As we celebrate the advances that naturopathic medicine has been making, we also have to acknowledge the recent negativity being directed at our profession from certain groups within the medical world and their media minions.
A recent tragic case in Alberta saw a couple being convicted of failing to provide the necessities of life for their young son, who died of bacterial meningitis in 2012. Over the course of this case, it was revealed that they had contacted one of our Alberta naturopathic doctors by phone, who had instructed her staff to tell them to take the child to seek emergency medical care. The next day, someone (who later turned out to be a member of the same family) came into her clinic to purchase an herbal immune support formula, something that would commonly be available over the counter at any number of natural pharmacies across Canada. However, subsequent to this, a group of Alberta medical doctors took it upon themselves to call for an investigation into the actions of the ND – the same ND who didn’t see the child, didn’t provide any medical advice other than to go to the ER, and didn’t provide any treatment.
Similarly, our friends at the National Post have been very active in displaying their bias against safe, natural medicine, doing their best to misrepresent facts to distort the truth. This brings to mind a CBC Marketplace “investigation” from a few years back, that claimed to answer once and for all, whether homeopathy was an effective health care modality. Luckily, they made it perfectly obvious that they didn’t consult a single person with any knowledge or training in homeopathy, as they designed their “study” in such a way as to render it utterly useless. An analogy I could make – if they took a prescription sleep aid, rubbed it on their forehead, then went to bed with it under their pillow – then came to the “scientific” conclusion that it didn’t work.
But most alarming was this editorial for the Globe and Mail penned by Peter McKnight, a journalist whose training in anything medically related extends to an undergraduate degree in psychology. He attempts to convince his readers that Western medicine long ago threw out the notion of the “healing power of nature”, implying that the only thing standing in the way of the certain annihilation of the human race by disease is an army of white-coated medical doctors armed with their trusty prescription pads.
If you find me one doctor who tells you that the human body doesn’t have the ability to heal itself, I’ll show you a doctor who is either ignorant or lying. Everyone (including every parent in the world) knows that the body will heal itself, as long as you remove whatever factor is in the way of that. And in fact – if that vis medicatrix naturae isn’t present, nothing any doctor does will have any effect on actually healing a patient, save for keeping them alive. If your kid scrapes his knee – you clean it well, keep it clean, and keep your child from picking at the obviously fascinating scab that will form – and it will heal. On its own. Extend that to a multitude of illnesses, and you’ll find that once you remove the obstacles to health (poor diet and lifestyle, lack of sleep, nutritional deficits, chronic assault from environmental toxins, stress, etc), for the most part, patients will return to a state of health.
A common complaint about naturopathic medicine is around safety and efficacy. They say that manufacturers of natural supplements aren’t required to demonstrate efficacy to Health Canada before having them approved for sale. But they are required to demonstrate safety. With regards to safety, I’m not aware of a single case of a patient dying as a result of any medical intervention by a licensed naturopathic doctor. Compare that to the statistic that medical error is now the third-leading cause of death in the US.
Let he who is without a single dead patient cast the first stone, I say.
Regarding efficacy – let’s break this down a little. For medical doctors accustomed to using pharmaceuticals to force the body back into line, they typically see results on the order of days to a few weeks. If there’s no clear benefit in that time, you can conclude the treatment is ineffective. Applying that same quantifier to natural remedies is like comparing apples to oranges. As stated earlier, naturopathic medicine focuses on encouraging a return to health, through (for the most part) gentle interventions that gradually shift the body’s health on both a physical and energetic level. Most people I see have spent years or even decades gradually getting to their current state of ill health. Any intervention that claims to return them to health in a few days will not work, simply because once the medication is discontinued, the body will revert to the state to which it has become accustomed.
Furthermore, if you equate the efficacy of a treatment to a cure, we must consider how many classes of drugs actually purport to “cure” anything”. One notable exception would be antimicrobials for a bacterial or fungal infection. Go beyond that, and the cure rate drops significantly. Anti-depressants only work as long as people remain on the medication (assuming they work at all, or don’t make the condition worse). Statins artificially lower cholesterol levels, which return to pre-treatment levels upon discontinuation of the drug. Same with medications for high blood pressure, stomach acid levels, sleep and anxiety, the list goes on. Until the obstacles to health are removed, health will not be achieved.
In this, the stark difference between naturopathic doctors and medical doctors – the question “why?”. Why are these symptoms occurring? Naturopathic doctors aim to find and treat the cause of illness, rather than simply playing whack-a-mole with symptoms by prescribing one medication after another, often to simply treat the side effects created by the original drug.
So in conclusion, happy Naturopathic Medicine Week, to the tens of thousands of happy and healthy patients across Canada who attribute their good health to their naturopathic care, and to the growing group of allies within the conventional medical community – modern doctors and nurses who recognize the benefit to patients of collaborative and complementary medicine.
