What is Naturopathic Medicine?
If you’ve never heard of naturopathic medicine, or just aren’t quite sure what it is, you’re probably not alone. While the profession of naturopathic medicine dates back a few hundred years (seriously!), only in recent decades has it began to receive mainstream attention and spread in popularity through the media, improved regulations for naturopathic doctors, and word of mouth. In a nutshell, naturopathic medicine is a distinct system of medicine that focuses on finding the root cause of illness, and allowing the body to heal itself naturally. Essentially, there are six principles naturopathic doctors follow:
- First, do no harm, by using methods and medicines that minimize the risk of harmful side effects.
- To address the root cause of illness, by identifying and removing the underlying causes of symptoms, for sustainable health.
- To teach the principles of healthy living and preventative medicine, by sharing knowledge with patients and encouraging individual responsibility for health.
- To heal the whole person through individualized treatment, by understanding the unique physical, mental, emotional, genetic, environmental and social factors that contribute to illness, and customizing treatment plans to the patient.
- To emphasize prevention, by partnering with the patient to assess risk factors and recommend appropriate naturopathic interventions to maintain health and prevent illness.
- To support the healing power of the body, by recognizing and removing obstacles to the body's inherent self-healing process.
WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A NATUROPATHIC DOCTOR (ND) AND A MEDICAL DOCTOR (MD)?
Similar to your medical doctor, naturopathic doctors are trained in assessing, diagnosing, and understanding conventional medical illnesses, diseases, and conditions. We perform similar physical examinations, can either perform or interpret a number of diagnostic tests, and have a working knowledge of pharmaceutical and conventional treatment protocols. However, appointments with a naturopathic doctor are generally much longer (30-90 minutes), as we like to take a detailed intake, ask lots of questions, and learn about the patient as a unique individual. From there, naturopathic doctors develop specific treatment plans to address multiple systems and symptoms, with a focus on non-pharmaceutical therapies (see below).
What type of treatments do you use?
Naturopathic Doctors may choose to combine a variety of therapies when developing your personalized treatment plan. These will likely include, but are certainly not limited to:
- Botanical/Herbal Medicine – Did you know that a number of pharmaceutical drugs are actually derived from plants? Many naturopathic doctors believe there are a variety of helpful and medicinal components to plants, not just a single active ingredient, and therefore we choose to give them as high-quality, standardized extracts straight from nature itself. These may be in powdered/capsule form, or given as an alcohol extract called a ‘tincture’.
- Traditional Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture – Naturopathic Doctors are also trained in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), a remarkably impressive system of medicine developed centuries ago. We look at symptoms and illnesses very similar to medical doctors, but tend to use different terms like ‘Qi’, ‘Yin’, and ‘Yang’, to describe them. From there we can develop a ‘TCM’ diagnosis and treatment plan, using acupuncture to regulate organ systems, pain and neural pathways, and release muscular trigger points.
- Clinical Nutrition – An integral part of naturopathic medicine is the use of clinical nutrition. This can be in the form of vitamin and mineral supplementation, or the use of natural health products and ‘nutraceuticals’ to support specific aspects of human physiology and cellular functioning. These would include substances like vitamin C, zinc, fish oil, and many more. Often, supplements are given because you may be deficient for a number of reasons, or there is evidence that a higher than average dose may have additional health benefits. Nutritional supplements are typically given orally, as an intramuscular injection (such as vitamin B12), or intravenously for higher short-term doses.
- Physical Medicine – As a primary care provider, I believe there is no better care than that provided by thorough physical examination, assessment, and therapy. I believe we truly underestimate the role that physical structures (bones, muscles, ligaments, nerves, tissues, organs, etc.) play in the role of illness. Naturopathic doctors utilize many physical modalities such as manipulation, soft tissue stretching, therapeutic ultrasound, proper strength and assessment of body mechanics, and effective exercise and training plans.
- Diet and Lifestyle Counseling – In my opinion, even the best drugs or supplements, whether pharmaceutical or natural, will fail to be effective for long-term health unless the basic fundamentals of diet and lifestyle are addressed. Sometimes, if indicated, treatment sessions may explore deeper psychological counseling and cognitive behavioral therapy techniques.
- Homeopathy – Based on the principle that ‘like cures like’, homeopathy uses extremely dilute concentrations of natural substances (such as vitamins, minerals, etc.) to stimulate the body’s own ‘energetic’ healing power, and can work wonders for some patients. All licensed naturopathic doctors are trained in homeopathy, however different practitioners will vary in how often they prescribe homeopathic remedies.
what type of illnesses do you treat?
I treat both acute and chronic conditions, including (but certainly not limited to):
- Anxiety and Depression
- Autoimmune Diseases
- Cardiovascular Disease (high blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes)
- Colds and Flus
- Digestive Complaints (bloating, reflux, irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, constipation, etc.)
- Health Maintenance and Preventative Screening
- Hormonal Imbalances
- Immune Support
- Menstrual Irregularities and Menopause
- Musculoskeletal Problems and Pain Management
- Smoking Cessation
- Sports Medicine and Athletic Performance
- Stress Management
- Weight Loss
Are your services covered by OHIP?
Naturopathic doctor visits and services are not covered by the Ontario provincial health care plan. However, most insurance and extended health care benefit packages do cover a certain amount of naturopathic services per year. Please contact your provider to find out more.
what are your fees?
I already have a family medical doctor, can i still see a naturopathic doctor?
Of course! In fact, I encourage it. Your family medical doctor likely has access to laboratory tests and services that can be covered under your provincial healthcare plan. Additionally, it is important for me to know about any medications you may be taking, and it is equally important for your medical doctor to know about any natural treatments or supplements I prescribe for you. I would very much be willing to speak with you medical doctor or collaborate with them in finding the best possible integrative medical care for you.
how are naturopathic doctors regulated in canada?
Regulations for Naturopathic Doctors vary across each province, territory, and state. As of July 1, 2015, naturopathic doctors moved under the Regulated Health Practitioners Act, to join other health professionals such as medical doctors, psychologists, chiropractors, and physiotherapists. To view these regulations, standards and guidelines, visit the College of Naturopaths of Ontario website.