November 10, 2011

Naturopathic doctors focus on prevention

By Jo Coughlin

Traditional medicine is cure-oriented; naturopathy focuses on prevention. Together, they make a great team.

With our health-care system overburdened and our doctors overworked, perhaps this is the time to encourage a partnership between your family physician and a naturopathic doctor.

What is a naturopathic doctor?

Naturopathic doctors are licensed health care professionals whose four-year program of study parallels that of medical doctors. The key difference: traditional medicine is cure-oriented; naturopathy focuses on prevention. Together, they make a great team.

What to expect on your first naturopathic visit

On your first visit, your naturopath must take a full medical history and order a complete blood count and urinalysis. Since most provincial health plans do not cover laboratory tests ordered by NDs, to save you money your naturopath will suggest you get the tests through your family physician and, ideally, get your physician to agree to a working relationship. As well, check whether your naturopath's services are covered under your health benefits at work.

In addition to their specialized training, NDs give you time — 1.5 hours for your first appointment and from 20 minutes to an hour for subsequent appointments — and convenience, some even make house calls.

What can naturopathic doctors treat?

Naturopathic doctors are trained in seven modes of treatment, or modalities:

  1. Clinical nutrition: Today, we know good nutrition is vital to our overall health. To assess your eating habits, your naturopath will ask you to keep a food diary and may recommend changes to your diet. If you have a medical condition, your ND may also suggest treating it with certain foods or nutritional supplements.

  2. Botanical medicine: NDs are trained to know when and how to use botanical medicines. Since few botanical medicines are government inspected, ask your naturopath to recommend quality botanicals. Many naturopaths dispense only professional brands that they know have met high standards.

  3. Chinese medicine: In Chinese, the flow of energy is Qi (pronounced chi). Chinese medicine examines the flow of energy throughout the body and treats disturbances in energy flow. Treatments include:

    • Chinese herbal medicines
    • Acupuncture: the insertion of needles to enhance or correct disturbances in energy flow
    • Acupressure: which replaces needles with massage-like pressure on trigger points in the body to improve energy flow
  4. Homeopathic medicine: Homeopathic products use diluted botanical ingredients to restore or increase vital energy and strengthen the body’s immune system. They do not interact with medications, herbs or supplements.

  5. Physical medicine: NDs may utilize spinal manipulations, ultrasounds and exercise therapy. “Fitness is the key to prevention and augments naturopathic treatments,” says Dr. Anthony Yores, a Toronto naturopath who also has a degree in kinesiology (the study of the mechanics of body movement). He routinely assesses patients’ fitness levels and recommends individualized programs that deliver optimum results in the shortest period of time.

  6. IV therapy: This is a relatively new treatment that entails administering natural substances via the arterial-venous system. NDs who offer it must be specially trained and licensed.

  7. Lifestyle counselling: If, as many believe, the body is the battleground of the mind, addressing issues such as stress, family and financial problems are key to disease prevention. Because they are trained to treat the whole person, naturopaths can spot such issues and help you deal with them.

Your naturopath will refer you to a physician if he or she cannot treat your condition with one of the above modalities, or if you need a prescription. Few provinces currently allow NDs to prescribe pharmaceutical drugs. And, while most provincial health plans do not cover naturopathic services, this may change. Many health insurance plans pay for part of, or all, naturopathic treatments.

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