I get asked this question a lot, and I have rarely given the same answer twice.
This is both a benefit, and a difficulty, with Naturopathic Medicine. Naturopathic Doctors (NDs) have such a large scope of training in a variety of modalities, that it is hard to give a succinct answer to this question.
First of all, what is a Naturopathic Doctor?
The easiest place to start is to describe what it takes to become an ND. Naturopathic Doctors have completed a Bachelor’s degree, with pre-requisites in basic science courses, and then finished 4 years of Naturopathic College, including 1 year of residency and 2 sets of board exams. Passing these board exams allows us to use our modalities in practice: nutrition, acupuncture, herbal medicine, physical medicine, hydrotherapy and homeopathy. We also learn diagnostic skills, how to interpret lab results, and when to refer out for a more emergent, or serious conditions. In British Columbia, an additional set of exams allows us to prescribe pharmaceuticals.
Naturopathic Doctors have a unique philosophy regarding healthcare. We are focused on treating the root cause of disease when possible, and not only masking the symptoms. Although sometimes it is important to treat the symptoms, such as pain, we do so while at the same time trying to understand the reason the pain exists in the first place. For example, people with painful periods often take painkillers to help manage their cramps. As NDs, we explore why the cramps are there in the first place? What are your hormone levels? How could your diet be contributing to the pain? How could stress or lifestyle be a factor in your cramps? As part of this exploration, we address the whole person – both mental and physical aspects of their health.
6 (of many) reasons to see an ND:
1. You aren’t feeling your best, and nobody can tell you why.
Maybe you are feeling run down, and more tired than usual. You’ve been gaining weight and can’t seem to lose it. Or maybe you keep getting sick and it’s taking you a long time to recover. Or you get bloated seemingly randomly throughout the day or month. These are symptoms that people tend to live with and eventually start thinking that they are normal. Symptomatic treatments may have helped initially, but now you just don’t know where to go. This is where a Naturopath will work with you by taking a thorough history, performing physical exams and ordering lab tests, to help tie your symptoms together and find a root cause.
2. You have a chronic condition and have been told there is no treatment available
As NDs, we often see patients after they have been struggling with a health issue for a long time, and been told there is no treatment or cure available. Common examples include irritable bowel syndrome, allergies, eczema, psoriasis, acne, depression, anxiety, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, and autoimmune diseases. Although there may be no cure available for some of these conditions, NDs can help to manage chronic conditions by balancing the immune system, decreasing inflammation, using specific herbal treatments and prescribing therapeutic diets.
3. You are experiencing side effects from medications
Pharmaceutical medications can be very effective for managing certain conditions, but often come with side effects. Your ND can tell you which nutrients or vitamins are depleted by your medication, and give you safe options for managing side effects. In some cases, your ND can help you replace medication with effective natural alternatives, with fewer side effects.
4. You are in pain
A common reason for chronic medication use is pain. However, prolonged use of pain medication is associated with liver and digestive problems. Chronic pain, especially joint pain, can be associated with specific foods you are eating in your diet, being overweight, or generalized inflammation in the body. Naturopathic Doctors can help identify the cause of your pain and help to minimize it through the use of acupuncture, diet, herbs and other treatment options.
5. You would like a more integrative health care plan
Naturopathic Doctors like to work as one part of your health care team, and that is why you will often see NDs working in multi-disciplinary clinics. We aim to communicate our evidence-based approach with your other health care providers and doctors to ensure you are receiving a comprehensive treatment plan. Although generally safe, supplements can still interact with medications and an ND is an expert in prescribing the right supplements in the right form and at the right dose for you.
6. You would like a “health coach” and want to learn more about preventative medicine for you and your family
Naturopathic Doctors are trained in health. Symptoms are your body’s way of communicating that certain systems within your body need some attention, and a Naturopathic Doctor can help get you back to optimal health and symptom-free living. By managing symptoms when they first occur, and optimizing your diet, body weight and lifestyle, you can prevent a variety of health conditions and your ND can show you where to start!