Alternative Healthcare for Modern Living

A Beginner’s Guide to Naturopathic Medicine

by Anita Kappukatt, ND

I have to admit that it’s pretty confusing. Especially if you weren’t born in Canada, you’ve probably heard a version of the title: naturopath, naturopathic physician, ND or doctor of naturopathy. Would you believe that these titles could mean different things in different places? Naturopathic Doctor (ND) is the designation for a licensed practitioner in Ontario. As Canada continues to regulate each province, and as television and internet health gurus get more popular, our small profession is showing up on the radars of people you wouldn’t normally think are concerned about health and wellness. I’m sure you’ve heard both extreme praises and dismissive mutterings from people you know about natural medicine, but how do YOU have time to research for yourself if something is legitimate and right for you?

There are some pretty standard definitions of Naturopathic Medicine and what it entails.  They mostly entail classifying us as primary care providers, who use many modalities (different types of treatments), and follow the 7 principles (our philosophical basis). But what is naturopathic medicine to the everyday consumer of healthcare? How will it help people who haven’t necessarily heard of quinoa before, and think acupuncture looks very uncomfortable?  Let me introduce you to what I think our strengths really are:

1.We are the experts in herbs, supplements and drug interactions. Want to try a natural therapy, but are concerned about how it may interact with your current prescription? Confused about which vitamin is worth taking, or why the recent nutrition news conflicts with last month telling you that the newest (insert superfood) can help cure (insert any disease here)? Confused about why some of your friends swear by St. John’s Wort, but your other friends say it’s just a placebo effect?  Why not ask someone who has been reading the textbooks and current research, and has access to years of clinical knowledge?  NDs spend at least four years training in the safety of herbs and supplements, and evaluating research and traditional knowledge.  So why not ask the experts?

2. We can meet you where you’re at. Because our services aren’t covered by OHIP (although most extended health insurance plans offer coverage), it doesn’t really make sense to give you unachievable, overly complicated plans that not even the most disciplined of monks can follow. That’s setting you up for failure, and a waste of money. The great thing about seeing an ND is that they are trained to give you what you’re ready to accomplish, push you when you need it, and recognize what you need to reach that goal.

3. We are advocates for our patients in the medical system. I was quite surprised, when I was a student, at the number of patients that were not sure why they were prescribed a medication and were too uncomfortable to ask their medical doctor for answers.  I became very comfortable arming my patients with knowledge (see #4) and empowering my patients to ask the right questions.  I also became comfortable with writing letters to healthcare providers and was surprised at the encouraging feedback I received!  We are all batting for the same team – the health of our patient – YOU.  So, ideally, when it comes to dealing with complicated health issues, it’s best to keep everyone in the loop and share information – and not keep your MDs or NDs in the dark.

4. We have time to educate and support you. Sometimes, a little instruction on how to take your calcium pills goes a long way. Sometimes, having someone explain your blood test results to you, or laying out the options (both medical and alternative) for gallbladder disease can help you feel more confident in making an important decision.  Sometimes, it takes an outsider with a bit of training, to take a step back and tell you how you can reduce the stress in your life.  NDs are lucky to be separate from the OHIP system, because they then have the luxury of time to prioritize patient education and support, when necessary.

5. We look at the research. We look at traditional knowledge. We use what works best. Just to belabor the point, ND’s have a minimum of 4 years training to evaluate research and collect years of passed down clinical knowledge. We’ll be the ones to tell you what would be useful to try, what has worked for others, and what may be best left on the shelf.  I love helping people save money, and cutting down the number of pills they have to take!

6.Our medicine is best friends with the environment. ND’s can have lofty goals of reducing antibiotic resistance, eating local and more plant-based diets, choosing more whole foods rather than energy-consuming manufactured foods, and avoiding the use of hormone-disrupting and toxic products, just to name a few.  These types of goals not only help us as individuals, reducing our toxic loads and making our metabolism, immune system, and reproductive systems more efficient, they also help public health and are eco-friendly.