What exactly is a Naturopath?

Sandy Watts

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Have you ever wondered what a naturopath is exactly? And what it is that a naturopath does?

A naturopath aims to empower people to achieve optimal wellness and gain a sense of control over their health.  

A naturopath can add a different, or wider perspective, looking at health and wellness through a different lens.

Naturopathic medicine can complement and support conventional medical care, giving patients the best of both worlds. 

Naturopaths are happy to work alongside your GP, specialist, and other healthcare professionals, in a co-ordinated, integrative, holistic way that gives you, at the centre, control over your health.

A naturopath can help with a range of health concerns and conditions, including:

  • Digestive Disorders
  • Fatigue or Low Energy
  • Sleep Problems
  • Stress, Anxiety, Depression
  • Healthy Weight Management
  • Insulin Resistance and Diabetes
  • High Cholesterol
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Thyroid Disorders
  • Autoimmune Disorders
  • Proneness to Infection/Compromised Immunity
  • Viral Infections
  • Hormonal Imbalances
  • Skin Conditions
  • Allergies and Food Intolerances
  • Arthritis
  • Pain Management
  • Age-related Cognitive Decline such as Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia
  • Pre and Post Surgery Recovery and Support
  • Cancer Support

And, if you already consider yourself pretty healthy, a naturopath can help you to stay that way, creating a plan with you for healthy ageing, supporting optimal wellness and helping to prevent disease. You don’t have to wait until you’re sick, to see a naturopath!

An initial consultation with a naturopath usually takes around 90 minutes. A naturopath spends this time listening and building a full picture of your health concerns and goals. After this assessment a naturopath will create an individualised wellness plan which centres around nutritional and lifestyle recommendations as well as herbal medicine and nutritional supplements, depending on what’s appropriate for you, to optimise health and wellbeing, and restore balance. Even small changes can make a big difference.

Herbal medicine can take the form of highly individualised liquid herbal formulas or tonics, which combine a selection of liquid extracts specific to your needs, or tablets, capsules, or medicinal teas.

As clients begin to make lifestyle and nutritional change, a naturopath provides ongoing support as it’s needed, monitoring progress and adjusting individual programmes, working with you to achieve sustainable change and the best results possible.

Naturopathy is a system of healthcare which recognises the integrity of the whole person, understanding that a person’s health functions as a whole, unified, complex system in balance. If there is imbalance, or disturbance, this impacts overall health and wellbeing.

Wellness or wellbeing is a constantly shifting, readjusting continuum, the result of a finely tuned interplay between physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, and environmental factors.

How we feel on any given day can depend, for example, on how we’ve been sleeping, or whether the food we’ve been eating is giving us the nutrients and energy we need to function at our best. Are we feeling stressed or anxious for some reason? Are we experiencing pain or discomfort? Are we feeling positive? Are we feeling socially connected? Or are we perhaps feeling alone and isolated? 

A naturopath aims to restore optimal health by determining what is out of balance and disturbing health. Naturopaths look at the reasons or causes underlying ill health, rather than focusing on symptoms alone. If you see a naturopath you’ll be asked about lifestyle, stress, nutrition and other factors that may be contributing to a dysfunctional process within the body.

There is no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to health and wellbeing. We are all unique. Achieving optimal wellness requires a personalised approach. A naturopath works with you, to uncover what will work best for you as an individual.

A naturopath treats ‘the person’, not the ‘disease or condition’, recognising that each person manifests a unique combination of variations of signs and symptoms, rather than an isolated, textbook disease.

Naturopathy recognises and appreciates that there is an inherent healing power in nature, and in every human being. A naturopath works to restore the body’s homeostatic, self-healing process, supporting and facilitating the body’s natural ability to heal itself.

Why should I look for a registered naturopath?

In New Zealand there is currently no legislation around naturopathy, meaning that anyone can call themselves a naturopath.

Unlike chiropractors and physiotherapists, for example, naturopaths currently fall outside the Health Practitioners’ Competence Assurance Act (HPCA), 2003. The HPCA Act provides a framework for the regulation of health practitioners in order to protect the public where there is a risk of harm from professional practice. 

Although there is currently no official recognition for naturopaths within the New Zealand healthcare system, naturopathic practitioners are seeking statutory registration. In the meantime, naturopathy remains self-regulated.

Registered naturopaths belong to a reputable New Zealand affiliation such as Naturopaths and Medical Herbalists of New Zealand (NMHNZ). A registered naturopath is suitably qualified, continues to update their education, and meets and respects New Zealand naturopathic standards.

Qualified naturopaths, who are also qualified medical herbalists, undertake extensive education in a variety of health sciences including:

  • Anatomy and Physiology
  • Chemistry
  • Biochemistry
  • Pathophysiology
  • Pharmacology
  • Physical Health Assessment
  • Herbal Medicine
  • Nutrition

In New Zealand, the Bachelor of Naturopathic and Herbal Medicine degree course includes supervised clinical practice in the final year of study.

Naturopathy has a deep history of traditional philosophies, but also seeks to back up these philosophies with robust scientific evidence. Trained naturopaths are also guided by clinical experience, alongside this research-based evidence, when formulating treatment plans.

Herbal medicine is the oldest, and still the most widely used, system of medicine in the world today. Pharmaceutical research is increasingly appreciating plant constituents as an important resource for new medicines and an ever-growing body of evidence supports the clinical efficacy of herbal treatments. 

Naturopaths recognise that the full therapeutic effect of a plant is achieved, not from these individual constituents, but rather from complex synergies provided by the plant as a whole, as found in nature.

Natural medicines are not regulated in New Zealand. Just because a natural medicine product is available for sale does not necessarily mean it is safe or effective. Natural medicines may contain contaminants or may not contain the amounts of active ingredients listed on their labels. Drug/herb/food interactions are possible, which may affect drug efficacy and safety.

A registered naturopath is qualified to prescribe high quality, potent and effective naturopathic medicines in a safe and effective manner, taking into account possible interactions with your existing medications and any other supplements you may be taking.

In New Zealand, we face a burgeoning healthcare crisis, burdened by chronic disease and a reducing ability for the healthcare system to be able to cope with the ever-growing needs of the population. 

There is already strong and increasing interest in naturopathic medicine, and we know that, as naturopaths, we can play a worthwhile role in health creation and shaping better healthcare for New Zealanders. 

If you’ve never seen a naturopath before, or it’s been a while, perhaps now’s the perfect time to book an initial naturopathic consultation, and learn how to optimise and take control of your health.  

If you’d like to get started, book an appointment for a consultation.  I’d love to help! 

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