This field of medicine uses drugless therapies to treat common and uncommon medical conditions. Naturopathic doctors are healthcare providers trained to address health from a different perspective than conventional medical doctors, but the two practices are meant to complement one-another. Naturopathic medicine draws from traditional healing practices used effectively for hundreds or thousands of years. The scope of naturopathy is wide, meaning that naturopathic doctors have many tools and methods to treat patients’ health conditions. While each naturopathic doctor is qualified to practice Naturopathy and is licensed by the College of Naturopaths of Ontario, each naturopathic doctor has their own style and area of interest. We highly recommend having a complimentary mini consultation with one of our naturopathic doctors to see if they are the right fit for your needs.
Naturopathic medicine operates on a set of principles designed to help people with their chronic ailments:
- Do no harm. Like all forms of medicine, the aim whenever possible is to prevent harm in naturopathy. As any licensed health care provider, naturopathic doctors work in the highest interest of their patients.
- Cooperate with the healing power of nature. The body has its own incredible healing power, and often what is most helpful is to remove obstacles to healing and certain stressors to the body. That, and many remedies that gently reset the body’s processes and encourage it to heal can be found in nature and have been successfully used to treat a wide variety of conditions for centuries.
- Treat the whole person. Many people become frustrated when their condition is treated without regard to any other medical concerns. Naturopathic doctors look at a patient’s entire body and their health history and make critical connections where appropriate. For example, research has suggested that the composition of bacteria in a person’s gut can influence brain chemicals and mental health, so a naturopathic doctor may approach depression and anxiety in part by encouraging healthy gut flora, especially if health history and examination suggest that digestion is a problem. Patients can expect their naturopathic doctor to develop a holistic treatment plan that addresses many of their health complaints.
- Doctor as teacher. Naturopathic doctors are responsible for teaching their patients how to treat and prevent disease, especially because so many lifestyle factors contribute to illness. To promote wellness instead of disease, naturopathic doctors empower their patients to make healthy choices by teaching them about their health conditions, contributing factors to disease, and how they can be active participants in their own healing.
- Identify and treat the root cause. Many conditions will have one or more root causes, and the naturopathic doctor’s job is to conduct a thorough clinical history, physical examination, and necessary testing in order to determine how this illness came about. Naturopathic doctors then treat the root cause in the hopes of eliminating the disease. If the illness cannot be entirely healed, your naturopathic doctor will work with you to manage your condition with fewer flare-ups. The naturopathic doctor may work alongside your family physician to reduce the number or doses of medications you require.
- Prevention. Often, lifestyle factors are significant contributors to disease, and these factors need more time in an appointment to be properly addressed. A naturopathic doctor has the ability to counsel, coach, and strategize with their patients about how to get and stay healthy. Naturopathic doctors are experts in health and wellness, and can show you how to live your healthiest, optimal life.
Tools of Naturopathic Doctors
Naturopathic doctors have more than just medications at their disposal, and each naturopath uses a specific combination of various remedies and therapies to address health conditions. Since naturopathic doctors view each patient as a unique individual, each treatment plan for every patient is different. Everyone has a different health history and different genetic make-up, and naturopathic doctors respect that what works well for one person may not be as effective for another patient, and there are many reasons for this. Each patient will have a unique combination of the following therapies that work best for their body, lifestyle and condition.
Therapeutic tools that are typically used by naturopathic doctors may include:
Vitamin and mineral therapy – people often feel better when their mild nutrient deficiencies are corrected, and by recommending the right dose and form of particular nutrients, naturopathic doctors help the body’s systems function more efficiently. Also, high doses of particular vitamins and minerals have been shown in clinical trials to improve many different disease processes or symptoms.
Chinese medicine and acupuncture – this system of medicine has been used effectively for thousands of years, and in China, both Eastern and Western medicine are practiced together by teams of doctors. Chinese medicine works by helping to balance the energies in the body: to clear excess or to replete a deficiency, as too much or too little of certain energies or substances in the body leads to illness. There is a large body of research for acupuncture, and many people have benefitted from its effects on migraines, infertility, and a plethora of other conditions. Naturopathic doctors may also use combinations of Chinese herbs to treat an illness.
Nutrition – Hippocrates first said “let food be thy medicine” and there is a wealth of research that supports the use of nutrition for prevention of disease. With the ever-changing nature of nutritional research, it can be difficult to know what to eat to stay healthy. Fortunately, naturopathic doctors use a combination of evidence-based strategies and traditional methods to help you make dietary choices that will bring you closer to health, figuring out which foods work best for your body can help unlock a level of health patients have not reached before.
Physical medicine – Naturopathic doctors are trained in specific chiropractic adjustments and physical manipulations to help their patients move with ease and without pain. Many naturopathic doctors work with athletes to help them perform their best, which includes treating and preventing injuries. All naturopathic doctors work to reduce inflammation, which aggravates pain conditions.
Herbal medicine – plants have pharmaceutical properties of their own. After all, many well-known medications, such as aspirin, come from plants originally. Plants often contain hundreds of chemicals that work together to create a beneficial effect, and while some isolated compounds have been well-researched, there is still much to discover about the healing mechanisms of whole-plant extracts. Herbs can be taken singular or in combination with other herbs that have a similar effect, and hey can be taken as teas, tinctures, or in capsule form, which make them a versatile type of remedy.
