10 Myths Naturopathic Medicine
OK, so a few of these myths are related to naturopathic medicine and not directly about it, but in any case.
Myth #1: I can’t see my medical doctor and a naturopath at the same time
Of course you can! Choosing to see a naturopath does not mean you need to pick having a naturopath over a medical doctor, nurse practitioner or any other healthcare provider. Many people choose to build a healthcare team around themselves composed of multiple healthcare professionals. Naturopathic treatment rarely conflicts with mainstream medical treatments or prescriptions, and Naturopaths are trained to understand the interactions between natural and mainstream medical treatments and prescriptions. In fact, many Naturopaths across North America work collaboratively with medical doctors in multidisciplinary clinics and even in hospitals. Even in cases that clearly call for mainstream medical intervention, like surgery for example, your Naturopathic doctor can help you before and after to prepare your body for what’s about to happen, and to help speed up your recovery. Though naturopaths and mainstream medical doctors may look at your case in different ways, this diversity is valued. After all, two heads are better than one!
Myth #2: Anyone can call themselves a naturopath
In Ontario, the terms Naturopath and Naturopathic Doctor (ND) are legally protected. We have been a regulated health profession in Ontario since 1925. Because healthcare is regulated provincially, and because we are a relatively small healthcare profession, in some provinces, like Quebec for example, we are unfortunately not yet regulated, and anyone, regardless of training can call themselves a Naturopath. Our national and provincial associations are working to rectify this. In Ontario, naturopathic doctors take a minimum of seven years of post-secondary education, including at least three years of pre-medical studies at university, followed by four years at one of seven accredited colleges of naturopathic medicine. Naturopathic Medical education includes training in the basic sciences, clinical sciences, as well as naturopathic treatment tools like acupuncture, homeopathy, herbal medicine, nutrition and IV therapy. We receive 4500 hours of academic and clinical training including over 1500 supervised clinical hours. We must also complete continuing education courses just like many other healthcare professionals, and adhere to certain standards of practice. Some NDs also choose to complete residencies after completing their naturopathic education. However, residencies are currently optional for Naturopaths in Ontario. Graduates from an accredited naturopathic college receive the title naturopathic doctor (ND) or doctor of naturopathic medicine, and must pass rigorous North American licensing and board examinations to be eligible to practice as a doctor of naturopathic medicine in Ontario. To find out if your naturopath is properly licensed, visit the College of Naturopaths of Ontario. They maintain an up-to-date list of registered naturopaths in the province of Ontario.
Myth #3: Naturopath and Homeopath mean the same thing
There are two major differences between a Homeopath and a Naturopath. First of all Homeopaths only use homeopathy as a treatment tool, that is dilute medicines placed on sugar pills. In contrast, Naturopathic doctors may use homeopathy as one of many treatment tools. The second major difference in Ontario is that homeopaths are not yet a regulated healthcare profession in the province of Ontario. Therefore, despite the fact that many homeopaths complete two to four years of post-graduate study in homeopathy, in Ontario, and in Quebec, anyone can call themselves a Homeopath regardless of training or certification. In contrast, only those individuals meeting the standards outlined above can call themselves Naturopaths or Naturopathic Doctors (these terms are interchangeable) in Ontario.
Myth #4: Naturopathic medicine isn’t scientific
There is a growing body of scientific evidence supporting Naturopathic medicine as well as many of the therapies and medicines we use. Naturopathic medicine is also becoming a more mainstream health care choice. Naturopaths rely on lab tests, clinical observations, physical exam, and logical analysis, as well as traditional medical knowledge, which is increasingly being studied in the scientific literature. As is the case with mainstream medicine, some therapies we use are not entirely evidence-based either, but you always have the right to know whether a suggested therapy has been studied in the scientific research or not. Patient preferences are valued, and our main goal at Valley Naturopath is to get to the root of your health concerns using therapies or diet and lifestyle modifications that are safe, effective, and make sense to you.
Myth #5: A natural approach is safer than other approaches
Just because you can buy a product at a natural health store or a product was prescribed or recommended to you by a health care practitioner does not necessarily mean it has no side effects, doesn’t interact with something else you are taking, is not a good idea given a health condition you have, or has no toxic dosage. It also does not mean that you can give this product to a friend or family member who has the same symptoms and expect the same results. Would you share your prescription drugs with a friend or family member? Definitely not a good idea! Naturopathic doctors have been involved with the natural health products directorate and in developing Natural Product Numbers (NPNs) to help make natural health products safer, but there is still a long way to go. Additionally, there are some cases where a delay in seeking conventional care such as surgery, medication or other treatments can be harmful or even lethal. Sometimes a combination of a natural approach and a conventional approach can work very well together, and sometimes a conventional approach is truly the best option.
