Myths & Misconceptions about Naturopathic Medicine.

Updated: May 27, 2020

How much do you know about naturopathic medicine?

Is it legit? What do naturopaths even do? Why would I need one? Can they cure me?

How do I even pronounce that? - na-tu-ro-path-y?


When I was first introduced to naturopathic medicine and began to consider it as a career, I actually asked my cousin if I was 'hippie' enough to be a naturopath (ND). I had the science and medicine background, loved nature, and always knew there was a better way to feel healthy. What I was unsure of was whether I would be expected to become vegan, wear flowy clothes and a headband, do yoga and meditate everyday, hug trees, and be the nicest-person-ever. I decided to go for it anyway, a skeptical believer.


I quickly realized that being a naturopath didn't mean I had to fit a stereotype (and also naturopathy is seriously awesome). I was able to merge my logical, evidence-based brain and my gnawing feeling that we need a deeper connection to our body, mind, and communities in order to be healthy and successful. It comes with answering a lot of questions, false assumptions and stigma, and addressing a general lack of awareness about what we do and how we do it. Well, here I am - tree-hugging, veggie-eating naturopathic doctor - and I'm happy to help clear up some common myths and misconceptions you might have heard.


[Let's be real - I was always a tree-hugger, but now I can do that and still kick butt as a legitimate and successful healthcare practitioner]


These are the myths & misconceptions we dive into:

  1. You must choose between naturopathic and conventional medicine.

  2. Naturopaths are not real doctors.

  3. Naturopathic doctors aren't evidence based.

  4. Naturopaths don't know anything about your prescription medications.

  5. Natural medicine is safe.

  6. Naturopaths are the same as acupuncturists, homeopaths, wellness coaches, nutritionists, Chinese medicine practitioners.

  7. Supplements aren't effective & are a waste of money.

  8. Naturopaths can't assess or diagnose your health concerns.

  9. Your naturopathic doctor will take away all your favourite things (coffee, sweets, & screens) - oh no!

  10. Naturopathic medicine only works when you've run out of options, & tried all the things.

  11. Your naturopath can cure serious illnesses.

Continue reading to bust and clarify these myths & misconceptions about naturopathy!


 

Myth #1:

You must choose between naturopathic and conventional medicine.


Busted: You CAN have the best of both worlds. There is a purpose and importance for both systems of medicine, and they often work together.


Conventional medicine saves lives. It provides necessary treatments for maintaining your health and the health of our communities. It's based on research and statistics to provide the treatment that's most likely to provide relief from your symptoms and illness. It keeps your engine running to get from A to B, and helps you live a little longer.


Naturopathic medicine will save your life. Because living is more than just having a heart beat - it's about living life with purpose, freedom, and happiness. Naturopathy helps optimize how your engine runs, quiets those funky noises, pumps up your tires, and might even give your paint a little sparkle.


Integrative naturopathic practitioners will work with you & the rest of your healthcare team to merge your options into a unified health plan. In some cases, you may need to choose between pharmaceuticals and specific natural treatments for safety reasons; but with so many options available, you will find a path that works for you. Let your ND do the tough work of researching and evaluating options to recommend a safe, effective, and balanced treatment approach, customized for you, so you can live life to its fullest.

 

Misconception #2:

Naturopaths are not real doctors.


Clarification: Naturopathic doctors (aka. naturopaths) are a regulated health profession in Ontario and several other provinces and states (but not all of them, yet), which means YES, they are "real" doctors. They also have much more than a weekend course for their education and training, it's more like 8+ years.


Naturopaths are regulated under the Regulated Health Professions Act (RHPA) with nurses, MDs, dentists, and other health practitioners. Licensed ND's in Ontario are governed by the College of Naturopaths of Ontario (CONO) and have a license number indicating their registration. If your "naturopath" is not licensed, they are not legally allowed to call themselves a naturopath or offer naturopathic services.


How do I know if my practitioner is licensed? CONO has a directory of all naturopaths in Ontario, which can be found here. You can easily search their name and if they don't appear, they aren't licensed. A big red flag is if their services aren't covered by extended health benefits - as only licensed practitioners are covered.


Why should I care if they are licensed? Would you go see an unlicensed medical doctor, dentist, or chiropractor? Probably not. Licensing and regulation exist to protect you, your family & the public from inappropriate assessment, diagnosis, and treatment. Unfortunately there are individuals who think it's ok to practice without a license - they have either not completed the required medical program, not passed licensing examinations, or have been considered unfit for practice. It is not acceptable to practice unlicensed - it is illegal, unsafe, and they are putting everyone (including you) at risk by doing so. You can find a licensed ND in your city or town here, and most offer virtual care if distance is a concern.


