Written by: Dr. Rahim Habib ND
There are different approaches to health care in Canada, and each has its merits and challenges. There is the public health system, which focuses on the health promotion of the general population, for example stop smoking campaigns that are directed to the masses. Then there is the publicly funded medical system, which includes provision of conventional medical services through one-on-one patient-doctor relationships, nursing care, hospitals and other institutions. This constitutes much of what we know of medical care. However, an emerging and growing segment of the health care landscape is the role of the naturopathic doctor (ND).
In my twelve years of practice as a naturopathic doctor I have come to understand the unique and important roles that a naturopathic doctor can provide to patients. Much of the difference is in our approach, and the obvious parts are the different types of treatment that we offer (eg: herbal and homeopathic medicines, acupuncture, dietary counseling and clinical nutrition, hydrotherapy and other physical medicines and lifestyle counseling).
In terms of the naturopathic approach to the patient, this is best understood through an example, such as a recurring sore throat. The standard medical approach is to give stronger doses of an antibiotic or different antibiotics to treat the infection. A naturopathic approach involves investing more time in the consultation to understand the patient and their situation and sensitivities. That patient may have increasing stressors in their life, which can lead to immune suppression, leading to the repeated sore throat. Perhaps they are not eating properly, so the levels of immune supporting nutrients are low (eg: vitamin C, zinc, protein); perhaps their work involves the use of solvents or pesticides, which have known immune-disrupting effects. All of these and other factors play a role in the health of the patient with the sore throat. The naturopathic treatment, however, is completely different: it involves creating a healing environment inside and around the patient, to allow their own immune system to prevent future infections. Part of the naturopathic treatment may include anti-bacterial herbs to fight the bacterial organism, while including herbs that help the body flush the affected area. Another part of the treatment would also address the unique factors that allowed the problem to occur in the first place, a deeper acting treatment, such as teaching coping strategies for stress, or how to reduce chemical exposures at work or in the home and in the diet.
Naturopathic doctors are ideally suited to address the growing epidemic of chronic disease among Ontarians. The issue at hand may be a person with Autism, or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It may be a senior suffering from arthritis or osteoporosis, or someone with excess weight or high cholesterol, or anxiety. Regardless of the illness, the approach is similar: spend the time to understand the patient and thereby uncover the underlying cause(s), and suggest a treatment that addresses the causes in a safe way with a low chance of adverse effects. Unfortunately, chronic disease is not as simple as an infection, seemingly resolved with one medication; that is, a different approach, a naturopathic approach makes sense.
What can a naturopath do that a regular doctor can’t?
The naturopathic approach then, is a customized approach to health. It is an approach based on a ‘wellness’ perspective, where the patient is seen as someone who desires not only effective treatment of symptoms, but also desires optimized health, in a way that they are seen and understood. The current medical system is grounded more in a ‘disease’ perspective, where the symptom and the disease get treated more specifically than the patient him/herself, where there are standardized, generally applied treatment protocols, rather than a treatment that is individually suited to the specific patient. During this year’s Naturopathic Medicine Week, consider the role that naturopathic doctors can play in the health of you and your family and loved ones: custom, wellness-based natural health care.