Integrating naturopathic medicine into health care
By Dr. Martin Gleixner, MSc, ND
Both naturopathic medicine and conventional medicine have their strengths. The debate is no longer whether it’s one or the other, but rather moving forward with the integration of both. Patient care can only benefit from combining the strengths of each form of medicine.
Our current health care crisis is in desperate need for improvement. Spiraling health care costs, long hospital wait times, drugs side-effects, short patient visit times, increasing occurrences of chronic disease (most notably cancer, diabetes, auto-immune disease) and the lack of preventive care are only a few of challenges facing our current health care system.
To address these issues face on, I propose an integrated approach that includes: 1) family physicians (MDs) and licensed naturopathic doctors (NDs) working side-by-side; 2) the adoption of six guiding principles for all doctors and health professionals; and 3) a new health paradigm that aims to determine and address the true cause of one’s medical concerns. Note that these topics have been discusses in previous columns.
Let’s review this new vision for our health care system:
The use of naturopathic medicine in conjunction with conventional medicine is an important first step in addressing our present health care needs. NDs and MDs can work together because their roles in patient care are complementary, and treatments become more effective in resolving a patient’s health concerns.
Naturopathic doctors are regulated health care professionals in Canada who have undergone rigorous medical training and have passed standardized North American Board exams. Naturopathic doctors undergo training similar to MDs (practicing family medicine) plus additional naturopathic disciplines and therapies. Both NDs and MDs are equally trained in the diagnosis of health conditions, in the core medical sciences (anatomy, pathology, physiology, etc…) and in specialty medical fields (pharmacology, gynecology, obstetrics, oncology, geriatrics, etc…).
In Canada, legislation regulating the practice of naturopathic medicine exists in 6 provinces. In 2009, both British Columbia and Ontario amended legislation to grant naturopathic doctors prescribing authority for certain substances including pharmaceutical drugs previously only prescribed by MDs. Naturopathic medicine is not yet regulated in New Brunswick, however the members of the New Brunswick Association of Naturopathic Doctors (NBAND) are working closely with the provincial government to achieve that goal. NDs that form NBAND currently maintain a registration with the regulatory colleges in either British Columbia or Ontario and will continue to do so until legislation regulating the profession is passed in New Brunswick.
Both NDs & MDs have their specialties and strengths. Although both practitioners have training in pharmacology, MDs dedicate much more of their treatment to emergency medicine and treating symptoms with drug interventions. NDs on the other hand treat the root cause of disease and are more specialized in naturopathic disciplines including clinical nutrition, botanical medicine, traditional Asian medicine and acupuncture, homeopathic medicine, hydrotherapy, naturopathic manipulation and lifestyle counseling. An NDs’ training in pharmacology includes an in-depth understanding about drug interactions with other medications or herbs and supplements, enabling them to track and treat any potential side-effects.
Patients who are motivated to make lifestyle changes and/or with a desire to reduce or eliminate their prescription medications can be supported with naturopathic treatments. This can be done by NDs working with a patient’s MD, to adjust drug doses accordingly as their condition improves. The use of specific vitamins or minerals in medicinal doses as well as individualized herbal or homeopathic combinations can address underlying functional or pathological imbalances. As an ND, I have successfully worked with patients to address their acute or chronic disease and helped to decrease their need for pharmaceutical drugs such as anti-depressants, anti-cholesterol medications and high blood pressure medications.
As a qualified naturopathic doctor, the following six principles have provided me with a unique understanding and a strong foundation in the way that I practice medicine. They are: First Do No Harm (Primum Non Nocere), Cooperate with the Healing Power of Nature (Vis Medicatrix Naturae), Identify and Treat the Cause (Tolle Causam), Treat the Whole Person, Doctor as Teacher (Docere), and Prevent Disease & Promote Health.
Adopting these time-tested principles can provide not only naturopathic doctors but also other health professionals with a new vision for practicing medicine. This is the change that our health care system desperately needs. These principles allow both medical doctors and naturopathic doctors to practice within a framework that can best promote a patient’s health.
The logistics of an integrated approach is one thing, but what about changing our philosophy in how we understand and treat medical conditions.
I often tell my patients that I don’t treat symptoms. Without further explanation, it would seem that I wouldn’t be left with anything to treat! On the contrary, through extensive detective work, many imbalances in the body that cause symptoms can be revealed.
Most of today’s modern pharmaceutical medications are designed to control symptoms, usually by changing the biochemistry in the body. Examples include blood pressure medications for hypertension, statins for high cholesterol, painkillers for headaches or menstrual cramps, and sleeping pills for insomnia. These medications can provide relief, and depending on the condition can also save lives and serve an important purpose within the context our present health care system.
This treatment approach however, does not promote true health because ultimately it does not address the underlying problem (i.e. the causes of one’s health condition). When symptoms are masked with medication, the disease still exists which can cause symptoms in other areas of the body to develop over time. I prefer to think of symptoms as warning signs that indicate imbalances in the body.
Because many symptoms are often uncomfortable especially in acute conditions, I maintain the importance to palliate symptoms. This provides increased comfort in a patient’s life while the underlying causes are addressed.
The goal is to determine and address the reasons why your body has developed symptoms. Within this philosophy, symptoms are used as a guide to discover the underlying imbalances in your health. The true causes of weight gain, high blood pressure, insomnia, allergies, respiratory infections, menstrual imbalances, menopausal symptoms, diabetes, as well as depression and anxiety were discussed in past columns. In weight gain for example, numerous imbalances exists that prevent fat loss even when a superb diet and exercise program are in place. Underlying causes includes stress, inflammation, low thyroid function, sex hormone imbalances, blood sugar dysregulation, poor liver function, a sluggish digestive tract and neurotransmitter imbalances. There can even be other reasons! By determining the root cause(s) of your health condition, treatment can be more individually prescribed to re-balance bodily systems and offers better long-term success.
A new paradigm therefore that promotes health is timely and long awaited.
Published by Dr. Gleixner on Thursday May 3rd, 2012 in Times & Transcript.
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