What education do naturopathic doctors have? All licensed ND's have completed both an undergraduate university degree AND a 4-year Doctor of Naturopathy degree (for a minimum of 8 years post-secondary education). Some have also completed masters degrees, residencies, or other certifications. To practice naturopathy they must also pass several rigorous licensing exams and maintain good standing with their regulatory body (CONO in ON).


Ask your ND about their educational journey and any special training they've completed!

 

Myth #3:

Naturopathic doctors aren't evidence-based.


Busted: While naturopaths often focus on mind-body-spiritual healing, it is false to assume that ND's don't use evidence. Evidence-based naturopaths use the same high-quality research as other practitioners to help you make informed decisions for your health. But they may also see beyond the limitations of clinical research trials, and should provide clear rationale and indications for any treatment they recommend.


How do we define 'evidence'? Are we talking 100% randomized & double-blinded clinical research trials (RCT's), empirical or anecdotal evidence, common sense, or anything logical along that spectrum? Research and evidence are far from perfect - there are flaws no matter what type you're using. The important part is being able to critically evaluate and apply the research and evidence available with logical, individualized care. And that, my friends, is where [most] naturopathic doctors thrive. Ask your ND how they use evidence in their practice to get a better idea of what this all means for your health.

 

Misconception #4:

Naturopaths don't know about prescription medications.


Clarification: All licensed naturopaths have received training in pharmacology through their naturopathic medical education. This means they are trained to understand how your medications work, and help provide awareness and accountability for your health choices.


Some naturopaths have also done additional training to achieve Prescribing Rights, with completion of a rigorous course and examination on pharmaceutical drugs. These ND's can prescribe certain forms of nutrients that are otherwise inaccessible, such as IV therapy and injections (depending on location of licensure).


Your ND should always check interactions to make sure your prescription medication and natural treatments are safe to take together, and will also be knowledgeable on efficacy, side effects and risks of both natural and pharmaceutical medicines.


Often, natural therapies can help mediate the side effects of pharmaceuticals OR they may work synergistically with them – so you can feel your best, body+mind as one.

 

Myth #5:

Natural medicines are safe.


Busted: The dose determines the poison. - Paracelsus.


Not all nutrients, botanicals, or other interventions are safe for everyone. Although the safety profile of many natural medicines are quite good, too much of anything is not a good thing. Additionally, each of us has unique physiology and health concerns that may need special safety attention. Some important considerations are pregnancy, hypertension, cancer, autoimmune diseases, depression, allergies, and more. Consult with your ND to find out what is the best, safest, and most effective option and dose for you!

 

Misconception #6:

Naturopaths are the same as acupuncturists, homeopaths, wellness coaches, nutritionists, Chinese medicine practitioners, etc.


Clarification: Although those other practitioners have great things to offer, they are all different.


Naturopaths have the widest scope of those listed, meaning your treatment plan may encompass a variety of recommendations specifically tailored to you. These may overlap with other practitioners, including lifestyle counselling, nutritional & dietary recommendations, botanicals, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), acupuncture, and more. Though other practitioners focus in a specific modality, the education and regulations around them are variable and generally less intense than an ND.


Naturopathic Doctors are primary care providers who can order bloodwork & other testing, thoroughly assess and diagnose your health concerns, and help you uncover the root cause of your illness. ND's have undergone an intense 4-year post-graduate degree to become a Doctor in Naturopathy from an accredited university, completed licensure, and most likely extra training in their areas of interest. Please do us a favour and don't call your ND an acupuncturist - we are so much more, and so proud of it!

 

Myth #7:

Supplements aren't effective & are a waste of money.


Partially Busted: "The health food store employee told me this would help" ... "An 'influencer' recommended it" - please just don't.


There are a tonne of natural health products heavily marketed and not backed by evidence, effective dosing, or clinical indication. And also a lot of people who think they know what's good for you, without even knowing you (or basic physiology). So yes, these would probably be a waste of time, money, and hope.


The conventional system has subconsciously trained us into thinking we need to 'take' something to make us feel better. The way I like to explain supplements to patients is this: our body is like a funnel, collecting all the 'things' our body needs to process (thoughts, emotions, food, chemicals, etc.) and breaks it down into smaller chunks to pass through and get rid of. If our body isn't processing these things into smaller bits, they get stuck, and everything backs up until the funnel overflows, producing symptoms. Your treatment should focus on preventing & minimizing the size of the 'things' - reducing stress, eating well, etc. etc. - but sometimes this isn't enough to get things flowing. That's where supplements often help - they help clear out the stuck bits in the funnel or give it a tap to wake up the system. (is this all making sense? I hope so). If your practitioner doesn't help you balance the size of the funnel and the things you're putting in it - you will have to keep taking the supplements (ie. keep on tapping) to feel well. Sometimes long-term supplementation is needed, but I urge you to question your practitioner about the alternatives.


