Emerging trends and treatments in naturopathic medicine: key messages from the keynote speakers at the 2011 Ontario Association of Naturopathic Doctors Convention

Last weekend I attended the Ontario Association of Naturopathic Doctors‘ Annual Convention titled “Emerging Trends and Treatments in Naturopathic Medicine.”  Every year this conference welcomes leading physicians as keynote speakers.  This year the speakers included Mark Hyman, MD, Alan Gaby, MD, Gurdev Parmar, ND, Lise Alschuler, ND and Kerry Bone, Assoc. Professor of herbal medicine.

This post is a summary of some of the key messages regarding emerging trends in naturopathic medicine that I took home from the convention.

Dr. Mark Hyman, MD

Dr. Hyman promotes the use of functional medicine and proposes that the current view of disease conventional medicine holds is in need of updating.  Conventional medicine is concerned with your pathology ie. what has gone wrong in the functioning of your tissues/organs, what tests are abnormal and what do your tissues/organs look like under the microscope or through imaging.  It classifies many diseases based on symptoms and observable pathology and the treatment goals are to reverse the pathology.  One negative aspect of this focus on pathology is that you cannot be treated until a pathology is detected.

Dr. Hyman suggests conventional practitioners shift their focus to a more naturopathic perspective of disease.  This includes the fact that disease is not static, it is a dynamic process which is ongoing and takes time to develop.  Therefore, health should be viewed as a continuum.  Many of my patients come to me in the ‘pre-disease’ part of the continuum.  They have seen their doctor, had bloodwork and imaging done and everything is declared to be ‘normal’.  However, they do not feel normal!  They are on their way to developing a disease, maybe a year from now or maybe ten years from now.  But why wait until you develop a disease when you can prevent it from developing in the first place?

Dr. Hyman stresses the need for the medical profession to shift its focus from pathology to physiological functioning.  This idea is summed up in the following quote from the Summer 2011 issue of Pulse magazine (a magazine published by the Ontario Association of Naturopathic Doctors):

“I suggest we put aside the artifact of medical history that is our current ICD (International Classification of Disease) model of illness and replace it with a new framework of interpretation of clinical information.  It is based on function rather than pathology, on networks of physiology rather than organ systems, on assessment of more subtle changes on the continuum of dysfunction rather than sharp lines marking the onset of ‘disease’.

Finally, this focus should shift from your genetics  to gene expression.  You are born with a set of genes that cannot be changed.  However, you can change whether the function of those genes are turned off or on based on your lifestyle choices.  This viewpoint that changes in your lifestyle and environment can alter gene expression is called ‘epigenetics’.

A naturopathic doctor’s view of health is in line with Dr. Hyman’s proposed shift of perspective and we are highly trained to provide lifestyle medicine which can prevent disease and promote optimal health through optimal physiological function.

Learn more about Dr. Mark Hyman on his website: http://drhyman.com/ Interesting fact: He is one of Dr. Oz’s medical advisors!

 Dr. Alan Gaby, MD

Dr. Gaby spoke about ‘Controversies in Nutrition’ and critically evaluated the nutrition research with regards to calcium and heart disease, appropriate vitamin D and iodine dosing, vitamin E and prostate cancer as well as vitamin A and osteoporosis.

One of the take home messages I learned was that the relationship between calcium supplementation and heart disease risk is unclear.  Lately there have been studies supporting the fact that taking calcium supplements can cause heart disease.  Dr. Gaby presents the argument that calcium and magnesium levels are known to influence each other in the body.  Supplementing with calcium alone will decrease the magnesium levels in the body and there is abundant research suggesting that a magnesium deficiency is correlated with an increased risk of heart disease.  Therefore, research which isolates specific nutrients excludes the relationships between nutrients and the conclusion that calcium supplements cause heart disease might not be completely accurate when the larger picture is taken into account.

Learn more about Dr. Gaby on his website: http://www.doctorgaby.com/ Interesting fact: He put 30 years of work into his nutritional medicine textbook!

  Dr. Gurdev Parmar, ND

Dr. Parmar is a naturopathic doctor with a special focus on treating cancer.  His presentation reviewed how naturopathic treatments for cancer can be safely and effectively incorporated into conventional treatments.  This gives patients more options and an integrative approach in treating their cancer.  Dr. Parmar also discussed emerging research that hyperthermia (increasing the body’s temperature) can change the cellular environment around cancer cells causing them to die.  This is an exciting option in cancer treatment and we may be seeing more of this in the future.

One of the key challenging for patients seeking cancer treatment is the conflicting views about taking antioxidant supplements during chemotherapy and radiation.  Antioxidants protect cells from damage, but will they negate the effects of chemotherapy and radiation which are meant to cause cell damage, specifically damage to the cancer cells?

Dr. Parmar presented a meta-analysis which evaluated the use of antioxidants with conventional cancer therapies and the conclusion was that antioxidants displayed no interfering effect with chemotherapy and radiation.  In fact, they augmented conventional treatments by enhancing the killing action of chemotherapy/radiation, decreased the side effects of chemotherapy/radiation and protected normal tissue from damage.  Patients who took antioxidants may even have increased survival rates.