Injection therapies – for some people, injecting vitamins and minerals either into muscle or into blood can have significant benefits, such as bypassing a weak digestive system or using a higher concentration than could be tolerated orally.
Homeopathy – homeopathy involves using specific single or combination remedies that consist of very dilute plant, animal, and mineral ingredients. These remedies are very gentle and highly effective. While homeopathy is often criticized as being unscientific, homeopathy journals document the efficacy of remedies on an incredibly diverse set of conditions
Naturopaths use various combinations of different remedies to improve symptoms and address the condition at the root cause.
Conditions Treated by Naturopathic Doctors
Naturopathic doctors are not specialists, but many have areas of special interest in which they have sought additional training or use specific therapies related to treating that condition. For example, if they commonly treat pain conditions, the naturopath may do more hands-on therapy; however, many naturopaths have a very generalized practice and treat a wide variety of conditions. As a general rule, naturopathic medicine works well for conditions that conventional medicine does not provide many options for.
- Skin conditions – such as eczema, fungal infections, psoriasis, and even melasma. Many skin conditions are the result of gut issues aggravated by stress, and naturopathic doctors can help keep both at bay.
- Autoimmune conditions – rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, hashimoto’s or graves, in these diseases, the immune system attacks certain tissues in the body, such as the joints, thyroid, skin, or even kidneys, and causes much inflammation and destruction. Naturopathic medicine can help reduce harmful inflammation and oxidation that aggravate these diseases.
- Digestive conditions – Irritable bowel syndrome, acid reflux, constipation, and other gut issues can contribute to many other diseases in the body, and much of a patient’s health is dictated by the health of their gut bacteria. Naturopathic doctors may use probiotics, but can also dig deeper into what is causing this disturbed digestion and help you feel more comfortable and fight off disease.
- Hormonal conditions – difficult, painful periods or uncontrollable mood swings at any point of a woman’s cycle are very troublesome for women. Also, men can experience depression and anxiety as well as reduced sexual function when their hormones are out of balance. Naturopathic doctors can help balance men’s and women’s natural hormones and support the health of their pelvic organs. Some naturopathic doctors can also prescribe bio-identical hormones, depending on their qualifications, which can be very helpful to improve quality of life when hormone levels decline with age.
- Fertility – there are many causes of infertilty, and naturopathic doctors will test very thoroughly to see which causes apply to their patients who struggle to conceive. Naturopathic doctors can help their patients throughout the pre-conception and pre-natal phases, and can help both partners in trying to have a family.
- Adjunctive cancer care – while naturopathic doctors do not use natural medicine to cure cancer, there is sufficient research to show that natural remedies when used effectively and appropriately, can increase the effectiveness of conventional cancer therapies and/or reduce the uncomfortable and damaging side effects of chemotherapy or radiation, for example.
- Cardiovascular and metabolic care – from diabetes to heart disease, naturopathic doctors focus on lifestyle medicine in combination with other therapies to help reduce blood sugar and improve inflammatory factors that can contribute
- Chronic pain and fatigue conditions – chronic pain syndromes such as fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome are often grouped together in conventional practice, but they can have very different origins. Chronic fatigue or pain can be caused by a variety of factors, such as a chronic viral infection or low-functioning thyroid, that can be detected by naturopathic testing and evaluation, and can be treated effectively to help patients feel their best.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are naturopathic doctors the same as homeopaths?
While naturopathic doctors can practice homeopathy, this is only one small portion of their training. Homeopaths can only practice homeopathy.
Aren’t all natural remedies safe?
There are significant interactions between natural remedies and doctor-prescribed medications, and a naturopathic doctor is trained to spot and prevent such interactions. Just because something is natural, does not mean it is always safe, right for everyone, or benign.
Do naturopathic doctors use research-based methods?
There is a growing body of research from scientists and naturopathic doctors on the efficacy of natural medicines and naturopathic medicine. Much of what naturopathic doctors do is evidence-based, but some is based on traditional practice where the research has yet to be done.
Are naturopathic doctors anti-pharmaceutical/anti-vaccine?
No. You should not feel judged by any health practitioner for taking medicine prescribed by your family doctor or specialist, nor should any naturopath discourage you from taking it. Working to improve your health so that you need less medication, however, can be a goal for patients when in cooperation with their medical doctor.
Are naturopathic doctors trained online?
Naturopathic doctors undergo four years of in-class education on top of an undergraduate degree, including training in the biomedical sciences, diagnosis and pathology, as well as extensive training in naturopathic therapies. They also complete a supervised clinical internship before entering professional practice. Anyone who has not undergone a 4-year accredited training program and passed a licensing exam cannot call themselves a naturopathic doctor.
Are naturopathic doctors covered by insurance?
The majority of extended health benefits plans accept claims from naturopathic doctors, but they are not covered by OHIP. Check with your insurance provider to determine your coverage.
Curious about how naturopathic medicine can help you feel your best? Book a complimentary consult with one of our naturopathic doctors here.