Preventing Disease the Naturopathic Way
How can I be optimally healthy? Are there ways to improve my health now to lower my risk factors of disease?
The onset of health issues often start as simple problems or even “silent” underlying imbalances that continue to influence the body and go undetected or untreated, developing over months or even years and eventually culminating in more serious problems.
Disease announces itself well in advance with warning alarms for those who listen. Genetic prevalence, risk factors, nutritional deficiencies, hormonal imbalances—each can give clues that something is amiss.
Naturopathic doctors are trained to spot the signs of impending disease and help you turn things around before damage becomes more entrenched. We pay close attention to the conditions that invite disease and employ a variety of preventative tactics to make the human ecosystem optimal for health. Conventional medicine strives to catch disease early and natural medicine works to prevent it from taking root in the first place.
The lack of adequate prevention has caused the prevalence of chronic disease to explode over the past 50 years. Almost half of adults suffer from one or more chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes, arthritis, heath disease and obesity. Such conditions account for nearly half of the world’s diseases, says the World Health Organization.
If you’re worried about your likelihood of developing a disease—for example, if you have multiple risk factors or low-grade symptoms—there’s a lot you can do to prevent it from happening. Strong scientific evidence indicates that “a change in dietary habits and physical activity can powerfully influence” risk factors for disease, says the World Health Organization. Even minimal changes in unhealthy behaviors can prevent or delay chronic conditions, researchers have found.
Since naturopaths are trained to help patients make the right behavioral and lifestyle changes to discourage disease, we’ve become increasingly known as leaders in preventative care. Even insurance companies, recognizing the cost-effectiveness of naturopathic care, often cover visits to a naturopath as preventative medicine—in many cases without any deductible required.
Visiting a naturopathic clinic can start you on the road toward better health, giving you your best shot at preventing disease.
Levels of Disease Prevention
Practitioners of both conventional and natural medicine tout prevention as the easiest and most effective way to treat disease. But when different healthcare providers talk about prevention, they don’t always mean the same thing.
There are different levels of prevention, depending on what state the patient is in. Many chronic diseases begin as functional disorders, which are often still reversible. Naturopaths focus their efforts on catching these disorders before they cause permanent damage or irreversible tissue changes. Once disease sets in, it’s much more difficult to reverse—and takes longer to treat.
The three basic levels of disease prevention include:
Primary prevention: Naturopaths focus heavily on primary prevention measures, which seek to block diseases from ever occurring. “True primary prevention involves addressing a patient’s risk for disease and instituting a course of action designed to reduce controllable risk factors,” says the Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine. Naturopathic medicine excels at primary prevention, which typically includes lifestyle modifications such as:
- Eating more fiber
- Eating more plants
- Quitting smoking
- Ceasing alcohol abuse
- Getting counseling
Secondary prevention: When traditional healthcare providers talk about prevention, they’re often referring to secondary measures that focus on the early detection of disease. These interventions aim to catch disease in its infancy, when it’s easier to treat and has had only minimal opportunity to damage your body. Secondary prevention tools include screenings for:
- High cholesterol
- High blood pressure
- Hearing impairment
- Visual acuity
Tertiary prevention: Once disease has taken hold, tertiary prevention aims to minimize the amount of damage or disability it causes.
Each level of prevention serves an important purpose. Ideally, though, health care should focus on primary methods to block disease from ever taking root.
Why Naturopathy Excels at Prevention
Natural medicine is backed by thousands of years of successful disease prevention. More recently, clinical studies have repeatedly proven its effectiveness at thwarting some of the most common chronic diseases.
Patients who use alternative medicine are more likely to exercise regularly, make healthy dietary choices and avoid tobacco use—the three biggest risk factors for chronic disease. They also experience up to 43 percent fewer days of disability, spend 54 percent fewer days in the hospital, and pay 76 percent less for their health care.
“If naturopathic medicine, with its focus on promoting health and preventing disease, became the dominant medical model, not only would health care costs be dramatically reduced, but the health of Americans would improve dramatically,” says the Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine.
Naturopathy can help prevent as well as treat a wide variety of diseases, including:
Cancer: It takes many years—often decades—to develop cancer. Controllable factors such as inflammation, blood sugar abnormalities and hormonal imbalances contribute to creating an ecosystem where cancer can thrive. Mammograms, colonoscopies and other cancer screenings are important secondary prevention tools, but they only serve to identify cancer early. They don’t help us prevent it. A naturopath uses imaging, blood tests and other screenings to identify conditions hospitable to cancer, and then eliminate them through diet, lifestyle changes and nutritional supplements. Not only does naturopathic care help prevent cancer from forming, but it also increases patients’ use of secondary prevention tools such as cervical cancer screening and mammograms.
Cardiovascular disease: Cardiovascular disease is another chronic condition that develops over time. Although it’s heavily influenced by age and family history, the majority of its risk factors can be controlled: high blood pressure, cholesterol, obesity, tobacco use, lack of physical activity and diabetes. A naturopath is specially trained to treat these risk factors and prevent cardiovascular disease from arising. Studies have found that just one year of naturopathic care lowers patients’ 10-year risk of a cardiovascular event. “The only intervention known to be of lower cost is daily aspirin,” naturopathic doctor Setareh Tais writes in the Natural Medicine Journal.
Diabetes: Type 2 diabetes is a highly preventable disease that typically stems from obesity, poor diet and lack of exercise. By controlling these risk factors through lifestyle modifications such as diet and exercise, a naturopath can prevent or delay the onset of diabetes. In fact, lifestyle changes can reduce the incidence of diabetes by 58 percent and delay its onset by 11 years, compared to the 31 percent and three years achieved by common oral medications.
High blood pressure: Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease. It’s also been positively associated with insulin resistance; when present along with diabetes, the risk of cardiovascular disease doubles. Hypertension is also a chronic disease in its own right, weakening blood vessels throughout your body and damaging your brain and kidneys as well as your heart. Although it often presents no symptoms, it is preventable through exercise and healthful eating. Pharmaceutical treatments such as blood-thinning pills can help lower blood pressure, but they’re not as effective in the long term as addressing underlying factors such as stress, lack of exercise and a high-sodium diet, all of which a naturopath is trained to do.
How You Can Ward Off Disease
Maybe you’ve got genetic risk factors for disease or a worrisome family history. Maybe you’ve become aware you’re headed down a risky path, or have even started experiencing some low-grade symptoms.
In Oregon, most insurance companies recognize that naturopaths hold the highest standards for preventative care. Therefore, most plans allow people to see a naturopath before meeting their deductible as a way to work on their health in the early stages of imbalance.
Whatever your situation, more can be done to improve your health and prevent disease. Our Portland naturopaths can help you achieve optimal health and keep problems at bay so you can live your best life. Patients who use natural medicine not only enjoy better health, but they’re more satisfied with the results of naturopathic care than with conventional treatments such as drugs or surgery.
Getting established with a naturopath as your primary care physician is the most effective way to correct imbalances before they become diseases—and to live a full, vibrant and disease-free life.