Today will mark the first of many Wellness Talks! Every month Naturopathic Doctor, Sarah Penney will answer questions about different and important wellness topics. Dr. Sarah Penney has been practicing naturopathic medicine for over five years and operates a successful practice. I asked her a few questions about naturopathy; here are her responses:
Why did you want to study Naturopathic Medicine?
‘When I was in university, I took an anthropology course about the different types of medicine all over the world and we had an ND come and speak to us in the class. The philosophy of naturopathic medicine regarding treatment of a person as a whole and finding the underlying cause of disease and what is going on really spoke to me. After that, I started volunteering at a naturopathic doctor’s office in my area and I loved the interactions they had with their patients.
The relationship that an ND has with patients is different from a family doctor because they have the time to spend to hear all your concerns and visits are often between 30 to 90 minutes long. If anyone reading this is thinking about starting a career in Naturopathic Medicine I would recommend contacting a practitioner in the area to talk to you about the career or ask about a volunteer opportunity. The opportunity to help people find the RIGHT and effective natural medicine to help them with their health concerns really appealed to me. The natural health industry has exploded in the last decade and it can be hard to find reliable information in the new age of social media and to know what is safe and effective.
Naturopathic medicine is a form of primary care in Ontario, which means that ND’s can help treat all the same concerns as a family doctor, but we do not focus on medications to help our patients feel better. The tools that naturopathic doctors use include nutritional therapies, acupuncture, herbal medicine, homeopathy and some are trained in IV therapy and use other physical tools like reiki. Every naturopath practices a little bit differently.
The common thread in naturopathic medicine is that we try and find the underlying concern for what is going on so that patients can have long-term resolution of symptoms. For example, if someone comes into my office with a headache, instead of recommending that they take Advil daily to combat this symptom I might look at factors like stress levels, muscle tension, nutritional deficiencies or triggers, levels or hydration and other factors to address the underlying cause. Depending on where you live, regulation and enforced education of Naturopaths can vary, and it is important to find a practitioner who has appropriate training. In Ontario, all naturopathic doctors have a four-year postgraduate degree and have passed regulatory exams in order to be able to practice.’
Why use natural therapies to encourage health?
‘One big difference between naturopathic medicine and conventional medicine is that we tend to promote prevention by recommending lifestyle changes that can decrease the risk of conditions developing. By employing these strategies at any stage in life, this can reduce the risk of some conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and other conditions. When dealing with a short term issue sometimes naturopathic medicine can help get to root cause of things like I discussed earlier which can decrease the overuse of medications that could lead to side effects. It may not be possible to resolve all health concerns with natural medicine, but treatments generally have fewer side effects and depending on the condition can help relieve symptoms. It is important to look at the quality of life when deciding whether a natural therapy or a medication. Sometimes medications can be useful in the short term, but there could be a better long-term option that treats the cause of the condition naturally.’
You mention that you specialize in women’s health. Can you talk about some common concerns that come up?
‘As a Naturopathic Doctor, I do see a lot of women health concerns in my office. I see concerns like fertility issues, stress of managing a family life, skin conditions like acne or digestive concerns. One common complaint is low energy levels in women of all ages. One thing I always talk to my patients about is nutrition. Many women tend to neglect their protein intake or are not eating enough calories throughout the day because they are not taking breaks at work or are prioritizing their family and care of the home over health and nutrition. I always recommend a breakfast that is high in protein like eggs or a vegan protein shake or something with nut butter to start off the day and help them continue this trend with snacks that are high in protein like nuts or salads with beans or Greek yoghurt if they tolerate dairy. Little changes to enhance nutritional intake can often help with energy levels.
For women who have issues with acne and skin health, identifying the underlying cause is the focus of our visits. Treatment for hormonal imbalances can include herbal therapies or even increased fibre to help with detox, I may also look at nutritional triggers in some people like dairy sensitivities or even sugar intake. Some women also need help managing their stress levels to get their skin under control. I find that identifying the underlying cause that is unique to each patient is key to helping with the resolution of acne and skin issues.’
We welcome you to share your thoughts about naturopathic medicine in the comments below. We would love to start a conversation with you!
Peace and Love,