What’s up, naturopathic doc?

By: Aileen Brabazon Mar 07, 2011

Naturopathic doctors are going mainstream. Does that mean you should turn your health over to one?

You see them on TV, read about them in magazines and walk past their clinics every day. Clearly, naturopathic doctors (ND) are going mainstream.

As such, you might be considering your own venture into alternative health care. Before making any decisions that affect your wellbeing, it’s good to understand what you’re signing up for. Here’s what you need to know about naturopathic medicine.

The nuts and bolts of naturopathy

Want to know why you’re sick? So do naturopaths. One of the mantras of naturopathic medicine is to figure out the underlying cause of illness. “We try to get to the root of what’s going on with the person instead of using a Band-aid approach (just suppressing symptoms)… We’re trying to eradicate the condition from the individual,” says Rachel Schwartzman, a naturopath at the Markham Village Naturopath Clinic in Markham, Ont.
To sleuth out what’s behind your symptoms, naturopaths spend 1 to 1.5 hours on the first intake. They want to know everything about you from your physical and emotional health, medical history, family and lifestyle, as the idea is that any of these factors can contribute to how you’re feeling. They’ll often do a physical exam, too.

From there, treatment is based on your needs. Naturopaths draw upon their scientific knowledge and one or more of the natural modalities in which they’re trained – clinical nutrition, vitamins and minerals, herbs, lifestyle counselling, hydrotherapy (water therapy) Chinese medicine (including acupuncture) and homeopathy (get details at www.hmcc.ca) – to create an individualized plan.

Can naturopaths assist you?

In a word: probably. “I believe we can help any condition that does not require an emergency situation,” says Schwartzman. So don’t take your broken bones, profuse bleeding or heart attacks to an ND. Schwartzman does, however, help patients of all ages with various health issues, from high cholesterol to infertility to allergies to obesity to colds.

If you’re not sick, naturopaths can help you stay that way. Preventative medicine is one of their specialties. (Typically, prevention isn’t something regular doctors focus on.) And, as primary health care providers, they’re able to perform routine physicals, including breast exams, pap smears and drawing blood, she says. 

It’ll cost you

Unlike a visit to your MD, which the provincial government covers, you have to pay for time with an ND. (You also foot the bill for tests, including standard blood tests that are free when performed by your family doctor). According to the Canadian Association of Naturopathic Doctors, the standard rate is $125 to $180 per hour. The first and second appointments are the most expensive, as they’re long; follow-ups are cheaper because they’re shorter at 20 to 30 minutes. Keep in mind that your extended health care benefits may soak up some of your naturopathic bills.

So why should you spend money on an ND when MDs are free? That depends on your health care preferences. For example, if you prefer remedies with little or no side effects, or prevention is your top concern, or you like out-of-the-box and problem-solving approaches, then it might be smart to hire an ND.

Putting your health in qualified hands

Like your family doctor, NDs get extensive training. To earn their credentials, prospective naturopaths must attend an accredited school of naturopathic medicine. In their four years there (they must first have an undergraduate degree), they study sciences, such as anatomy, pharmacology and pathology, diagnostic medicines and the aforementioned natural modalities.

Plus, there’s 1,500 hours of clinical experience to do, reports the Canadian Association of Naturopathic Doctors. After second and fourth year, students have to pass licensing exams. Once certified, NDs must take continuing medical education courses throughout their careers.

Aileen Brabazon is a freelance writer based in Toronto who's work has appeared in glow, Hello! Canada, Viva, Oxygen, Rouge and on homemakers.com. Her favourite things to write about are nutrition, alternative health and green living, which isn't a surprise considering she's also a certified holistic nutritionist. Between writing, helping clients improve their diets and wellbeing and teaching children with autism, Aileen loves to cook organic foods, hike in nature, volunteer at Evergreen Brick Works farmers' market, unwind with yoga and meditation and dance to Stevie Wonder and Al Green. You can reach Aileen at brabazon.nutrition@gmail.com.