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A Beginner’s Guide to Naturopathic Medicine

Posted Jul 30 2012 8:00am
Posted in: About Us , Doctor's Notes
I have to admit that it’s pretty confusing. Especially if you weren’t born in Canada, you’ve probably heard a version of the title: naturopath, naturopathic physician, ND or doctor of...

I have to admit that it’s pretty confusing. Especially if you weren’t born in Canada, you’ve probably heard a version of the title: naturopath, naturopathic physician, ND or doctor of naturopathy. Would you believe these titles could mean different things in different places? Naturopathic Doctor (ND) is the designation for a licensed practitioner in Ontario. As Canada continues to regulate each province, and as television health gurus get more and more popular, our small profession is showing up on the radars of people who you never thought would have been so concerned about their health or the environment. I’m sure you’ve heard both extreme praises and dismissive mutterings from people you know – your crunchy neighbours, vegetarian family members, your family medical doctor, Dr. Oz… Now, I know you’re busy with work and trying to balance a million different things in your life – how do you have time to research for yourself if something is legitimate and right for you?

When you Google us and visit some naturopathic websites, you’ll sometimes see the standard spiel: we are primary care providers, we use different modalities (have you ever actually heard this word used in ordinary life?), we are trained to diagnose and conduct full physical exams, we follow the 7 principles (our philosophical basis).  I really do like this explanation by our national association.  But what is Naturopathic Medicine to you, the everyday consumer of healthcare?  How will it help YOU, the sick, and possibly frustrated patient, who’s never heard of quinoa and thinks acupuncture looks very uncomfortable?  Let me tell you what I think sets us apart. Here’s MY introduction to Naturopathic Medicine, and what I think our strengths really are:

1.We are the experts in herbs, supplements and drug interactions.

My actual ongoing medicine cabinet. Curious to know what's in it?

Want to try a natural therapy, but are concerned about how it may interact with your current prescription? Confused about which vitamin is worth taking, or why the recent nutrition news conflicts with last month’s news telling you that the newest (insert superfood) can help cure (insert any disease here)? Confused about why some of your friends swear by St. John’s Wort, but your other friends say it’s just a placebo effect?  Why not ask someone who has read the textbooks, the current research, and bugging their professors for clinical knowledge whenever they get the chance?  Although some sources state like a broken record that “natural doesn’t always equal safe and effective”, don’t you think ND’s would be the ones trained to tell you what IS safe and effective?

2. We can meet you where you’re at.  Because our services aren’t covered by OHIP (although most extended health insurance plans offer coverage), it doesn’t really make sense to give you unachievable, overly complicated plans, that not even the most disciplined of monks can follow. That’s setting you up for failure, and a waste of money. The great thing about seeing an ND is that we are trained to give you what you’re ready to carry out, push you when you need it, and recognize what you need to reach that goal.

3. We are advocates for our patients in the medical system.  I was quite surprised, when I was a student, at the number of patients that were not sure why they were prescribed a medication, and/or too timid or uncomfortable to ask their medical doctor questions.  I became very comfortable arming my patients with knowledge (see #4) and empowering my patients to ask the right questions.  I also became comfortable with writing letters to healthcare providers and was surprised at the encouraging feedback I received!  We are all batting for the same team – the health of our patient – YOU.  So, ideally, when it comes to dealing with complicated health issues, it’s best to keep everyone in the loop and share information and not keep your MDs in the dark.

4. We have time to educate; we have time to support you.  Sometimes, a little instruction on when not to take your calcium pills goes a long way. Sometimes, having someone explain your blood test results to you, or laying out the options (both medical and alternative) for gallbladder disease can help you feel more confident in your decision making.  Sometimes, it takes an outsider with a bit of training, to take a step back and tell you how you can cut the stress in your life.  Because our services are not covered under Ontario’s health insurance plan, we have the luxury to prioritize patient education, when necessary.

Which ones to choose? Who do you ask? photo credit: jypsygen

5. We look at the research. We look at traditional knowledge. We use what works best. 

Just to belabor the point, ND’s have a minimum of 4 years training to evaluate research and collect years of passed down clinical knowledge. We’ll be the ones to tell you what would be useful to try, what has worked for others, and what may be best left on the shelf.

 

 

 

Now, I can go on about this forever, as I think there are lots of great things about Naturopathic Medicine, but here is one last thing worth mentioning:

A lovely motto from an ashram in Rishikesh, India

6. Our medicine is best friends with the environment.

ND’s may have lofty goals of reducing antibiotic resistance, eating local and more plant-based diets, choosing more whole foods rather than energy-consuming manufactured foods, and avoiding the use of hormone-disrupting and toxic products.  There are so many more!  These goals not only helps us as individuals, are eco-friendly.

 

My next blog will address some COMMON MISCONCEPTIONS about our Naturopathic Medicine.  Bring it on, I’ve heard it all! :)

 

 

 

Anita is a Toronto-based Naturopathic Doctor with a passion for food politics and social health. She has a special interest in geriatric medicine and mental health, and currently practices at Mahaya Forest Hill Integrative Health. Send Anita some platonic love on Twitter: {@AnitaNaturopath} or Facebook: {www.facebook.com/AnitaNaturopath}
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