What is naturopathic medicine?
Medicine is often described as both an art and a science. You could think of it as an intersection of art and science. When you bring nature into consideration, it becomes the intersection of art, science and nature.
Does this intersection mean that naturopathic medicine is scientific?
That’s exactly what it means. There is an ever-growing body of scientific research that supports specific natural interventions. As practitioners, we rely on these studies to guide our treatment recommendations in a process called evidence-based medicine. This is something that we have in common with practitioners of conventional healthcare, who also rely upon evidence-based medicine.
Are there other overlaps with conventional care?
There can be. For example, nutrition has always been a foundation for naturopathic practice and is becoming a growing focus for conventional healthcare too. Other natural treatments such as massage and physical medicine, and the therapeutic use of light (laser), heat and cold are other common examples.
In the end, a natural practitioner may come to the same treatment recommendation as a conventional practitioner, but will do so for completely different reasons, coming out of a markedly different view of your health.
If conventional care includes so many natural therapies, why should I see a naturoprathic practitioner?
Naturopathic medicine differs from conventional medicine in the most basic, but most important, of ways: perspective.
The perspective of conventional care is suppression of symptoms. The goal is to suppress your symptoms so completely that the illness goes away. Since that doesn’t often happen, your condition will usually become chronic and you will become dependent on some form of treatment to “manage” it.
The perspective of natural medicine is that every symptom has a cause – at least one cause, and perhaps several in the case of a symptom that is long-standing. Our goal is to identify the causes, reverse as many as we can and compensate for those we cannot, primarily through lifestyle changes and customized nutrition.
Another difference in perspective has to do with how you are viewed as a person. In conventional care, you are seen to be a collection of more-or-less independent systems that operate in more-or-less the same way for everyone. Your gastric reflux is not going to be seen as being significantly different from that of Mrs. Jones who lives up the street from you. As a result, the two of you may be treated in exactly the same way, even though you are completely different people.
In natural health care, you are viewed holistically – or whole-istically. We see you as a whole, with systems that interact interdependently and competitively. We don’t think you’re crazy for believing your chronic toe nail infection is related to your gastric reflux and that both of these connect with what you eat. That makes sense to us, as it would to anyone who understands that the health is all about complex inter-relationships. We also see you as a unique individual, whose care will require customization to reflect that individuality.
Here’s another reason to see a natural practitioner: expertise.
If you think natural treatment should have a role to play in your care, doesn’t it make sense to consult someone who has studied and built experience in this specific area? You wouldn’t rely on your bank teller to advise you on how to structure your tax return; you would consult an accountant. The same thinking holds true in natural health care. Be prudent. Consult someone with the right credentials.
How can I be sure that my practitioner has the right credentials?
Find out where they were educated and what their education consisted of. For example, in Ontario, naturopathic doctors must complete a minimum of 3 years of pre-requisite university education. This is followed by 4 years at an accredited college of natural medicine where they receive extensive training (over 4500 hours) in medical sciences (pharmacology, anatomy, physiology, laboratory diagnosis, etc.) and naturopathic therapies (acupuncture, nutrition, botanical medicine, and others), along with over 1500 hours of supervised clinical practice. Graduates must then successfully complete 2 series of Naturopathic Physicians Licensing Examinations in order to obtain their license to practice in Canada. In order to practice in Ontario, yet another set of written and practical exams must be successfully completed. Once licensed, there are ongoing requirements for continuing education that must be met.
In Ontario, the practice of naturopathic medicine is regulated and there is a licensing body that ensures the protection of the public by setting standards for both training and professional practice.
Does this mean that naturopathic medicine is safe?
Naturopathic medicine has an excellent safety record. This is not surprising since practitioners emphasize gentle treatments with few side effects. Moreover, NDs are very knowledgeable about potential interactions between herbs, vitamins and other supplements with medications – to the point that they can often suggest treatments that will augment whatever conventional treatment might be in place.
The other thing to recognize is that NDs are team players. They are trained to identify conditions that lie outside their scope of practice and to refer to other health practitioners in those instances.
While these facts do not guarantee safety, they should reassure you that, when combined with your good common sense, natural medicine can be a safe adjunct to your overall treatment plan.
What about the costs?
Consultations and treatments are not currently covered by OHIP, however virtually all third party health insurance benefit plans will cover at least a part of the cost of your visits. Please check with your insurance provider to find out what your particular benefits package includes.
If you are not covered, request that your policy be extended to include naturopathic care. Since natural alternatives are often less costly than medications, more insurance companies are becoming willing to expand the coverage they offer.
You may also want to consider the “opportunity cost” of not including natural approaches in your health care. You are reading this because, on some level, you’re not satisfied with your health and/or your treatment as they are now. If a natural health treatment can bring you to a new enduring level of wellness, it would very much be worth the “investment”.
We’ve done our best to anticipate what you might need to know but we’re not perfect. If we missed your question, please let us know.