Asking a Naturopath about Naturopathy

If you’re someone who is wondering what on earth a Naturopath does, how long a visit will take, if you’re going to be poked and prodded and how a naturopathic prescription will make you feel better, then keep on reading.

Topics to cover:

What is Naturopathy?

How do you become a Naturopath?

Why do people choose Naturopathy?

What happens in a Naturopathic Appointment?

How does a Naturopath Treat?

What is Naturopathy?

Naturopathy is the practice of naturopathic medicine. It is a complementary health modality chosen by many people around the world to manage their health alongside or as an alternative to conventional medicine. In a 2018 study, profiling the Australian population’s use of complementary medicine showed that almost 50% of 2,019 people surveyed were using nutritional supplements for managing health. In Australia, the use of complementary health care is well established due to its consistent and high use, together with its evident results and emphasis on care based around prevention and treatment; making naturopathy one of the most popular healthcare modalities in Australia.

Naturopaths use nutritional medicine, herbal medicine, energetic therapies as well as lifestyle advice and diet management.

In recent times, it is more common to see the integration of naturopathy within pharmacy settings and as a collaborative care with general practitioners and specialists.

The essence of naturopathy is to support the body’s natural pathways to encourage optimal function without the presence of disease. To do this, the use of traditional medicine, intertwined with clinical research, allows for a completely holistic approach to health and symptom management.

Health conditions rarely involve just one body system, we already know so much about the gut and its connection to the skin, its impact on autoimmune disease and its bidirectional communication with the brain. Also how the presence and poor management of stress influences reproduction, immunity, sleep, mood, metabolism, and diet. This is why all aspects of health are valuable to ensure the holistic care of the patient.

How did we get here?

To become a Naturopath, the most common pathway is via a Bachelor of Health Sciences degree, majoring in naturopathy. This gold-standard degree ensures a strong focus on human anatomy and pathophysiology, biomedical sciences, nutritional biomedicine, pharmacological and integrated pharmacological studies, alongside study units of food as medicine, flower essence therapy, diet planning, nutritional therapeutics, and Western herbal medicine.

The benefit of finding a practitioner with a Bachelor of Health Science means they are accredited and will most likely belong to a larger association as per their terms of clinical practice. This ensures they comply with a code of ethics and conduct their health practices to a professional standard and are covered with business and indemnity insurances, as well as being required to continue their learning and professional development every year.

Why do people choose naturopathy?

So why would someone choose to see a Naturopath?

- Conventional medicine just isn’t helping

- Managing side effects of medications

- Addressing underlying systems

- Preventative medicine

- Desiring natural alternatives

- Maintaining good health

It is a common occurrence in clinical practice that patients seek out a Naturopath due to long-standing and or chronic health conditions; after many years or lifelong struggles with either small niggling conditions or significant diseases. Conventional medicine may have not satisfied them and they are ready to try a different approach. This is common for conditions such as chronic fatigue, functional bowel conditions, hormonal imbalances, allergies, mood and more. By looking at the whole person and how the systems of the body interplay and influence one another, great results can be achieved.

Alternatively, people can also seek natural therapeutics to assist in managing the side effects of essential or current medications, most commonly but not limited to digestive complaints.

In the case of preventative medicine, many people make the decision to begin supporting their wellbeing before symptoms begin. With the knowledge of family history, this can be significantly important. Other cases are simply to support the natural ageing process, focusing on cardiovascular health, bone health, weight management, and cognitive function. Preventative care can also cover reasons for pre-conceptive care and child care, preventing the onset of allergies, gut dysfunction and poor immunity based on in-utero development, birth style, breastfeeding and early use of antibiotics.

Even without the presence of current or future conditions, many people enjoy to be on top of their health and educated about diet and lifestyle practices that can just make them feel better, improve their energy, manage weight, or learn more about specific diets. These patients choose to manage short-term events like cold and flu, period pain, injuries with natural products instead of conventional medicines.

What happens in a naturopathy appointment?

Your first visit is a thorough overview of your current health state, your past health history, and your health goals. Spending time (commonly ~1 hour) on your main priorities sets a primary focus for the appointment and future timeline whilst allowing your Naturopath to explore additional areas relevant to your current presentation. This allows a unique and tailored treatment plan to be formed suitable for the needs of the patient.

When it comes to physical exams your naturopath will have the skills to obtain vital signs like blood pressure, pulse rate, respiratory rate, and temperature when relevant. Additional tests assessing other systems may also be done with patient consent.

Naturopaths also have their own set of assessments not commonly used in conventional medicine. Looking into the iris may be used as an iridology assessment, checking nails, hair and skin can indicate nutritional deficiencies and the tongue can give clues to digestive function.

How does a Naturopath treat?

So now we get down to the goodies you get to take home or the homework you may have to do. A naturopathic prescription is tailored to the individual based on how they present on the day, how they got to the point they are at, how long they have been living with their concern as well addressing any current medications and safety concerns. Naturopaths have the ability to choose nutritional supplementation or herbal medicine in the forms of powders, tablets, capsules, herbal tinctures, creams, mouth sprays, or use food as medicine via adding or eliminating foods – and all with the consent of the patient to improve comfort and compliance. The prescription is commonly based around reaching optimal nutrient status to address chemical pathways in the body that are contributing to the overall health picture. Herbal remedies can enhance the body’s own resilience bringing with them many actions supporting immunity, stress, menstrual conditions, and mood. A patient’s lifestyle will also play a major role in healing so utilising mobile phone apps, mindfulness techniques, motivational checklists and more helps to ensure maintainable results.

Keep in mind all practitioners across different health modalities will have different approaches towards health care, consultation structure and treatment plans. It's important to find a practitioner that aligns with your values and who makes you feel involved and listened to.