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