Myth #6: Naturopathic medicine is unsafe
The safety record of Naturopathic Medicine is excellent. This makes sense given our emphasis on gentle, non-invasive treatments, and the fact that we are a regulated healthcare profession. Naturopathic doctors (NDs) are trained to avoid interactions between the medicines and therapies we recommend and conventional medicines and therapies. We are also trained to recognize health conditions which are outside of our scope of practice and to refer patients to other healthcare practitioners when necessary or appropriate. We are also required to pursue continuing education and to maintain certain standards of practice.
Myth #7: Naturopathic medicine is ineffective
I think this myth exists for two reasons. Firstly, many people do not understand what naturopathic medicine is, and have no idea about our training and regulatory requirements. I’ll sometimes hear things like “My friend’s, brother’s cousin went to a Naturopath once, and it didn’t work.” – Well first of all, did they actually go see a Naturopath? What kind of training did this person have? What therapies or treatments were used? Secondly, our approach is a bit different than mainstream medicine. As opposed to shutting off symptoms like pain, or a runny nose due to allergy, we work to get to the root of your health concerns. Our therapies tend to work more gradually but they also tend to resolve things more permanently. As opposed to taking the viewpoint that something is defective or breaking down and needs to be fixed, we generally take the viewpoint that the body has a natural tendency towards healing and we aim to support it. We do match the intensity of the therapies we suggest to the intensity of the disease process, and we can control symptoms while we are also getting to the root cause, especially If the disease process is quite aggressive or the symptoms are really intense and negatively affecting your quality of life. In some cases we may offer a “natural alternative” if that is what you are looking for, but our approach is generally to teach the principles of healthy living and disease prevention (so you can keep yourself healthy for a long time) and to bring the body back into balance and promote healing. This can take time. Many disease processes are a product of how we’ve lived our lives over the past 20, 30, 60 years. A general rule is – think of how many years you’ve had this health condition, and give your naturopath at least the corresponding number of months to help you resolve your health concern. So if you’ve had those pesky headaches for 5 years, give it at least 5 months. This approach may be inconvenient in the short term, but ultimately it empowers you to take an active role in your healthcare and make new habits that support your health longterm.
Myth #8: Naturopaths can’t treat serious health concerns
If you were really sick, you’d go to a real doctor. While, it’s true that a Naturopath’s office is not an emergency room, we can treat many health conditions that have a big impact on your health and your quality of life, or we can also simply work at improving your quality of life if cure is not possible. We can address many of the acute (sudden) or chronic (long-standing) health conditions you have, and are trained as primary care providers much like your family doctor or nurse practitioner.
Some serious health conditions we can help with include:
-Cancer (typically in combination with mainstream medical care) -Preparation for and recovery from surgery -Heart failure -Kidney stones -Kidney disease / kidney failure / dialysis / post-kidney transplant -Parkinson’s -Heart attack and stroke prevention -High blood pressure -Diabetes and Pre-diabetes -Recovery after a stroke -Speeding the healing of broken bones or other injuries -Addictions (smoking, drugs, alcohol and other addictions) -Mental health concerns (Ex. Anxiety, depression, bipolar, OCD, ADHD, insomnia, anorexia nervosa, body dysmorphia) -Digestive ulcers, gall stones, pancreatitis, and other digestive concerns -Chronic pain and much more
Myth #9 All natural health products are of the same quality
You can find out more about natural health product regulation here. Currently, all natural health products (NHP’s) must have a Natural Product Number (NPN) or an exception number (EN) to be sold legally in Canada. In order to obtain an NPN or an EN, an application must be filed with the Natural Heath Product Directorate (NHPD). The application includes evidence of safety, efficacy, and quality. It should also mean the product has been tested for contaminants, yet this does not always occur. An EN means the NHPD acknowledges that it has received an application for a product, but that it has not had time to evaluate the product. Naturopathic doctors have been involved with the natural health products directorate and in developing NPNs to help make natural health products safer, but there is still a long way to go. Some natural health products contain contaminants like heavy metals, PCBs or solvents, some herbal products do not contain the plant they claim to contain, and some even contain high levels of solvents that can damage our liver or kidneys. In addition, many products do not contain the effective dose of a natural ingredient, or contain too high of a dose, or they contain ingredients that do not have adequate scientific evidence behind them. Because many standards for natural health products are presently voluntary and cost companies money, some companies choose to have very high standards, and others do not. Also, many products contain allergens like gluten, dairy, soy or corn which can be problematic for people who are sensitive to these ingredients. In addition, many products contain fillers and binders which can make the active ingredients difficult to absorb. Additionally the form of a product (ex. tablets) can also be more difficult to absorb than other forms (ex. capsule or liquid). Finally, let’s take Magnesium as an example. There are many different forms of Magnesium on the market. Here are a few: -Magnesium oxide -Magnesium glycinate -Magnesium citrate -Magnesium malate Each of these forms, at specific doses (which the product may or may not contain) are used for different purposes. Some are well absorbed and some are not. Some are a good idea at some stages of pregnancy and some are not. There are also several forms of B12 -Cyanocobalamin -Methylcobalamin -Hydroxycobalamin These forms are used for different purposes in different individuals. Some are more well absorbed by different tissues than others. And, some are just not a good idea in some people with certain health conditions. Some are also cheaper to make, or more stable at room temperature. Speak to your health care provider about which natural health products may be helpful in your case
Some of the testing you can look for on your supplement bottle includes:
- Microbiology contamination with bacteria, yeast and/or mold. This should be checked.
