Medically Trained ~ Naturally Focused
By Dr. Anna Toporowska, B.HSc, ND, RYT 200
Pro Function Health Care Team
Each and every visit that focuses on your health is different, whether it’s because the illness has changed, the injury is something new, or you’re just at a different point in your recovery. In the end no two visits are really ever identical. Knowing this, I often like to start sessions by either asking patients about what brought them in that day or, given what’s happened in their life, what they’d like to focus on… and what people have to tell me is often fascinating!
Amongst all the answers I hear, I’m always surprised by how often I’m told by new patients (these being people who are accessing naturopathic medicine for the first time) that they came to a naturopath because they’re looking for an alternative and want “something new”.
It’s intriguing because they arrive looking for something “new”, but naturopathic medicine isn’t new. Actually, it’s quite the opposite. Naturopathic medicine has been practiced since the time of Hippocrates, meaning that it’s nearly 2400 years old. Technically, naturopathic medicine is one of the oldest forms of medicine in the world, but, for many North Americans its still medicine that’s not front and centre in discussions and it’s less common than conventional medicine, making it less understood and considered “new”. I’m hoping I can help with that!
What exactly is "Naturopathic" Medicine?
This actually isn’t a hard question to answer, but it helps if you can start to think of naturopathic medicine less as a “type” of medicine and more as a specific method of delivering medicine; one that’s proven to be very effective both on its own or in combination with conventional western medicine.
Naturopathic medicine focuses on therapies that support and stimulate healing using mainly tools and medical compounds that are naturally found in our environment. These tools can be physical (hands-on, needling, supplements, etc.) or they can be educational, social and emotional (learning new skills, behaviour modification, interaction training, lifestyle choices, etc.).
Another way to better understand naturopathic medicine is to know that it is centred around an approach that focuses squarely on finding root factors causing a disease, versus focusing on the symptoms of a disease. To do this, naturopathic medicine treats disease as a “process” versus an “entity”. We’ll dive more into the distinction between process and entity in just a little bit, but for now, it’s best simply to understand that in naturopathic medicine we medically focus on the factors that lead up to creating the illness.
Now I know what you’re thinking: “that’s a lot different from what I’ve heard about naturopathy!” When most people bring up the topic of naturopathic medicine they often refer to its use of organic supplements and its disuse of pharmaceutical medication, but the practice is so much more than supplements and pills.
Naturopathic medicine combines:
- Time-tested (traditional) and conventional techniques for assessment and treatment
- Modern imaging and clinical testing (eg. blood work)
- Modern scientific research support
- Natural organic supplements
- Communication strategies to better understand the patient, their experiences, their choices, their concerns, their goals AND their illness
- Education and active patient participation
- The belief that diseases and illnesses are a “process”, and not an “entity” – (more on this below).
Together, the approach of combining both current and traditional medicine allows naturopathic doctors to help their patients naturally stimulate and heighten the healing efficiency of the body while diagnosing and treating the root cause of a disease at the same time.
The variations in approach between naturopathic medicine and conventional western medicine leads some people to think that the two practices are at odds with one-another, but this idea is completely untrue. The truth is the two approaches to medicine complement each other beautifully.
Naturopathic Doctors Can Assess:
- All health concerns
- All ages
- All genders
- Acute to chronic conditions
- Physical to psychological conditions
Tradition + Innovation + Research
Disease: Process vs. Entity
Naturopathy is centred around an approach that looks at disease more as a “process” and less as an “entity”.
With naturopathic medicine, symptoms are viewed as warning signals that tell us the body is not functioning properly and provides hints about what’s causing the change in function. There are many reasons why warning signals will appear, such as inconsistent diet, suboptimal lifestyle habits, nutrient deficiencies, environmental factors, unfavourable emotional states and physical or psychological breakdown. But in the end naturopathic doctors view these warning signals as part of a process that has eventually led to someone seeking help. Once a patient understands that their disease is a “process” rather than an “entity”, they can begin to understand the circumstances that lead them to where they are. Maybe what’s most important is that once a patient understands and accepts the steps that led them to where they are, they can begin to take back control and have the power to make different choices that will curb the process and alter its course so that they can steer the “process” in a positive direction and eliminate the steps that led to the disease.
Viewing disease as a “process” rather than an “entity” isn’t a completely new concept, it’s simply not one that we see as often as we once did. The push for speed and efficiency in all areas of society has made it more and more difficult for many people to invest the time and attention needed to really listen to our patient’s journey. The foundation of naturopathic medicine hinges on understanding a patient’s journey because it’s through that lens how we learn about a patient’s history, their personality traits, their habits and tendencies, their lifestyle choices, their medications AND their symptoms. Taking this approach provides a rich and clear picture of the “processes” that have led to the current state of a disease. When the process is understood, management of a disease can be tackled at its root.
“With naturopathic medicine, symptoms are viewed as warning signals that tell us the body is not functioning properly and provides hints about what’s causing the change in function.“
Here’s another way to look at disease as a ‘process’ versus an “entity” , imagine this scenario…
You wake up one day and have a sudden desire to sail a boat! It’s a strong desire, and you want to sail a boat right away, but there are steps you have to take. So you rush to register for a license, succeed and pass exams, take short cuts to get through the training and preparation, hurry to set out to sea, feel the breeze in your hair and the sun on your face. You feel great! You check your map to adjust your course to home, realize you have no compass, and now you’re lost….
