Is naturopathic medicine safe?
I often hear people use this blanket statement: naturopathic medicine is safe. Relatively speaking, many naturopathic therapies pose little risk of negative side effects or interactions. If treatment is selected correctly, taking into consideration a person’s state of health, medical history, current condition and other treatments they are receiving and when the naturopathic treatment is administered in an appropriate form and dose, then yes, it is safe! Those are a lot of “ifs” though, so it’s important to look at the exceptions. Some naturopathic treatments have the potential to interact with prescription or over the counter medications or even with other supplements and natural remedies. Furthermore, some natural treatments can produce side effects. This is especially true if someone has an underlying health condition that can become aggravated by the use of such remedies (e.g. licorice can raise blood pressure and so should be avoided in people with hypertension). Before starting any new treatment plan, course of supplements or other naturopathic therapy, it is important that your naturopathic doctor review your medical history and current medications or other treatments you are receiving. This way, they can recommend the safest and most effective course of action based on your unique condition and state of health. This means that just picking up a product at the health food store may not be a wise move. While staff at the health food store may be very well versed in product knowledge, they are unfamiliar with your health history and so cannot provide a recommendation specific to your needs. The good news is that when used appropriately, naturopathic medicine has quite a low incidence of negative effects. For patients with underlying conditions or taking multiple medications, naturopathic medicine also offers some forms of treatment such as homeopathy and acupuncture, among others, that pose little to no risk of interaction.
What conditions can be treated with naturopathic medicine?
Naturopathic medicine can be used to prevent, manage or treat a variety of health conditions. Naturopathic Doctors (NDs) are particularly well versed in the management of chronic conditions such as diabetes, elevated blood pressure and cholesterol levels, arthritis, and thyroid conditions, skin conditions such as eczema, acne and psoriasis, among others.
NDs also value illness prevention and the optimization of health and wellness. Treatment may be used to support immune function and prevent cold and flu and other infections. Also, patients with a family history of certain health conditions (e.g. Type II Diabetes) can benefit from guidance on how to avoid developing the condition themselves through various preventative measures. NDs also have in their arsenal of natural therapies various options for managing acute illness such as infections, injuries, and joint and muscle pain.
What can I expect from a visit with a Naturopathic Doctor?
An initial visit with an ND often surprises new patients as it differs so much from their past healthcare experiences. NDs strongly value the therapeutic experience and aim to explore all aspects of a patient’s health and wellness. Because of this attention to detail, an initial visit with an ND is usually 60 to 90 minutes long and includes clinical interview, physical examination and the start of treatment. This allows sufficient time for patients to discuss all of their concerns, to ask questions and to be heard by their ND. Follow-up visits may take 30 to 60 minutes depending on the therapies being administered. The frequency of visits is determined based on the condition being treated and the type of treatment being used; this can be discussed with your ND at the time of your initial visit.
What is the difference between naturopathic and homeopathic medicine?
This is a trick question! Homeopathic medicine is a system that uses different plant, animal and mineral substances in extremely low doses to address health conditions and restore the body and mind to its original state of health. There are homeopathic practitioners who are trained specifically in this form of treatment. Naturopathic medicine, to use simple terms here (see the “Naturopathic Medicine” page for a more in-depth look), is a system of medicine that uses natural therapies to prevent, address, and treat health concerns and to optimize health and wellness. One of the natural therapies that may be used by naturopathic doctors is homeopathic medicine. Naturopathy is the tree, homeopathy is a branch, so to speak.
Often heard at dinner parties: Can you tell me what this rash is and how to treat it?
The answer is no! Not because I don’t know what the rash could be, not because I can’t treat it, and certainly not because I don’t want to help you! If a patient with a rash, or any health concern for that matter, walked into my office, I’d be spending about an hour with them on the first visit. I’d ask questions about their current concern, about their medical history, their diet and other lifestyle factors, I’d do a physical exam, I might send them for tests. Once I’ve collected enough information about them (not just their rash), I might then know what type of rash it is, what may be causing it, what might aggravate it, and how best to treat it safely and effectively so that it’s not likely to come back. Sure, there are quick solutions, ointments, and what not, that can help. These are sometimes recommended, keeping in mind the ultimate goal of naturopathic medicine. Going back to the principles of naturopathic medicine (read more here), I’m aiming to treat the root cause, and to consider the whole picture. If someone, in passing, asks me how to treat their rash, what to do for diabetes, how to treat high cholesterol, a hundred questions come to mind. Sure, I can spout off the standard answer, the most common treatment, but this approach may put that person at risk. What if by doing this, I’ve overlooked a serious underlying condition, what if they have an allergy or are taking a medication that would interact with the “common treatment” I’ve suggested, what if what I’ve suggested simply doesn’t solve the issue, where’s our follow-up (maybe the next dinner party)? Through our naturopathic education and training, we’ve been taught that it is only acceptable to provide assessment and treatment in a proper clinical setting. I think it’s important for people to understand why this is, hopefully this has helped to clear that up!
Can I just give this supplement to the rest of my family, my kids?
This question goes hand-in-hand with the previous one. It is often asked in regards to things like vitamins, fish oils, probiotics, and other supplements that may be used for general health. The majority of the time, these supplements would present little or no risk to your family members. However, unless your ND is familiar with your family members in a doctor-patient setting and is aware of their medical history and concerns, they cannot provide a definitive answer to this question. Again, the reasoning here has to do with safety, efficacy, and a holistic approach to patient care. The number one priority is always to provide the best possible care to each unique patient, regardless of what treatment plan or supplements their family members may be using. In some situations, if your ND is caring for you as well as your family, and has permission to discuss your family members’ care with you (confidentiality is also a priority), you may be able to discuss certain supplements that could be appropriate for various family members. This can make things easier and most cost-effective for your family’s care. However, the number one priority remains to make the best individual recommendations to each patient.
MORE FAQs COMING SOON!