This is a post I've wanted to tackle for awhile now. When I introduce myself to people and tell them I'm a naturopath, I'm always met with varied reactions. Wizard. Crystal lover. Hippie. Doctor hater?
Some people have no idea what a naturopath is, which creates a nice opportunity to explain what one is. Other's are very receptive and often keen to indulge me with their latest health adventures. And still some, respond by telling me how many doctors are in their family. I think we are often afraid of what we don't understand and this can breed ignorance. So if you're still with me, I'd love to clear up a few things. I'm going to address some myths surrounding naturopathy to help explain what naturopaths actually do and don't do. I'm not a witch doctor and I don't use crystal balls in my treatment plans. But I do very much love to help people!!
Of course, this is not written on behalf of all naturopaths everywhere. I speak for myself and hopefully the majority of the industry. Always do your research and pick a practitioner you trust.
MYTH #1: NATUROPATHY HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH SCIENCE
Hippocrates, who is considered to be the father and pioneer of western medicine is recognised for making the link between nutrition and medicine in 400BC and famously stated 'let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food'.
This idea that naturopathy is pseudoscience is a very common misconception. As a degree qualified naturopath, I underwent four years of study in health science which included foundational subjects in chemistry, anatomy & physiology, biochemistry and pharmacology. Naturopathy and science are not mutually exclusive. In my practice, I approach each treatment plan by marrying together traditional knowledge and scientific research. Anyone can cite a pub med article to back up what they want to say, but learning how to critically evaluate research is also an important skill, to recognise the hallmarks of good quality research. I like each patient to be aware of the reasons why I may be prescribing certain herbs or supplements. I am not a magician and use many of the same conventional medicine guidelines in consultation such as pathology testing, clinical presentation and physical examination.
Another little known fact is approximately 70% of all drugs introduced in the US in the last 25 years have come from nature. Scientists have long used nature as an inspiration for drug development. Aspirin is famously obtained from the willow bark tree and morphine from california poppy. Pharmaceutical medicine would look completely different without the plant kingdom.
MYTH #2: NATUROPATHS ARE anti conventional medicine
Believe it or not, naturopathic treatment can work amazingly well alongside pharmaceutical treatment. Often it does not have to be a 'pick one or the other' approach. As the name complementary medicine suggests, we are also there to complement western medicine, not compete against it. There are certain health conditions that require pharmaceutical medication, in which case, our role is to support the patient in all other areas, to ensure they feel strong and healthy. At times where surgery may be required, naturopathy can be a wonderful adjunct to optimise recovery & healing times. Likewise, in situations where drugs are able to address acute symptoms (such as intense pain), naturopathic therapies can be working away in the background to address the root cause.
The burden of chronic disease (such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and obesity) on our healthcare system is now overwhelming and the leading cause of death in Australia. Many doctors are overworked and have neither the time or resources to spend with their patients. This is where naturopathy can be of huge benefit. Dietary and lifestyle modifications alone can prevent and reverse many chronic diseases. This means less drugs for the patient, less reliance on public health care systems, increased worker productivity and more funding available to spend on preventing chronic disease.
MYTh #3: NATUROPATHS ARE ANTI-VACcination
What a big, juicy, polarising subject this is and one that I normally stay extremely far away from on social media. But for the sake of transparency and education, let's address this briefly. I cannot speak for all naturopaths, but I speak for this one when I say that I encourage all people to educate themselves around the impact of their diet, environment and lifestyle on their health. What we put into, on, and around our body all has implications on our health. Education allows you to make informed decisions. There are pros and cons to many vaccinations, some are better than others, some are more vital than others and some are highly questionable. As a practitioner, my job is to present you with the information in order for you to make an informed decision, that only you can make. Supporting the health of yourself or your child is the ultimate objective.
MYTH #4: Naturopathy is only suitable for 'sick' people
I haven't met a person yet with a perfect diet, perfect lifestyle and no health challenges at all. That's because that person probably doesn't exist - you would have to live in a giant bubble! With most clients there is always something that can be improved. Health is an ongoing journey, rather than a destination. Many people are unaware of how many things naturopathy can support. For example, take a woman who is trying to conceive. She has already improved her diet and cut out alcohol. However we know there are increased demands for certain minerals during pregnancy- one of these is iodine. Research shows the mothers iodine status at preconception has an impact on the childs IQ. Therefore optimising the woman's nutritional status in preparation for conception is vitally important. Additionally, she is feeling anxious about conceiving so supporting her stress levels and adrenal glands, is a vital element of treatment to enhance her chances of conceiving. This is the wonderful holistic approach to healthcare that naturopathy offers - it treats the whole person.
If you've been considering seeing a naturopath but have felt confused or hesitant with what it's all about, I hope this has helped clear up any confusion. Please feel free to contact me here if you want to chat about anything.
A NOTE ON REGULATION: As naturopathy isn't a regulated industry in Australia or NZ, technically anyone can practice as a naturopath. Because of this, it can create huge discrepancies in practice. Unqualified naturopaths cannot join naturopath and herbalist associations, so when seeking out a practitioner, always make sure they are a member of an accredited association.
Australian Health Policy Collaboration 2014, 'Chronic diseases in Australia: the case for changing course by Sharon Willcox', pp. 1- 48
Leung, A & Brent, G 2013, 'Children of mothers with iodine deficiency during pregnancy are more likely to have lower verbal IQ and reading scores at 8–9 years of age', Evidence Based Nursing, vol. 17, no. 3.
Wardle, J 2011, Lay out the welcome mat: naturopathy has come in from the cold, <http://theconversation.com/lay-out-the-welcome-mat-naturopathy-has-come-in-from-the-cold-982>