Learn more about Dr. Parmar, ND and his Integrated Health Clinic: http://www.integratedhealthclinic.com/ Interesting fact: Dr. Parmar, ND assisted in creating the first integrative oncology hospital service in Canada at the Lions Gate Hospital chemotherapy clinic.

  Dr. Lise Alschuler, ND

Dr. Alschuler discussed cases of spontaneous remission of cancer and proposes that perhaps a shock to the immune system can kick it back into gear to effectively deal with the cancer.  This shock could be in the form of chemotherapy, radiation, naturopathic interventions, an acute stressful event or emotional shock as well as a spiritual shock (such as distance healing and prayer).

Dr. Alschuler presented a detailed review of the molecules at play in a health immune system response.  It is definitely too much detail to explain the entire immune system here in this blog post however I want to mention one key point.

Dr. Alschuler proposes that instead of the current approach of cancer treatment which targets specific receptors and immune molecules, the focus of treatment should be on shifting the environment the cancer cell lives in.  By modifying the cancer cell’s environment, its function can be altered.

This microperspective on cancer is similar to Dr. Hyman’s view of the larger disease model.  Targeting one specific molecule (or symptom)  is one way to approach cancer cells (and health) but alternatively we can change the function of cancer cells (the body’s physiology) by changing the environment the cancer cell is exposed to (modifying your lifestyle and environment to optimize the functioning of your body and promote good health).

Learn more about Dr. Alschuler, ND on her website: http://www.drlise.net/ Interesting fact: Dr. Alschuler was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008 and underwent conventional and naturopathic treatments.  Her own experience with cancer plays a large role in her work.  Today she is cancer free!

  Kerry Bone, Assoc. Professor of herbal medicine

Professor Bone presented a lecture which focused on supporting a healthy immune system, highlighting the prevalence of autoimmune disorders and cancer in society today.  He focused his presentation on herbs like echinacea, andrographis and astragalus which all have roles in optimizing immune function.

Professor Bone presented information on echinacea about common myths regarding its use.  A lot of this information can be generalized when choosing herbal supplements to therapeutically treat disease.  Choosing the correct supplement for you can be overwhelming, as there are many factors to be considered.  However, consulting your naturopathic doctor is always the best idea when considering supplementation.

One myth of echinacea is that it only works to boost your immune system once you already have a cold.  Professor Bone presents evidence that using it prophylactically can help prevent a cold.  When taking supplements it is important to take them at the appropriate time and for an appropriate length of time since some can take time before effects are experienced.

Another myth is that any part of the echinacea plant can be used and all species of echinacea work the same.  Professor Bone suggests that echinacea augustifolia combined with echinacea purpurea are the most effective types of echinacea and used together have additive effects compared to individual use.  Also, the roots of these plants have the most active ingredients.  When choosing an herbal supplement the part of the plant it is sourced from as well as the species used are of key importance.

Finally, the dosage and active ingredients must be correct for an herbal supplement to be effective.  You may purchase something with echinacea in it but if it is not delivering a high enough therapeutic dose it will not be effective.  Finally, herbs contain many phytochemicals and specific ones are associated with specific actions so knowing this is also important to ensure the supplement is of high quality and will be effective.

Overall, just because you try a herbal product and it does not work for you does not mean that those herbs are ineffective.  The timing and length of use, species of plant, parts of the plant, active ingredients and therapeutic dose must all be correct in order for it to work.

Learn more about Professor Bone: http://www.herbaleducation.com.au/about/KerryBone.html Interesting fact: Professor Bone has written books and leading articles about herbal medicine and came to us all the way from Australia! Thanks for travelling so far to share you knowledge!

Overall, my goal of this blog post was to share with you some new ways of thinking and approaching health from a naturopathic perspective.  Each of these presenters spoke for 90 minutes so all of their info cannot possibly be included here.  Feel free to learn more about them and what they do as well as share this knowledge with others.

As always, if you are considering new treatments for your health condition it is always advised that you speak to your primary healthcare provider before starting anything new.

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About drellensimonend
Dr. Simone strongly believes that the mind and body are connected to your overall health and wellness. As a primary health care provider, her practice provides ongoing support throughout your healing journey. Her role as your Naturopathic Doctor is to assist you in discovering your needs, support you in personal growth and help you reach your health and wellness goals. With the belief that happiness and balance is possible for everyone, Dr. Simone strives to help her patients live happy, healthy and fulfilling lives. Dr. Simone focuses on family wellness and has special interests in women and children’s health. She has experience with reproductive health, working with women through different phases in their lives; to regulate the menstrual cycle, ease PMS symptoms, optimize fertility, provide support during and after pregnancy, maintain breast health and welcome menopause. Children have also been a primary focus in Dr. Simone’s life in both her professional role as a naturopath and in her volunteer work. She believes that setting healthy habits at a young age can be critical for long-term health and wellness.

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