What is naturopathic medicine?
Naturopathic medicine is a unique system of healthcare that combines traditional, natural medicine—used for hundreds and even thousands of years—with modern medical research. It is the art and science of diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of disease with the use of natural therapies, including clinical nutrition, lifestyle counselling, traditional Asian medicine and acupuncture, botanical medicine, physical medicine, and homeopathy. While naturopathic doctors help alleviate symptoms, the main goal is to investigate and treat the underlying cause of disease. To do so, the whole person—physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, social, and environmental aspects—is taken into consideration for assessment and treatment. Life circumstances for every individual are different, and thus, the circumstances surrounding their health and disease are nuanced and distinct. Naturopathic doctors treat the person, not the disease. Each individual has a treatment plan tailored to their needs. The gentle, non-invasive therapies mentioned above are used to stimulate the body's inherent healing ability, supporting the restoration and optimization of health.
The medicine is guided by the following six principles:
o First, do no harm (Primum non nocere). The least invasive and least toxic methods possible are used to treat individuals to improve health and reduce harmful side effects.
o The healing power of nature (Vis medicatrix naturae). Naturopathic doctors seek to restore and support the body's inherent ability to heal.
o Treat the cause (Tolle causam). The alleviation of symptoms offers relief, but this is often a "band-aid" method, and symptoms eventually return. Naturopathic medicine thus focuses on identifying and treating the root cause of disease.
o Treat the whole person. All aspects of the individual—physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, social, environmental—are considered fundamental to health and are taken into account during assessment and treatment.
o Doctor as teacher (Docere). Naturopathic doctors help individuals understand health and illness and teach them how to manage their own health.
o Disease prevention and health promotion. While naturopathic medicine is beneficial for addressing and treating illness, emphasis is also placed on maintaining health to prevent the occurrence of disease.
What training and qualifications does a naturopathic doctor have?
Naturopathic doctors first complete an undergraduate university degree, including naturopathic medical prerequisites (chemistry, biology, physiology, psychology, and humanities). This is followed by a four-year, full-time accredited naturopathic medical program. Students undergo training in medical and clinical sciences, diagnostics, and naturopathic principles and therapeutics. Modalities that are studied include clinical nutrition, botanical medicine, traditional Asian medicine, physical medicine, counselling, and homeopathy. Students have over 4500 hours of classroom training and acquire over 1500 hours of clinical experience under the supervision of licensed naturopathic doctors. Graduates are granted the designation of "Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine," or "ND." To be licensed to practice as an ND, they must successfully pass the Naturopathic Physicians Licensing Examinations (NPLEX), as well as provincial or state regulatory board exams.
How does naturopathic medicine compare to conventional medicine?
Naturopathic doctors and medical doctors have similar training in biomedical sciences and diagnostics, and both provide primary care. They differ mainly in their philosophies and therapies. Naturopathic medicine focuses on treating the individual as a whole. By taking into consideration the mental, emotional, and physical aspects of health, naturopathic doctors can determine and treat the underlying cause of disease using any or all of the aforementioned therapies. In general, conventional medicine treats the symptoms of disease with the use of pharmaceuticals and surgery.
What do naturopathic therapies involve?
· Clinical nutrition
o The relationship between diet and health is examined. The naturopathic assessment involves learning about your nutritional status, eating patterns, and types of foods that you consume. Recommendations may include individualized nutrition plans, specialized diets, food elimination, and/or supplements containing therapeutic doses of vitamins and minerals.
· Lifestyle counselling
o Naturopathic doctors consider all aspects of the individual—physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, social, and environmental. They address the effect of stress and life events on health and help the individual in making informed lifestyle choices. For example, there may be recommendations about sleep hygiene and stress reduction.
· Traditional Asian medicine and acupuncture
o As a part of traditional Asian medicine, acupuncture serves to balance the flow of Qi (energy) through the meridians, or channels, running through the body. The regulation of Qi brings the mind and body back into equilibrium. Constitutional acupuncture is based on your traditional Asian medical diagnosis.
o Acupuncture, electro-acupuncture, and cupping may also be performed for trigger point (muscle knot) and local muscle tension release.
· Botanical/herbal medicine
o Plants have been used for healing for thousands of years—since the start of civilization—and are the foundation of modern pharmacology. For the use of their healing effects and nutritional value, naturopathic doctors may recommend herbs in the form of teas, tinctures, or capsules.
