Naturopathic Medicine: The Facts

Ever wondered about naturopathic medicine? What's it all about? Is it right for you?

The human body is an amazing thing, in fact, many would say it’s the most sophisticated organism on earth. We were built in the most efficient way where everything serves a purpose, much like nature itself. And our bodies have the ability to heal themselves in many cases. We are able to bring our craziest ideas to life and even create life itself.

Naturopathic medicine is a form of health care that uses natural remedies to help the body heal itself. It uses many therapies including herbs or herbal remedies, massage, acupuncture, exercise, and nutritional counseling. Each person has a very unique genetic make up, and there are many different factors to look at when examining the whole person; from what they eat, to how much they exercise, to their frame of mental health. All these factors play a role in how each person should be assessed, diagnosed and treated when they are ill. 

Getting to the Root of the Cause

Naturopathic medicine aims to treat and heal the root causes of an illness - not just to stop the symptoms of that illness. It digs deep into family health history, lifestyle choices and habits, pre-existing conditions, and a whole lot more. By looking at the root causes of illness rather than just the symptoms, and promoting healing through natural therapies, naturopathic medicine is a successful, non-invasive way to prevent chronic illness, as well as reduce the reliance on prescription medications.

The Connection - Mind, Body and Spirit

Naturopathic medicine also looks at ways to treat and heal the whole person – mind, body and spirit, because after all, everything is connected. It is often the case that when you have a bad day and are in a bad mood, you may feel negative effects physically, such as a stomach ache or extreme fatigue. You may have heard of the connection between the gut and the brain (the gut-brain connection), this is a communication network that works between these two organs.

Neurons are cells found in the brain and central nervous system tell the body how to behave. There are approximately 100 billion neurons in the human brain. The gut contains 500 million neurons, which are connected to the brain through nerves in the nervous system. It is possible for strained mental health to contribute to or case negative physical symptoms. And it is also possible for poor gut health to contribute to or cause strained mental health. So, the health of one can dictate the health of the other.

Naturopathic Doctors

Naturopathic doctors will assess and provide a tailored treatment plan for each individual patient. Each naturopathic doctor is different in their practice and delivery of health care, but in most cases the doctor will spend an hour or two asking questions about your family health history, lifestyle habits including nutrition and diet choices, exercise routines, personal medical history, stress levels, etc. Some naturopathic doctors may order a gamut of lab tests, while others may not.

After the assessment, the naturopathic doctor will prescribe a tailored treatment plan for the patient. The treatment plan may include many different types of treatments such as clinical nutrition, botanical medicine, herbal remedies, homeopathic medicine, physical treatments, acupuncture and Traditional Chinese/Asian medicine, lifestyle counseling, or a combination of these. Treatment  for the patient may also include prescriptions for supplements or other natural or herbal medicines.

In Canada, the process of becoming a naturopathic doctor closely parallels the process of becoming a medical doctor. Candidates must complete three years of pre-med post-secondary education before acceptance into an accredited four year program of an approved college of naturopathic medicine. The program includes 4,500 hours of classroom time and 1,500 hours of supervised, clinical practicum time. Naturopathic doctors are also required after graduation to earn continuing education credits on an ongoing basis and must maintain good standing with their regulatory body.

Upon graduation, candidates must successfully complete further exams (like the Naturopathic Physicians Licensing Examinations (NPLEX)) and get accredited by their boards. Nevertheless the rules and regulations differ from province to province. Not all provinces have regulating bodies. You may check with the Canadian Association of Naturopathic Doctors for details. 

Naturopathic Medicine vs Conventional Medicine

Conventional medicine is science and evidence based, always. There have been some amazing breakthroughs in healthcare with conventional medicine, and it should be noted that in more severe and serious health concerns, it may be the only way to heal. Serious diseases and health issues should be addressed by conventional medical doctors. 

Naturopathic medicine is more of a proactive preventive approach to healthcare - so that one can remain healthy and avoid such chronic illnesses. It stresses the importance of diet, exercise, supplementation, treatments for the body like massage, and treatments for the mind like meditation and relaxation.

As you can see, naturopathic medicine is a complex and effective form of healthcare that is often a good place to start when one is inexplicably ill. Because it looks at treating the whole person, it often gets to the root cause of the illness and therefore allows the patient to begin healing the actual problem, rather than just treating the symptoms.