- Authenticity– meaning the product ingredients are what they say they are on the label (by thin layer chromatography or other appropriate methods).
- Strength, potency or dose– it should be verified.
- Herbicide and pesticide residues – they should be checked.
- Heavy metal levels– they should be checked (eg. lead, mercury, cadmium, arsenic, aluminum).
- Chemical solvents – these should be checked.
- Peroxides, Anisidines and other contaminants like PCBs – they should be checked.
- Good Manufacturing practice (GMP) standards should be followed.
- Detailed standard operating procedures should be in place and followed consistently
- Independent, quality validation and testing should be performed.
- Finished product label claim potency should be assayed by high pressure liquid chromatography (HPLC), gas chromatography (GC) or other appropriate test methods.
- Stability testing should be done at 12 and 24 months to assure potency.
Myth #10 Naturopathic medicine is expensive
Yes, it’s true, we are not used to paying for healthcare in Canada. And, many of us are not aware of the costs associated with this vital service. Believe me, I feel very fortunate to live in a country where we have a public healthcare system. Because naturopathic medicine is focused on health promotion and disease prevention we actually save the healthcare system money. Studies have shown that we decrease visits to the emergency room, and help take the burden off of our public healthcare system. We can also decrease long-term medication costs because we address health conditions differently. I would hope that cost would never prevent someone from being able to see a Naturopathic Doctor. The following is adapted from Masina Wright ND’s Website. Financial accessibility to health care is very important to me as a healthcare professional. I offer a sliding scale to accommodate those who cannot afford to pay out-of-pocket for my services. I believe it’s important for everyone to feel empowered to prioritize health and wellness at a cost they can afford. I provide this service because I believe health and wellness are basic human rights. I am always open to discussing financial need. I can offer shorter initial visits for sliding scale patients that are more affordable. Working with the comprehensive 90 minute initial visit allows us to take a complete medical history, physical exam, order lab tests, and to create a comprehensive treatment plan faster. The 45 minute half-initial visit is half the cost, and allows patients to spread the financial cost and time commitment of health care over several weeks or months if needed. It may take longer to address every health concern; however, in 45 minutes we are still able to get a solid start on addressing the cause of your health concerns. For patients who are truly low income, I will offer very low cost care. For my own insurance purposes, I will need a form signed declaring that you are unable to afford full payment due to personal poverty. I also accept partial or full barter for service as a means of exchange. (ex. Graphic Design, Gym Membership, Flowers, Gluten-free baking etc.) Factors to consider when asking for sliding scale fees Include: Social status Employment Income Safety-net Assets (eg. Car) Family support Debt Regular paycheck Rent or own home? Is home paid off? Savings account Retirement plan Professional status Future income potential Want vs Need Cash Do you have dependents Choices about how to make money Education Disability Means of transportation Access to credit Inheritance/ trust fund Age Insurance coverage
What is good medicine worth to you in comparison to material goods?
Do you feel too broke to pay for a visit, because you just bought $100 shoes or because you just spent a bunch of money on your truck or snowmobile? Are you cash-poor this week because you are paying for a larger expense, but own a home and have a regular paycheck? Perhaps you are richer in privilege and resources than you thought! Health care is for everyone, my hope is that I will always be accessible for anyone in need. All you need to do is ask. In no way do I want to challenge my patients to pay more than they can afford. I also need to ensure that my time, education and services are viewed as valuable. I understand that money is a delicate but important subject to discuss. It can be difficult to bring up, but you can feel safe doing so. Once you have done your own homework of looking honestly at your own factors to consider when asking for a sliding scale, I will consider my own factors of time and resources, and we can work out a financial arrangement together.
For more information, feel free to call, e-mail or come in for a free introductory visit.
Originally published in the Valley Naturopath clinic newsletter December 2013Related to: 10 myths about naturopathic medicine