Ultimately, supplements can be very effective tools to support your healing journey. They can promote cell or organ functioning, replete identified deficiencies, or support efficacy of an overall treatment plan. But supplements aren't, and should never be the primary treatment of a long-term plan. So, please consult your ND or other qualified healthcare practitioner before buying the fancy, highly marketed products you see & hear about.

 

Misconception #8:

Naturopaths can't assess or diagnose your health concerns.


Clarification: Licensed naturopaths are primary care providers trained and qualified to investigate, test, assess, diagnose, and treat most conditions. We can order and use many of the same laboratory tests that medical doctors do, and often incorporate other functional testing where appropriate. We do thorough physical examinations, including gynecological exams when indicated. And to top it all off - naturopaths spend the time needed to listen to your story, understand your health concerns and get to know you, beyond your diagnosis.

 

Myth #9:

Your naturopathic doctor will take away all your favourite things (coffee, sweets, & tv) - oh no!


Partially Busted: Your practitioner should always meet you where you are, teach you why your body needs these changes, and support you through them. The truth is, these things may be doing more damage than good. BUT if you're not ready - no problem - be open and honest with your practitioner and they should help you troubleshoot your readiness and come up with a plan that is achievable. Don't let your current habits, addictions, or obstacles prevent you from seeking out naturopathic care. We don't expect you to be vegan, zero-waste, tree-huggers (yet?), but we do expect a commitment to making changes that support your health journey.

 

Misconception #10:

Naturopathic medicine only works when you've run out of options, & tried all the things.

Clarification: Better late than never. But seriously, come sooner. Although naturopaths are still happy to see you after trying all other options, the truth is that the earlier you establish a health plan with an ND, the better off you'll be in the long run.


ND's thrive where other healthcare practitioners struggle, such as complex chronic illness, pain, fatigue, skin health, digestion, and more. By diving deep into your health history, your family health, and your current symptoms, naturopaths help you discover the root cause and provide treatments to target the source, instead of the symptoms. Assuming you're not in an emergent or severe condition, it may actually be beneficial to see your ND before going to your MD or starting some prescriptions. By putting tape over the engine light with that medication, you are potentially limiting your ND's ability to thoroughly assess and provide the best care that we can. There may be safer, more effective, or simply better options available than the one's you tried in the first place, even for common concerns.


Naturopaths are also masters of prevention. Like I mentioned before - that root cause thing - yeah, that. We want to help you reduce or prevent that thing in the first place. ND's take the time to go through all the risks and resources to help you make informed choices for you & your family - from preconception to childhood, through puberty & PMS, to menopause and healthy aging. Many ND's offer free introductory calls to chat about how they might be able to help you, and make sure they are a good fit for your needs. Take advantage of this opportunity to explore your options!

 

Myth #11:

Your naturopath can cure serious illnesses.


Busted: Naturopaths can not 'cure' serious diseases.


Cure = the complete elimination of a disease state without dependence on medication or other treatment to maintain the elimination of symptoms. Cures are hard to come by, and most chronic or serious conditions will require a lifetime of monitoring and/or management. The list of incurable diseases is quite long, but that doesn't mean we can't help manage them and improve your health with effective treatments. It's a complex distinction, and you may be better off to discuss your specific situation with your healthcare team.


Ultimately, ND's can support the quality of your health & life by mitigating symptoms or side effects, reducing aggravations, and helping to maintain remission. In addition, by uncovering and treating the root causes of your concerns, we can teach you become more aware, resilient and confident in the health of your body and mind.

 

So what DO naturopaths do? Well, thats a whole other blog post I have yet to write. But essentially NDs prioritize individualized care and recommendations based on you - your symptoms, your health goals and your health history. By optimizing functioning of you as a whole, from a systems perspective - sleep, diet & digestion, skin, hormones, brain, immune, metabolic, and mental-emotional health - ND's can treat and improve a diversity of conditions alongside the rest of your healthcare team.


As always, please consult a licensed naturopath about your specific health concerns. Make sure to ask them about the above myths & misconceptions to make sure you're working with the right practitioner for you!


In health & happiness,

Dr.Nicole, ND


If you are interested in learning more about how I can help you, book your free15-minute discovery call here.