These days, everyone is trying to doctor themselves. We live, after all, in the age of Google, where medical information is abundant and so-called “health experts” run rampant. As someone who is part of a highly regulated profession of Naturopathic Doctors, this situation is rather alarming. Sometimes, this plethora of online information makes my job really challenging, as people try different remedies at random because some website suggested it.
I beg these patients to outsource their healthcare to someone whose entire career is based on choosing the most appropriate remedies for their care. Someone who does hours of research on evidence-based solutions and builds a personalized plan to bring you back to health, rather than ad-lib-ing their way through random supplements, can get you better results faster.
Among the many, many reasons why you should find a trusted practitioner to guide you through the process of healing, I thought I would really dig into a few.
- Diagnostics. Naturopathic Doctors are trained in medicine. Sometimes the paradigms are different, as in Traditional Chinese Medicine, and sometimes we use conventional western medical systems, but the physical assessment and medical history is a very important tool to selecting the right remedy. Is that abdominal pain IBS, or is it Crohn’s, Colitis, SIBO, or an ulcer? Instead of Googling “remedies for stomach pain”, we can help you get to the source of the problem through functional testing and use our medical knowledge to properly assess your symptoms. Without a guiding diagnosis or some idea of the mechanism behind the complaint, any efforts to get better would be nothing more than a random shotgun approach and would waste time, energy and resources, and may even make you worse.
- Risk. Speaking of making you worse, I always tell my patients “just because it’s natural, does not mean it’s safe”. Health Canada is pretty good at regulating natural health products, but there’s always such a thing as too much of a good thing. For example, Vitamin B6 can be very helpful in treating nerve pain and carpal tunnel syndrome, but did you know that at a high enough dose it can CA– USE nerve pain and damage? That information is not always on the label since dosing can vary widely. A licensed practitioner is trained in the risks and benefits in their area of expertise, carefully researches therapeutic dosages for each supplement, and can properly guide you through supplementation and monitor your progress while reducing risks (and virtually every treatment has risk, even if it is very minor).
- Therapeutic relationship. The science exists to support that people get better faster when they have a good relationship with their doctors; this is not an accident. Mind-body medicine is extremely powerful–take, for example, the scientifically validated strength of the Placebo Effect, or the myriad of research on the relationship between stress and chronic disease. Our society values independence, and it’s often very difficult to ask for help, but sometimes you just have to relinquish your death-grip on your life and enlist some help in your self-care. It’s okay to do that. Take this piece of advice from a reformed do-it-yourself-er. You do enough already balancing work and family and finances and everything else. Sometimes, you need to outsource your care.
- Objectivity and expertise. Even doctors see doctors, because you cannot look at your own health objectively. Also, medicine is a full-time, highly-skilled and trained profession for a reason. Would you want to see an amateur doctor? Well, no matter how smart you may be and how much you read on the web, you are, in fact, an amateur doctor. Please see a professional.
- It’s actually cheaper. Look, I know paying for health care is a tough pill to swallow (no pun intended!). As someone who was a professional student for almost a decade, I understand both the cost and value of many things. I’d also like to point out that enlisting a professional integrative medicine practitioner can save you money in the long-term by reducing lost wages, saving time, and preventing wasted money on haphazardly chosen supplements. Also, what price would you put on reducing pain, or being able to play with your children again, or feeling more like yourself? People who seek complimentary care know they can achieve really good health, reduce their reliance on pharmaceutical medications, and much much more. The value per visit is pretty high.
- It’s what you DO. Even total strangers will ask me the question “what can I take for _insert health condition here_?”. Taking supplements is only a small part of getting better. What makes a much bigger impact on your health are your daily habits–what you eat, how you move, how you feel. I tell my patients that supplements, which can either replete a deficiency implicated in a particular condition or exert their own independent pharmacological effects, can only take you so far if your lifestyle prohibits good health. This lifestyle counselling portion of my job I do not take lightly, and it’s highly personal and crucial to getting better.
If you have a frustrating medical condition, it can feel very tempting to take your health into your own hands. I get it; I was there, too. But it’s extremely helpful to have an experienced team member on your side helping you through the process. A good complimentary health care provider is a facilitator of good health–you are the captain of the ship, I often say to my patients, and I am the navigator. A good Naturopathic Doctor will provide you with the most appropriate options for you based on research and best practices, and it is your job to act on them. You are in control of your health, it’s just a matter of having the right person, not a computer, beside you along the way.