· Physical medicine
o Physical medicine includes orthopedic assessments; therapeutic massage; naturopathic manipulations/adjustments of muscle, bone, or spine; therapeutic ultrasound; hydrotherapy techniques; and exercise therapy.
o Homeopathic remedies are minute dilutions of natural substances—plant, animal, or mineral—that stimulate the body's innate healing abilities.
· Diagnostic testing
o Diagnostic tests include physical exams, food sensitivity tests, and specialized tests that analyze blood, saliva, urine, stool, and hair. Results aid in determining the underlying cause of disease.
What conditions do naturopathic doctors treat?
Naturopathic doctors are trained to treat an extensive range of health conditions from acute (e.g. colds) to chronic (e.g. diabetes), physical to psychological, and pediatric to geriatric. They work with three main groups of people:
Patients who have health concerns that they themselves or other medical practitioners have been unable to satisfactorily address
Patients with chronic and/or severe illnesses
Patients who have goals of disease prevention and health maintenance
Commonly treated conditions include the following:
General health: low energy and fatigue, insomnia, weight gain
Digestive health: food sensitivities, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)/acid reflux/heartburn, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), IBD (Crohn disease, ulcerative colitis), candidiasis, celiac disease
Hormonal disorders and stress syndromes: hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, adrenal (stress gland) health, diabetes, autoimmune conditions
Women's health: premenstrual syndrome (PMS), painful periods, heavy menstrual flow, loss of menstruation, endometriosis, uterine fibroids, PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome), perimenopause and menopause, infertility, urinary tract infections (UTIs), yeast infections, chronic vaginitis, migraines
Men's health: infertility, prostate health
Skin health: acne, eczema, urticaria (hives), psoriasis, rosacea
Immune health: frequent colds and flu, chronic infections, allergies
Mental health: anxiety, depression, stress
Musculoskeletal health: chronic back pain, strains, sprains, headaches, osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia
What does a typical visit consist of?
The first appointment is 60 minutes, during which your naturopathic doctor will typically gather a detailed history of your chief health concerns and past medical history, conduct a physical exam, and use laboratory test results for assessment and diagnosis. With your health goals in mind, individualized treatment recommendations are given. Subsequent appointments range from 15 to 60 minutes; these are to follow up on your progress and tailor your treatment plan to your changing health.
What would be an example of a naturopathic treatment?
Every treatment is customized to the individual. There is no set treatment plan for a condition. To give a common example, if you have a headache, you would typically take aspirin, Advil, or Tylenol to suppress/eliminate the pain. This would be the conventional treatment of the condition and the symptoms. However, in naturopathic medicine, the root cause of the headache would be investigated. It could be due to stress, poor posture, certain foods or alcohol, hormones, etc. For instance, it could be a tension headache due to tight neck and shoulder muscles, which could be a result of holding stress in those areas. The sources of stress (e.g. work, family, finances) and stress management methods would be discussed. Treatment plans could involve any or all of the following: stress management techniques, massage therapy, acupuncture or electro-acupuncture, cupping, stretching exercises, dietary changes, and nutritional and/or botanical supplements. The goal would be to decrease stress or at least improve stress coping mechanisms while releasing muscle tension to alleviate the symptom of pain.
If the headaches were hormonal migraines, the treatment plan could involve diagnostic testing (to determine hormone levels and to pinpoint the issue), dietary changes, acupuncture, nutritional and/or botanical supplementation, hydrotherapy, and/or naturopathic manipulations. The goal would be to restore hormonal balance over several months, and at the same time, relieve the symptom of pain.
Essentially, the individual's medical history must be thoroughly investigated to determine the underlying cause of disease, and once this has happened, a treatment plan is formulated to suit the individual. What works for one person may not work for another. This includes patient preferences, e.g. if there is a fear of needles and acupuncture, then an alternative option will be suggested.
Is naturopathic medicine covered by insurance?
Naturopathic treatments are covered by most extended insurance plans in Canada. You can contact your employer or individual insurance broker to ask whether you are covered. If not, you can request that the policy be extended to cover naturopathic services. Provincial health plans do not currently cover naturopathic treatments.
Is a referral required to see a naturopathic doctor?
No, a practitioner's referral is not needed to see a naturopathic doctor. You can book an appointment by calling the office directly or by booking online.