‘Don’t See a Natural Therapist!’
Recently a Facebook post on a local community page was critical of natural therapists, saying you should not see one “instead of seeing a real doctor who uses the most modern, advanced and scientific practices.” This article is based on our reply.
THE ROLE OF NATURAL THERAPIES
I do not believe that conventional medicine always has all the answers. We receive a constant stream of clients coming to us who have been to their doctor or specialist, who haven’t been able to identify what their problem is, or are unable to provide a satisfactory solution for them. Many of these are chronic conditions such as digestive problems, immune problems (including allergies and food intolerances), period problems, fertility, long-term pain, constant fatigue, and a variety of significant chronic diseases, such as diabetes, etc. Natural therapies work by IMPROVING the body and how it is working, to allow the body to heal itself.
As a very basic example, if someone is constantly suffering from colds and flu, we would improve their immune system to help prevent that happening in the future. Since the immune functions are strongly connected to the digestive system, this may involve improving their digestive system also. Conventional medicine usually works on relieving the symptoms rather than improving the body, whereas we believe in treating the causes of the problem as well as the symptoms. Side-effects from natural therapies are very rare, and if you can solve a patient’s health problem naturally, without resorting to drugs or surgery, I think they will usually be better off.
So there is a place for both approaches, hence the term ‘Complimentary Medicine’ for natural therapies. Obviously there will be many cases where conventional medical treatment is important, and there will also be many cases where natural therapies work best. The ideal is for both camps to work together for the highest good of the patient. Hence we have patients referred to us by doctors, and we refer some of our patients to doctors as well.
There are a number of doctors who specialise in ‘Nutritional and Environmental Medicine’, which is virtually what naturopaths do. Please check out the website www.acnem.org/about/what-is-nem for some basic information about the approach of these doctors (and of naturopaths). There are also many doctors who only use acupuncture to treat their patients, or use it in conjunction with conventional medical treatment. I personally have two colleagues who are doctors but choose to practice natural therapies instead, and four other colleagues who practice both as GPs and as natural therapists. So the two approaches are not mutually exclusive.
NATURAL THERAPISTS AS HEALTH PROFESSIONALS
- These days naturopaths and acupuncturists complete a 4 year full-time degree. These are usually a Bachelor of Health Science through private accredited colleges or a university such as Charles Sturt University, Southern Cross University, University of New England, University Of Western Sydney, University of South Australia, and the La Trobe University. (Our naturopath actually has two Bachelor of Health Science degrees, one in Naturopathy and one in Western Herbal Medicine.)
- Acupuncturists are also registered with the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA), which is the government authority responsible for registration of doctors, pharmacists, dentists, podiatrists, etc.
- The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) allows properly qualified and registered natural therapists to prescribe ‘For practitioner dispensing only’ products, which are more powerful natural therapy supplements, not available over the counter.
- All ‘For practitioner dispensing only’ products are formulated from extensive scientific research on the effectiveness of their ingredients for the condition. (Details of this research is available from all ‘practitioner only’ suppliers.)
- Acupuncture treatments are covered under Workcover.
- It is important to use a natural therapist that is registered with a professional Association. That way you know they will be properly qualified, have to adhere to a professional Code of Conduct, registered with health funds, and required to undertake Continuing Professional Development studies.
As you can see, these days naturopaths and acupuncturists are starting to be recognised as genuine health professionals.
It is also worth noting the following.
- Health funds- the federal government performed a review of the evidence of effectiveness for all natural therapies, and in 2019 stopped health funds from covering any natural therapies except acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine, remedial massage, and myotherapy, as there was strong evidence for the effectiveness of these treatments. (However, an appeal has been lodged in relation to naturopathy, as the latest evidence was not used in this regard, and naturopathy is likely to be also added to the therapies health funds can cover.)
- GST exempt- medical services are exempt from GST, and acupuncture, naturopathy and herbal medicine are all specifically listed as exempt services in the GST Act.
As is the case with all primary care health professionals, it is important that natural therapists can determine when a patient needs to be referred to a medical doctor. This is an essential part of naturopathy and acupuncture courses, and is also a key part of providing the best possible care for your patient.
Every health professional will have their own methods of evaluating the body. For example, a dentist, physio or an optometrist will perform a different examination on a patient to a GP. Our approach to health problems is different to that of medical practitioners, since our aim is to improve the patient’s body so that it can correct the problem itself. To sort out a patient’s health, we first need to be able to evaluate how their body is functioning. Some of the things we may wish to check can be determined by blood tests, so we may request that a patient obtain one if we need to evaluate their iron levels, cholesterol, thyroid hormones, ESR, check their kidney function, etc.
However, there are many things that are important to us that a blood test or scan cannot determine, such as if the patient has low levels of stomach acid (a common cause of many digestive problems), the extent of man-made toxins in their liver, the extent that stress is affecting their nervous system, if they have a chronic sub-clinical sinus infection or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), etc. So naturopaths and acupuncturists have developed their own systems of evaluating the health of different aspects of the body, including whether a particular organ is overactive or underactive. Of course, if something showed up as a serious concern, we would refer that patient to a GP for the appropriate medical tests as well.
The Japanese palpation assessment can be used to quickly evaluate how well the digestion, liver, immune system, thyroid, adrenals, large intestine, lungs, and nervous system are functioning. It also indicates the level of toxins in the body, how good the patient’s internal circulation is, their level of stress and anxiety, structural alignment issues, hormonal imbalances, and blood sugar imbalances. It can also be used to confirm the improvements that are taking place in the patient’s body from their treatments.
The ancient Chinese actually knew a fair bit about the body and how it works. For example, they discovered that the heart pumped blood continuously around the body 2,000 years before it was discovered in the west.
The ancient Chinese had a great healthcare system. Everyone would be under the care of a local therapist (acupuncturist or herbalist), and you paid your therapist while you are well, and stopped paying them when you were not! This not only made healthcare more affordable, but also placed a heavy emphasis on the therapist preventing any diseases developing in their patients.
Unfortunately, Australia is currently heading towards a future health ‘crisis’, with an ageing population and government medical costs increasing rapidly. In the US, it is predicted that by 2025, chronic diseases will affect 49% of the population. People with chronic conditions already account for 81% of hospital admissions, 91% of all prescriptions filled, and 76% of all doctor visits. Australia is expected to follow the same path; people are living longer, but are more likely to suffer from disease and poor health in their later years. Because natural therapies focus on improving the body and increasing the patient’s health, they can play a huge role in the prevention or improvement of many illnesses. (I sometimes jokingly tell my clients that my job is to put the nursing homes out of business.)
Thanks for your interest in this topic Andy. Natural therapies are such a huge area that it is only possible to cover some very basics in a forum such as this. Some things are also far easier to demonstrate than to describe, so if you would like to find out more and experience what we do, it would be worthwhile booking in with us for a free Comprehensive Assessment.