Let’s start off with a big red warning flag: the information provided here is absolutely not a replacement for medical advice. Always consult your medical practitioner before beginning any new health regimen and never, ever stop taking medication without professional supervision.
That said, once you’ve got the green light from your doc, naturopathic medicine can be a life-changing route for patients with a slew of ailments who otherwise might feel hopeless.
From chronic conditions like back pain, fatigue and gastrointestinal issues, to weight that won’t go away and nutritional deficiencies, to women with fertility or reproductive issues, a naturopath can provide aid for all sorts of maladies by using an arsenal of natural therapies such as herbal supplements, food as medicine and acupuncture (or sometimes, a combination of all three), as an alternative route to healing.
Here, Dr. Kate McLaird, ND, a naturopathic doctor who practices in Toronto and Ajax, Ontario, explains nine common ailments and how she applies naturopathic medicine to help her patients live healthier and happier lives.
Popping a pill to reduce back pain seems like the easy and obvious choice. Ahhh, instant relief. But studies have shown that prolonged use of aspirin is linked to stomach ulcers and overuse of tylenol can lead to liver damage. McLaird suggests trying acupuncture with a combo of herbal natural remedies to reduce pain and inflammation, and not just short term.
Infertility is incredibly common in McLaird’s practice and can sometimes be tied to autoimmune issues, hormonal imbalances like PCOS, birth control syndrome, thyroid issues, and metabolic syndromes like insulin sensitivity. “We see a phenomenal increase in the ability to get pregnant when incorporating naturopathic medicine,” says McLaird. “So that involves a thorough assessment of the underlying of fertility issues, and not just immediately pumping ourselves with hormones.”
For women trying in vitro fertilization, acupuncture can be a tool pre and post fertilization. “Medical doctors know they get a higher rate of success when they have a naturopath or acupuncturist on board,” she adds.
Post birth control syndrome and polycystic ovarian syndrome
The birth control pill was an incredible tool when it was first introduced to the public —women could finally control the size of their family. But recent research revealed that nearly 60 per cent of women are taking the oral contraceptive to reduce symptoms (think acne), not to prevent pregnancy. “This is a huge red flag for me,” says McLaird. “We’re palliating symptoms instead of addressing the root cause.”
Instead of taking the birth control pill for off-label issues, a naturopath can “help your liver function and help conjugate your estrogen properly by using herbs, minerals and vitamins to achieve the basic natural state of health, which is a natural period which our bodies already know how to do.”
Depression & anxiety
A lot of patients come in on psychotropic drugs, McLaird says, and for some, that can be a critical component to managing a mental illness. But for others, they’re bodies just don’t jive with the chemicals.
One of the first things McLaird will look at is gut health and food. “We know diet can really change how people feel with depression and anxiety,” she says. “Gluten looks like a morphine peptide, and it can cross the blood brain barrier and attach to morphine micro receptors. What this means is that we can go through a withdrawal every time we’re not having gluten.” Those two slices of cinnamon raisin toast you just inhaled? Probably not helping your low mood.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
IBS can be debilitating — bloating, constipation, pain. Perhaps you’ve been suffering with it for years, only to have a colonoscopy come back completely clean. A clean bill of heath proving that there’s nothing more serious going on is a relief, sure, but long-term marching orders are disheartening; avoid fave foods, take a probiotic and suck it up.
“About 60 per cent of patients diagnosed with IBS actually have small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), and SIBO is something that is 100 per cent treatable,” says McLaird who uses a concoction of herbs, vitamins and minerals, depending on the patient.
Herbs, vitamins and food as medicine can often rebalance the body and provide relief. “If that’s not responding, I would try acupuncture,” says McLaird, though the time commitment of going twice a week can be tough for some.
The conventional medical system detects disease; blood work reveals whether you’re in the normal range for all sorts of illnesses and deficiencies. For thyroid, naturopathic medicine has a term called subclinical thyroid dysfunction, which is when a patient is on the cusp of the normal range — showing symptoms without an official diagnosis.
“We use treatments that are very nourishing to the thyroid to give it the building blocks that it needs to make adequate thyroid in whatever capacity it requires, using things like zinc, selenium, iron and herbs like ashwaganda and bacopa.”
Weight loss and or post-baby weight
Stubborn weight that just won’t disappear? There could be an underlying issue as to why that restrictive diet or hardcore exercise just isn’t working. “Doctors just don’t have time to talk about weight loss,” says McLaird. There are a handful of underlying reasons worth investigating, she says, including adrenal fatigue, cortisol, thyroid or hormones post pregnancy.
Chronic cold, flu or strep throat
Feel like you’re home sick from work every other week October through March? Likely, you’re in need of a cocktail of vitamins and minerals to boost the immune system. “Typically we’re run down and lacking zinc, vitamin A, vitamin D and probiotics,” says McLaird, who, during the winter months, helps many patients steer clear of the Flu Zone.
Some, all or none of these treatments may work for you. But it’s worth speaking to your doctor, then your naturopath if you want to explore further.