My family waste no time making illusions about their lack of acceptance of my form of medicine. If left unchecked, dinner table conversation can quickly lead to arguments about the efficacy of the flu shot, why Cold FX is unnecessary and whether “eating in moderation” includes microwave pizza. Lately I’ve decided it’s not worth the bother to champion my cause; I now simply remain silent, keeping my eyes on my gluten-free toast. Having a family that is not well-versed in natural medicine, however, is educational. It removes me from the naturopathic medicine bubble of my colleagues and ex-classmates and brings me back to reality. The truth is that many people don’t know or can’t appreciate what we naturopathic doctors do. There are several myths I’ve been confronted with, ranging from critically negative to unknowingly innocent, that need to be destroyed.
1. Naturopathic Medicine is not scientific.
The main criticism against naturopathic medicine is that it is unfounded and unscientific. “If alternative medicine worked, it would just be called medicine,” once said Tim Minchin, a comedian that skeptics love to quote. While there are several political reasons for the fact that there are not as many studies on natural therapies as there are on conventional medical therapies, the body of evidence that supports natural therapies is growing. Naturopathic doctors use conventional medicine to diagnose, request laboratory tests and perform physical exams on our patients. We follow many conventional medical guidelines, all of which are evidence-based. In naturopathic medical school, we were taught to consult a wide range of scientific journals for developing our treatment plans. Throughout our education we were required to write research reviews and case studies. The Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine and its affiliate centres such as the Ottawa Integrated Cancer Centre conduct many research studies and offer research residency programs for graduates of the naturopathic medicine program.
Further, the notion that nutrition is unscientific is ridiculous. We know that what we put in our bodies can either improve or diminish our state of health. Herbal remedies and therapies, such as acupuncture, have been used for millennia. Most drugs are derived from the medicinal properties of herbs.
Additionally, there is an increasing number of medical doctors employing natural therapies in their practices; the reasons being that they are safe, gentle and they work.
2. Naturopathic doctors are anti-pharmaceutical, anti-surgery and anti-vaccine.
The practice of naturopathic medicine involves adhering to the Therapeutic Order. This order is a loose guideline for developing a treatment plan that begins with establishing the conditions for health: a healthy diet, lifestyle and environment, and ends with more invasive therapies not performed by naturopathic doctors, such as powerful medications and surgery. For example, if you break your arm, a medical doctor will set the bones back into place, manage your pain and immobilize the bones by using a cast and sling. However, drugs and surgery do not fuse your bone back together. This magical feat is performed by your body, or what we naturopathic doctors term the healing power of nature. Surgery would not work without it. Our job as naturopathic doctors is to help your body do its job of healing, enabling your bones to heal faster.
Like natural therapies, some conventional therapies are better than others. Some heavy medications are necessary for temporarily managing pain or stabilizing life-threatening acute conditions, such as anaphylactic shock. However, preventing these health crises or working alongside conventional medicine to help the body better recover is the job of the naturopathic doctor.
Naturopathic doctors are not anti-vaccine. Some vaccines are more effective than others and, like many therapies, some vaccines carry with them risks, however small. Naturopathic doctors have medical knowledge and time to spend with patients. We believe in taking the time to share our knowledge and research with patients to help them make informed choices about their health and what goes into their bodies, vaccines included.
3. Patients need to choose between naturopathic and conventional medicine.
There are numerous studies that show that, when practiced together, naturopathic medicine and conventional medicine achieve better outcomes than conventional medicine alone. Naturopathic cancer care, for example, is not about curing cancer with green smoothies; it aims to keep patients feeling healthy and strong while undergoing chemotherapy and radiation so that they can complete their treatment. Many patients with cancer experience negative outcomes because the treatment cannot be completed due to diminishing health or debilitating side effects. For any condition, naturopathic doctors work alongside medical doctors to benefit our patients. The job of the naturopathic doctor is to help strengthen our patients’ health and support their bodies through disease, not compete with medical doctors. Many people term naturopathic medicine Integrative Medicine because it aims to integrate the existing body of medical knowledge, both conventional and natural, to better help patients.
4. You can go to a supplement store; you don’t need a naturopathic doctor.
Natural health products are a complicated issue because, like Advil, they can be acquired without a doctor’s prescription. However, this means that patients become consumers, subject to marketing schemes and misinformation. A naturopathic doctor is a doctor. We take your health history (spending up to 90 minutes doing so) and then spend time developing a comprehensive treatment plan that fits you as an individual. This is far more powerful and effective than simply buying health products on a whim or shooting in the dark. We recommend products at the correct dose and for the appropriate duration. We can also tell you which products have the most evidence behind them. We have studied medicine for 8 years and develop treatment plans, as doctors, to treat your condition. This is vastly different from self-prescribing fish oil because you heard it’s good for you.
5. You should only visit a naturopathic doctor if you’re willing to make drastic lifestyle changes.
There was a time when naturopathic doctors put all of their patients on an extreme diet, such as the Anti-Candida Diet or some facsimile. While many people felt better on this diet – it eliminated many noxious foods such as fast food, processed foods and sugar – it served to intimidate many who didn’t feel ready for such a drastic change. Fortunately for patients, those days are over. While the practice style of the naturopathic doctor can vary, my personal style is to start slowly and not overwhelm. The treatment plan your naturopathic doctor prescribes you will depend on your readiness for change; you will not be pushed into doing anything you are unready for. Naturopathic doctors are also trained in counselling and are able to assess your readiness for change and help motivate you to make health changes at a pace that you feel comfortable with. We are also trained to support you through the process of making changes, ensuring your success and health outcomes.
6. Naturopathic medicine is for the rich.
It is an unfortunate truth that naturopathic visits are not financially accessible for all Canadians. I charge between $95 to $150 for a visit and, even if the visit lasts 90 minutes, this is certainly not cheap. However, the cost of medicine is not cheap, even if it is covered by the government. There is evidence to show that naturopathic medicine saves the individual and the tax payer money; it is far cheaper to prevent disease than treat it. The average patient at my clinic spends $500 a year on naturopathic visits, most or all of which is covered by extended health benefits. In 2014 the Ontario government removed the need to charge HST for naturopathic visits, slightly reducing the cost of naturopathic medicine. Lastly, while supplements and therapies need to be paid for out of pocket, naturopathic doctors tailor their supplement recommendations to your treatment plan and are trained to take your financial situation into consideration when designing a treatment plan.
When we consider all of the things we channel our money towards, I believe that we as a country could afford to dedicate a little more of our salaries to our health. The average Canadian woman spends $1200 a year on cosmetics and personal care products. However, real beauty comes from being healthy—cultivating a healthy glow from the inside out. Health is your greatest asset; perhaps we should invest in it if we have the means. For those who simply cannot afford naturopathic medicine there are free satellite clinics staffed by interns and cost-effective options such as community acupuncture that provide natural medicine at a more affordable price.
7. Naturopathic medicine is for granola-munching hippies.
Even though my website and business cards are covered in flowers (flowers are beautiful!), naturopathic medicine aims to include everyone, no matter what their value system is. Naturopathic medicine is for people who value their health. It is for those who believe that healing is more than suppressing symptoms and remaining medicated for the rest of their lives. Naturopathic medicine offers an option to anyone who wonders how their lifestyle and diet may be affecting their health. We believe in empowering people to lead healthier lives and to take a more active role in how they feel mentally and physically. We use science, clinical experience and traditional therapies to help people feel better. You don’t need to be a vegan to appreciate what good health is worth.
What other natural health myths have you heard that require destroying?