By Dr. Kathleen Regan, ND
A large part of naturopathic medicine is empowering patients to recognize the valuable role they play in their own health by asking the right questions and staying informed. As a naturopathic doctor, I have been asked a lot of questions around what naturopathic medicine is and what it is not. Below are the most common & important ‘myth-conceptions’.
Myth # 1 – “My medical doctor doesn’t ‘believe’ in naturopathic medicine”.
Many patients worry that their doctor does not ‘believe’ in naturopathic medicine. This is an important conversation to have with your doctor– if you don’t ask, you will never know. BUT – most medical doctors and naturopathic doctors will communicate and exchange information to promote the best patient care possible. In fact, more and more, medical doctors and naturopathic doctors work within the same clinics.
If your medical doctor says they do not believe in naturopathic medicine than she or he probably has not read about the profession. Naturopathic doctors who are trained through the 7 accredited North American Schools practice evidence-based medicine with a primary focus on lifestyle counseling, nutrition, herbal medicine, acupuncture and homeopathy. Naturopathic doctors are trained to help you make the ‘health-style’ changes you need to promote wellness or complement conventional treatment. Naturopathic medicine has been found to take the burden off of the health care system and is a great addition to conventional patient care.
Myth # 2 – “Will you try to make me stop taking my conventional medication?”
I would say this is close to the Number #1 worry my patients express. I try to explain the following. Naturopathic doctors are trained in pharmacology and the interaction of medications and naturally prescribed substances. They understand that some medications are essential for the health and wellbeing of their patients. However, there may be circumstances where your naturopathic doctor might question the use of drugs. These include:
- Too Many Unmonitored Medications – Some patients see different doctors for different reasons and come into their naturopath with a long list of medications. This is particularly common in the elderly and can lead to significant side-effects and decrease in quality of life. You naturopathic doctor will assess for medication interactions and may make some recommendations to discuss with your prescribing doctor or Family Doctor.
- Medications used beyond the recommended usage or time limit – It is common practice for people to remain on certain medications for years, long past the recommended use based on research and standards of practice. The most common examples I see in practice include medications such as NSAIDS, Tylenol , Heartburn Medications (Read More), Topical Steroids and Long-Term Antibiotics. Long term use of NSAIDS can significantly impact the integrity of the digestive tract, heart and the kidneys; Long term use of Tylenol (or acetaminophen) impacts liver detoxification and can create agitation; Long term use of Heart Burn medications can impact digestive health, bone health and kidney health; Long term use of topical steroids thins the skin and damages the integrity of the dermal layers; Long term use of antibiotics for skin conditions, alopecia, chronic urinary tract infects etc. promote antibiotic resistance, negatively impact digestion and immune function through stripping the gut of it’s healthy bacterial balance. A naturopathic doctor may recommend you speak with the prescribing doctor about discontinuing certain medications if you are experiencing side effects and if you are using it past the recommended time suggested by standard of care research. Of course, this recommendation should come with supportive treatment plan to help during the transition.
- Controversial medications – There is certainly some disagreement both within the fields of conventional medicine and naturopathic medicine regarding specific medications. Hormone Replacement Therapy, Bio-identical Hormones, Statin Drugs (for cholesterol), Anti-depressants, Attention Deficit Disorder Medications are just a few that come to mind here. Disagreement arises with drugs when the health risks associated with taking them outweigh the benefits. With Statins for example, side effects include muscle pain and protein loss, liver damage, increased type 2 diabetes and blood sugar imbalance, neurological and memory side effects (Read more…). Of course, if a person has extremely high cholesterol there might be a need to use these medications. But many patients with borderline high or slightly elevated cholesterol are prescribed statin drugs when diet, lifestyle and natural supplementation are the safest and most effective strategy. If your Naturopath questions a certain medication – ask about the risks and benefits so you can make an informed decision. At the end of the day – YOUR health is YOUR responsibility. Ask questions & stay informed!
Myth # 3 – “I am looking for a naturopath who specializes in my health condition.”
At Innate Wellness, we get a lot of questions regarding whether our naturopaths ‘specialize’ in specific conditions like Thyroid, Fertility, Cardiovascular Disease, Cancer Care etc. Naturopathic Doctors who graduate from one of the accredited schools are trained to be Primary Care Givers – which mean they are trained to provide general care. Naturopathic Doctors (in Ontario) cannot say they ‘specialize’ in a given field. However, many naturopaths do focus a lot of their time and education on a specific area of health and therefore may have a ‘special interest’ in a specific health concern. You can often tell a lot about a Naturopath’s interests by the topics they discuss on their website, in the articles they write or videos they create but you cannot assume they ‘specialize’. You can and should always feel free to ask about their experience with specific conditions.
Myth # 4 – “Naturopathic Medicine is an unregulated profession”.
I am always surprised when I read this statement in the news or hear it expressed in conversation because it is sweeping statement that does not apply to much of Canada. The reality is, public demand has driven an increase in the usage of naturopathic medicine across the country and regulation has become necessary. But it is a big job and not all the provinces are there yet.
The regulation of naturopathic medicine varies from province to province. For example, Within the province of British Columbia, Naturopathic Doctors can prescribe conventional medications. In Ontario, Naturopathic Doctors who have passed their Pharmacology Exams can prescribe specific ‘drugs’ such as Bio-identical Hormones set out by recent regulation. In Quebec, Naturopathic Medicine is unregulated by the province and naturopathic doctors are not permitted to ‘touch the patient’ which has created much confusion in the public, difficulty finding qualified Naturopathic Doctors and a limit on scope of practice affecting patient care. Finding a Naturopathic Doctor or “ND” who is fully qualified in an unregulated province or state can be difficult. For a full-list of regulated provinces and the difference in scope of practice across the country read here.
Myth # 5 – “Naturopathic Doctors are pill-pushers.”
All naturopathic doctors practice a little differently. Some do prescribe multiple supplements and herbal remedies, while others work more with acupuncture or diet and lifestyle. There is variability in all fields of medicine where practitioners gravitate more towards some techniques than others. If your naturopath is prescribing more supplements than you are comfortable with – express your concern. If you are coming in with multiple health concerns, a naturopath may be inclined to prescribe more to meet each of your needs. This can lead to a lot of supplements if your list of health concerns is long!! One strategy can be to focus on specific health concerns one at a time to reduce the number of things you are taking. Or seek out an ND that prefers to work with other modalities that match your comfort level.
Most Naturopathic Doctors offer free 15 minute consults so you can ask these important questions and get to know them better. Create a list of your health goals, your treatment expectations and the things your are looking for in an ND and bring these to your first visit so you can assess if it is the right fit. Also, remember that the patient-doctor relationship is one of the most important parts of patient-care. No matter who you see, you should feel comfortable, heard and informed.