To the rest of you – the dinosaurs who continue their desperate campaign to convince the public that you’ve got all the answers, that pharmaceuticals are the only way to go, and that under no circumstances, should they ever ask you “why” – it’s not too late to join the right side of history. The future of medicine will be found in the middle ground, currently populated with medically-focused naturopathic doctors and medical doctors practicing what they’ve termed “functional medicine” – where through a mixture of modern innovation and traditional healing we create a paradigm of health – instead of merely treating disease.
Naturopathic doctors – Medically Trained, but Naturally Focused.
Dr. Reuben Dinsmore, ND
This is both your expectations of me, as one of your doctors, and also my expectations of you.
Your expectations of me are pretty straightforward – to provide care and health education to the best of my ability. What your expectations shouldn’t include – to become perfectly healthy in one or two visits. More on that below…
My expectations of you –
1. To give me a fair chance to help you return to health. Many patients arrive in my office as a last resort, having tried all other avenues of treatment. Often they have been gradually moving toward their current state of ill health over years or even decades. The most important premise of naturopathic medicine is “treat the cause of the illness”. Our first visit has just been spent gathering as much of a detailed health history as possible, in order to best determine the cause or causes of your symptoms. Subsequent visits will be spent initiating and adjusting your personalized treatment plan. Depending on how complicated or numerous your health conditions are, this might take a long time. Be patient, and remember that you probably spent years getting sick – it could take a while to get you healthy again.
2. To provide occasional feedback on how well I am meeting your expectations. Medical practice is called “practice” for a reason. I am always learning and adapting my treatment plans according to things I learn, often through successful (and unsuccessful) treatments. If you have followed a treatment plan that I have suggested, and it didn’t work for you, please let me know. If I don’t see you within the expected time for a follow-up appointment, I will likely give you a call or send an email to check in. If everything is wonderful, then that’s great! Let me know that. If it’s not, that’s alright too. Let's continue working together to get you back to your ideal state of good health.
There is no way to summarize everything important into a couple of paragraphs. However, here are the basics:
1. Most of you are not drinking enough water. Aim for at least 2 L every day, adding another 250 ml for each caffeinated drink (coffee, tea, soda). DO NOT make bottled water a main source of your water intake. Plastic bottles (the softer they are, the worse they are) leach chemicals called xenoestrogens into the water, which can have disastrous effects on your hormones. This affects men, women and especially children. Generally the tap water in Vancouver is excellent. It contains chlorine, which can be filtered out. Or it will naturally dissipate from a water jug in a few hours. Bottom line – bottled water can be bad for your health and is terrible for the environment.
2. Most of you are not getting enough sleep. (If this is one of the reasons you’re coming to see me, good for you for addressing it). As for the rest of you, wake up! I mean - don’t wake up, keep sleeping! Being sleep deficient means you might get sick more often, have a harder time keeping weight off, and find your memory and cognitive performance suffering.
3. Sugar is the devil. (If you thought it was fat, welcome to the 21st century, we have a new enemy!) According to the World Health Organization, sugar/simple carbohydrates should comprise no more than 10% of your daily caloric intake. Personally, I think that’s even too high, and near impossible to accurately assess anyway. I ask all my patients to complete a personal diet diary, both to draw your own attention to what you eat, and to give me an idea of where to start. If you’d like a more in-depth one-on-one around making diet changes, I’d highly recommend making an appointment to sit down with our nutritionist, Breanne.
Not all supplements are created equal. Please take a minute to read my article on the subject.
We have a comprehensive dispensary of supplements at our clinic, sourced only through professional lines from companies with a proven history of top quality and research. This is not to say our supplements are the only choice – there are many other excellent brands available through certain independent pharmacies around town. Also, certain over-the-counter brands have some acceptable products – however, for the most part, I don’t recommend buying cheap supplements. We have chosen not to significantly mark up our products, in order to make them more accessible to our patients.
With regards to email – primarily this should be used to send me information I’ve requested, (past lab reports, brands and doses of your current supplements, etc) or homework I’ve assigned. As well, if you are unclear about something that we discussed during an appointment (such as instructions for a supplement or a new lifestyle change) feel free to drop me a line to confirm those details.
However, if you have a new medical concern, signs or symptoms cannot effectively (or legally) be assessed, diagnosed or treated over email. In cases like that, you’ll need to call the clinic to make an appointment.
I do my best to respond to all emails as soon as I can, but sometimes this takes me a few days. If it is time sensitive, please indicate as such in the subject line.
The days where everyone had their own family doctor that they might have seen since childhood are mostly in the past. There is a big advantage to having all your health history in one place – so please consider doing this yourself. Out of necessity, the cancer patients at our clinic all have this down. One binder that contains all their reports, past and future appointments, symptom tracker, etc.
1. Sign up for My E-health. https://secure.myehealth.ca/ This website stores all your lab reports run through the BC medical system. When we have to request past labs from other medical offices, the patient is often charged for this service. If you have access to all your labs, you can simply download them and email them to us. There is an associated smart-phone application that even organizes repeated tests over time, so you can easily see how your results are changing.
2. Set up a health binder – this can contain vaccination records, past hospital reports, lab results, any prescriptions you’ve had (including any adverse reactions you might have experienced) and any treatment plans you receive from me.