So do you do magic?”, or “That’s great! My mom sees a naturopathic doctor”. What I tell people is that naturopathic medicine is rooted in ancient medical wisdom and philosophies combined with modern day interventions, applied to modern day living. It is an evidence-based, multifaceted approach that aims to see the whole picture. It relies on objective laboratory and diagnostic testing as well as a doctor’s clinical expertise.
There is the common perception that naturopathy is not evidence-based. When the term evidence based is used in naturopathic medicine AND conventional medicine, evidence from well-designed research trials, the collective experiences of individual doctors and evidence from traditional wisdom must be considered.
For ethical reasons and the individualistic nature of many naturopathic treatment methods, double-blinded, randomized research studies are not always possible. If something has been used for thousands of years and has been shown over and over again to benefit patients, just because there isn’t a research trial, does not mean that evidence collected over the last hundreds or thousands of years is not valuable information. Acupuncture has been used for thousands of years, chiropractic has been around for over a hundred years and herbs have been used for medicinal purposes before recorded history. That’s not to say that there are no studies in these modalities. A search of the word “ginger” on PubMed, a reputable database of medical articles comes up with over 2000 research articles. Just as acupuncture is part of a naturopaths foundational training, a naturopathic student must show proficiency in and also complete several evidence-based research courses.
It is a common perception that we do disease prevention only and that once you have a disease you need drugs and surgery. We treat a lot of chronic disease. Many of the people who have seen their MD, physiotherapist, chiropractor and specialists and have not responded come into our offices. And to be honest, often these diseases are due to chronic lifestyle choices, like diet, chronic stress and sedentary lifestyle.
Another common perception about seeing a naturopathic doctor is that it has to be expensive. For some, the visit fees will be too much and we would love it if our services could be covered by MSP. However, most extended health insurance plans cover naturopathic treatments. Secondly, seeing a naturopathic doctor is about making sustainable changes in your life to ensure that your body will be strong and healthy for many years to come. The idea is NOT to get you on a whole bunch of supplements for life. By using various interventions, your body will eventually be able to sustain a level of health that allows you to life the way you want to live, with minimal supplementation or external help. Supplements DON’T have to cost you an arm and a leg.
A lot of skeptical perceptions come from a misunderstanding of what naturopathic medicine is. We hope that we’ve been able to give you a better idea of what naturopathic medicine is and the information you need to make an informed decision. AND We look forward to answering more of your questions during the Q&A.