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Working with a Naturopathic Doctor

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May 15, 2015

This week celebrates Naturopathic Medicine Week, which is an annual celebration of the power of naturopathic medicine. This week we aim to further teach our community about the value of naturopathic medicine, healthy living, and disease prevention.

With that in mind I wanted to share a few points of what I’ve learned over my my years as a Naturopathic Doctor – which may be helpful for any prospective patients if they choose to add a naturopathic doctor to their healthcare team. 

Not every patient that comes in knows what a Naturopathic Doctor is (or does!)

Whenever I meet clients for the first time, I inquire about their day, and ask them if they’ve ever worked with a Naturopathic Doctor before. It’s a mix of answers: some yes, some no; and others have heard about NDs – but don’t have a clear idea of what we do.

Naturopathic doctors require at least 8 years of post-graduate education – 4 years at a recognized university, followed by 4 years at an accredited CNME Naturopathic Medical School. The naturopathic program includes more than 1200 hours of clinical experience and more than 3000 hours of classroom training. More info can be found here. NDs treat the whole person, and do so by asking many questions and taking a thorough case history and pertinent physical exams. While we don’t prescribe any pharmaceuticals (at least not in Ontario), we treat your conditions using various modalities shown to be efficacious.

Last resort & preventative medicine

A few of the patients that I treated this year, presented after countless unsuccessful visits with their general practitioners and/or specialists. That’s not to say that they didn’t receive adequate medical treatment, they most likely did – but sometimes treatments need to be tailored to an individual (similar to a suit – you can buy any off the rack suit, but wouldn’t it be nice to invest in one that fit you perfectly).

My first visit with clients usually run between 60-75 minutes, where I spend most of my time asking them questions and getting a detailed health history of their concerns. The visits aren’t a one complaint only visit, I like to get an idea of what they’re presenting with and if there’s a common root cause. 

Once I develop a good treatment plan, I then begin to focus my attention on any other risk factors that may be an issue in the near future. One of our primary goals as NDs is to maintain health and prevent illness. We assess the risk of future illness by inquiring about family history of any pertinent conditions (ie. high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol) and assessing lab work to see if the lab results are suggestive of future illness. If all signs point to yes, we can begin to develop a plan of action for that concern, to help minimize their risk in the future.

Treating a condition takes time

For those of you who have never seen an ND, we spend the first appointment going over your concerns and asking many questions to try to get to the root cause of your illness. After your initial appointment, we strive to get you started on a treatment plan – but we’ll also have you come back for a follow-up visit to review your diet diary, lab work (if that wasn’t brought in) and see how the treatment is going.

It is important to keep in mind the chronicity of disease. Is the condition acute (an ear infection?) or chronic (diabetes?). An ear infection in a child can be easy to treat, while type II diabetes in a 55 year old man is often more difficult as it requires diet and lifestyle changes and likely many other factors have implicated the progression of the disease. We often look to lab work to see positive improvements, and usually results will not significantly change after a week or two.

Diet and lifestyle are usually the best treatments

Taking supplements are easy – you can toss a bottle into your bag – and you’re good to go for the entire day. Changing your diet and eliminating foods that you love? Exercising 5 days a week? Not so much!

The truth is – many of our illnesses are impacted by the foods that we eat. BUT they can also be improved by incorporating positive lifestyle habits. I recently attended an integrative fertility conference where it was stated that decreasing body mass by 5% can help improve fertility outcomes. How do we decrease body mass? Diet and exercise! 

I’ve found with many people that these changes can’t all be started the next day. Therefore, I’ve encouraged my patients to start small, and do some prep work. If I had them increase their water intake – I would do so by increasing their consumption glass by glass. Similarly, if I was having someone go gluten free, I would encourage them to seek out some good recipes and devising a menu plan (so as to not get overwhelmed).

The truth about supplements (including herbs)

Once we optimize diet and lifestyle, we often still need supplements for particular conditions. This is the fun part, where we can tailor particular supplements to your condition. We don’t go about this picking just any random supplement – we use evidence-based medicine (EBM) which is patient-driven clinical research to formulate precise treatment plans. One of the ways we go about this: Pubmed. We use human trials to determine the best form of the supplement, appropriate dosage, etc. Furthermore, the supplements we recommend are high quality and have been rigorously tested to ensure that they contain only the ingredients on the label, and no toxic elements.

how to choose a naturopathic doctor

Choosing the right Naturopathic Doctor

If you live in a big city like Toronto, you are surrounded by your pick of Naturopathic Doctors. Ultimately, it’s your choice where you want to go. If you’re looking for general health and wellness support, any ND will do. However, many NDs with niche their practice because they have a passion in working with and treating certain conditions and populations. 

For example, my focus is in women’s health – specifically perinatal health including the menstrual cycle, and pelvic pain. If someone comes to me looking for cancer support, I will often refer them to another ND who has more training and experience in the area. 

Naturopathic Doctors are required to complete a certain amount of continuing education every 3 years, and most of my credits are focused on women’s health, fertility, endometriosis and hormones. 

We want to be part of your health team

My ultimate goal is to work integratively with other health professionals – general practitioners, gynecologists, physiotherapists, massage therapists, etc. NDs can and do bring a lot to the table as they strive to treat the whole person. We assess the medications that you may be on and see how we can support any deficiencies or make any changes to make them more efficacious. Furthermore, we want to be in correspondence and forge a relationship with the other members of your health team for your best interest and keep them in the know as to what is going on from our standpoint. 

Not all doctors have a clear understanding about naturopathic medicine or want to readily work with us, but we will strive to best support your adjunctive treatments with other medical professionals.

Final Thoughts

Did you that many Naturopathic Doctors offer free meet and greets? I want to help you iron out your health goals and ensure that Naturopathic Medicine is right for you!

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