Heal yourself using integrated medicine
By Dr. Martin Gleixner, MSc, ND
As a New Brunswick citizen, president of the New Brunswick Association of Naturopathic Doctors (NBAND) and a Naturopathic Doctor practicing in Moncton, adopting innovations that improve our health care is a top priority.
The use of naturopathic medicine in conjunction with conventional medicine is an important first step in improving our present health care system. Adopting naturopathic medicine represents a new paradigm that promotes health and focuses on addressing the causes of disease.
To help summarize this new vision for our health care system, I have created flow charts that represent each form of medicine. In essence, if we include both flow charts together: “conventional health care” + “naturopathic health care” = an integrated health care system that benefits everyone. The debate is no longer whether it’s one or the other, but rather moving forward with the integration of both. In my May 2013 article, I provided examples on how Naturopathic Doctors (NDs) and Medical Doctors (MDs) are now working together. It is clear that NDs and MDs roles in patient care are complementary, and when used together, combining the strengths of each form of medicine can dramatically improve the outcome of a patient's health concern(s).
In a nut shell, I can quote my colleague Dr. Jason Hughes, ND: “If you get hit by a bus, go see your MD, if you wake up in the morning feeling like you got hit by a bus, go see your ND”. For completeness, I would add that each form of medicine usually complements the other in both scenarios as well!
Let’s review the top 5 reasons for combining both forms of medicine:
1) Focus on improving how the body functions; block biochemical reactions only when needed.
As shown in the diagram entitled “Conventional Health Care”, MDs dedicate their practice to treat the patient’s symptoms and disease using drug and surgical interventions. Most of today’s modern pharmaceutical medications are designed to control symptoms, usually by changing the biochemistry in the body. Examples include blood pressure medications for hypertension, statins for high cholesterol, painkillers for headaches or menstrual cramps, anti-inflammatories for pain or digestive problems, and sleeping pills for insomnia. Likewise, certain drugs are intended to cure disease such as antibiotics in cases of severe bacterial infections. These medications can provide relief, and depending on the condition can also save lives, playing an important role within the context of our present health care system.
In many situations however, this treatment approach does not address the underlying problem (i.e. the causes of one’s health condition). When symptoms are masked with medication, the disease processes still exist which can cause symptoms in other areas of the body to develop over time. I prefer to think of symptoms as warning signs that indicate imbalances in the body.
Let’s use Inflammatory Bowel Disease (ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease) as an example. These conditions are well known to include periods of flare-ups and remission. During periods of acute flare-up, inflammation of the intestinal lining can be out of control and drug therapy is often required (along with naturopathic treatments) to prevent further damage. Matching the severity of the disease with the strength of the treatment is paramount. In the case of a colitis or Crohn’s flare-up, we are less concerned with the short-term side-effects of the drugs (e.g. prednisone), because we are doing what we can to prevent what could lead to irreparable damage to the digestive system. The use of naturopathic treatments alongside these drugs, such as probiotics and herbal medicines, can work towards healing the digestive tract, lessen the severity and duration of the flare-up and decrease the dosage and duration of drug prescriptions. As symptoms lessen, this provides additional time to address the underlying cause of the disease include diagnosing and avoiding food sensitivities, addressing gut flora imbalances, replacing inflammatory foods with healing foods, etc…
The goal therefore is to manage the disease to prevent progression and heal the imbalanced system(s) to move towards a greater state of health.
2) Minimize drug side-effects.
A Naturopathic Doctor’s in-depth training in pharmacology includes recognizing when drug therapy is essential to halt the progression of serious health conditions and assessing drug interactions with other medications or herbs and supplements, enabling them to trace and treat any potential side-effects.
It is important for patients to seek out a combined approach when taking drug therapies that can have side-effects and/or serious long-term consequences. For example, mounting evidence suggests that bisphosphonates drugs (including Actonel, Fosamax, Didronel and Aclasta) used in the treatment of osteoporosis are associated with rare but risky side-effects such as deterioration of the jawbone or spontaneous femoral factures. Statin medications (e.g. Crestor, Lipitor, etc…) used to treat high cholesterol are associated with an increased risk of diabetes. Certain anti-inflammatory painkillers cause bleeding in the digestive system. Many anti-depressant medications can cause significant weight gain.