Disease as a Process:
In a “process” perspective we learn about ourselves (our desire that put us on the course), our nature (our rush to succeed), our habits (lack of organization, preparation and focus), leading to our error (no compass) and a poor outcome (being lost).
In this case, the root of our “disease” can be found in our nature and our habits, which lead to our poor situation.
Disease as an Entity:
In an “entity” perspective, the focus is on the outcome – we are lost. The solution, in this case, is to “not be lost”. That might mean someone reminds you to take a compass (and hopes you keep track of it), or someone sends out a boat to tow you home (have someone help you each time you go off course), or someone surgically implants a GPS to your boat (no compass is needed as long as the GPS keeps ticking).
In all these scenarios, the entity of being lost is the issue, and it becomes the focus for finding and providing a solution.
To be clear, this is a simplified example and not all health care approaches are simply “process” or “entity” focused; often there can be a blending of the two in some fashion. With naturopathic medicine, however, the focus is squarely on the process and on working with patients to help them learn about themselves, their circumstances and their choices to permanently, and positively, change a result for the better.
“Naturopathic doctors to help their patients naturally stimulate and heighten the healing efficiency of the body while diagnosing and treating the root cause of a disease at the same time.“
“Naturopathic Doctors to help their patients naturally stimulate and heighten the healing efficiency of the body while diagnosing and treating the root cause of a disease at the same time.“
Looking to know more? I'll be happy to answer any questions.
Naturopathic Medicine and Western Medicine approach disease differently. Does this mean they are opposites?
What it means is that the two practices compliment each other and even overlap in many important ways. For example:
- BOTH use anatomy and physiology as a basis for their clinical work
- BOTH utilize lab testing and imaging to assess and diagnose patients
- BOTH treat patients of all ages coming in with acute to chronic physical and psychological conditions
- BOTH use evidence based treatments to help their patients
- BOTH believe in the life saving capabilities of pharmaceuticals, surgeries and vaccines
- BOTH utilize diverse multidisciplinary teams to help support all facets of their patients care
- BOTH are recognized by the Regulated Health Professions Act (RHPA)
So there really are a number of similarities between the two approaches, but there are a few differences as well. For example, naturopathic medicine:
- Utilizes natural substances and therapies as treatment
- Has a strong focus on balancing underlying deficiencies and excesses, such as vitamins and minerals
- Generally aims to use therapies that can be gentler on the body
- Takes a holistic approach to your health; looks at how all systems are working together
Is Naturopathic Medicine Regulated?
Naturopathic doctors are licensed and regulated in the same way a family doctor, a surgeon, a physiotherapist, or any other regulated health professional is. In Ontario, naturopathic doctors are regulated by the College of Naturopaths of Ontario, which ensures they have the knowledge, skills, and judgment necessary to care for their patients safely and effectively.
“Whatever your health goals are, whether finding relief from a chronic condition, or simply improving your overall lifestyle and general health, there is a naturopathic doctor (ND) in your community who can help.”
Where does Naturopathic Medicine stand in the big picture of health care?
Naturopathic doctors use comprehensive assessments to look at the whole person in order to diagnose patients and help bring them closer to optimal health. Not only do naturopathic doctors address current symptoms, they also strive to prevent further illness and help patients live happy, energetic and satisfying lives.
There is an increased demand for natural approaches to health care, preventative medicine and integrative patient care. Naturopathic doctors work in hospitals, multidisciplinary clinics and specialized health centres across Canada to help meet that demand for choice. Many people still do not know what exactly naturopathic doctors can do for them and I hope information, such as what has been presented here, can help.
Types of patients who commonly seek Naturopathic Medicine include:
- Those looking for health promotion and disease prevention strategies.
- Those who have a range of symptoms that they have been unable to address on their own or with the help of other medical practitioners.
- Those who have been diagnosed with an illness and are looking for treatment options.
- Those who are looking to combine conventional and naturopathic treatments with the aim of minimizing side effects of drugs, surgery or conventional treatments.
Whatever your health goals are, whether finding relief from a chronic condition, or simply improving your overall lifestyle and general health, there is a Naturopathic Doctor (ND) in your community who can help.
Dr. Anna Toporowska
B.HSc, ND, RYT 200
Dr. Anna Toporowska, BHSc, ND is a board-certified Naturopathic Doctor who utilizes a whole-body approach to help patients find the root cause of disharmony and prevent further illness. Her main goal is always to meet the patient where they are at, without judgment or criticism, to create a plan together. This individualized plan is always focused on moving towards their best health. Dr. Anna strives to empower every patient with the information and knowledge they require to make the best decisions for their wellbeing.
Experienced Clinical Focus with:
- Hormonal Care
- Thyroid and Fertility Treatment
- Stress and Anxiety Support
- Sleep Disorders
- Digestive Health
- Mental Health Support
- Concussion Care / Post Concussion Treatment
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