Patients who are motivated to make lifestyle changes and/or with a desire to reduce or eliminate their prescription medications can be supported with naturopathic treatments. This can be done by an ND working with a patient's MD to adjust drug doses accordingly as their condition improves. The use of specific vitamins or minerals in medicinal doses as well as individualized herbal or homeopathic combinations can address underlying functional or pathological imbalances. As a Naturopathic Doctor, I have successfully worked with patients to decrease their need for many types of medications, including those for osteoporosis, high cholesterol, digestive problems, depression/anxiety and many other conditions.
3) Doctors as detectives; aiming to not only diagnose disease but also to determine the cause(s).
Many patients appreciate my detective skills and some have even called me the naturopathic version of the MD on the T.V. show “House”. Through extensive detective work, many imbalances in the body can be revealed. By understanding how your body is working (or not working), individualized treatments can more specifically address the true cause of one’s medical condition. Disease and symptoms are often causes by one or more of the following:
- Chronic food allergies/intolerances
- Nutritional deficiencies, poor diet, excess alcohol, excess sugar (& simple carbs)
- Environmental allergens
- Toxins (molds, pesticides/herbicides, PCBs, heavy metals, xenoestrogens, Bisphenol-A, etc…)
- Stress, life events, mental/emotional issues (worry, anxiety, depression, loneliness, etc…)
- Genetic predispositions
- Smoking, recreational drug use
- Lack of sleep, shift work, postural problems
- Excess work (mental or physical), states of exhaustion (‘burnout’)
- Excess or lack of exercise
- Pharmaceutical medication side-effects
- Previous serious acute infections (eg pneumonia, gastroenteritis, bronchitis, etc…)
- Immune system dysregulation and autoimmune reactions
- Hormone imbalances (related to thyroid, adrenal, ovary/testicular, etc…)
- Blood sugar imbalances
- Neurotransmitter imbalances
- Decreased liver function or congestion, liver inflammation
- Poor digestive health (inflammation of the lining, presence of abnormal microbes, long-term constipation/ diarrhea, etc...)
4) Gain access to specialized diagnostics tests that help determine the cause of the disease.
As new scientific advances in diagnostic tests take place in North America, our present health care system is often slow to integrate such changes. As Naturopathic Doctors, we utilize a number of diagnostic tests to help fill any gaps in our ability to determine the cause of health conditions. For gastrointestinal conditions for example, we recognize the need to test for potential food sensitivities and conduct more specialized testing to assess for the presence of ‘bad’ bugs or the absence of ‘good’ bacteria in the digestive system. The value of such tests is becoming known in Moncton, as certain MDs are actively referring to NDs for these tests (note: such tests are available to everyone; via referrals or directly by making an appointment with a Naturopathic Doctor who can assess your health and decide on the most appropriate test).
The IgG food sensitivity test is paramount to address many health conditions by providing a more individualized approach to dietary recommendations. Skin conditions (such as eczema or psoriasis), digestive concerns, mood disorders (such as anxiety), chronic infections or fatigue of unknown cause are among those most often helped and can be corrected by avoiding foods that cause inflammation and immune system responses. The IgG food sensitivity blood test is offered at the Moncton Naturopathic Medical Clinic. Although, foods such as grains (especially gluten containing grains), dairy, eggs, corn, nuts and soy can are often key culprits, this test measures blood concentrations of IgG antibodies for a large number of foods; in fact it can test for 96 or 184 different foods (depending on the panel chosen).
5) Improving the quality of life.
In my medical practice, I have observed that many patients benefit from adopting both forms of medicine. Such an approach not only contributes to a longer lifespan, but also an improved quality of life.
For example, I have helped many type 2 diabetic patients come off their insulin and other medications by regulating their blood sugar levels. Prior to our first visit together, these patients are only controlling their disease. With time however, their diabetes slowly progresses and eventually they often suffer from the complications so commonly seen with this disease. Instead, with adequate naturopathic guidance, diabetic patients have vastly improved their health by making dietary and other lifestyle changes as well as adopted targeted naturopathic treatments.
Interested in learning more about naturopathic medicine? Check out more info from Moncton Naturopathic Medical Clinic’s website, the Canadian Association of Naturopathic Doctors (CAND) website, and the New Brunswick Association of Naturopathic Doctors (NBAND) website.
Published by Dr. Gleixner on Thursday September 12th, 2013 in Times & Transcript.
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