This post has taken me a while to write, mostly because it’s incredibly near and dear to my heart, but also because I think it’s a subject that people potentially have strong ideas and opinions about, because I know I do. If you’re just reading for the first time, or haven’t read the ‘about me’ session, I’ll let you know I’m a physician. A western medicine physician. I went to a Canadian medical school and trained in both Obstetrics and Gynecology and Family Medicine in Canadian residency training programs. What does that mean? It means I spent ten years learning the ins and outs of the human body; about anatomy and physiology,; pathophysiology and pharmacology; about health, wellness and disease; about epidemiology and evidence based medicine. I learned this in both the classroom and at the bedside and I firmly believe that practicing evidence based medicine provides our patients with the best possible care. At the same time I consider myself crunchy; I am both politically and socially liberal, health conscious, spiritual and environmentally aware and I don’t believe these things have to be mutually exclusive
As a physician of western medicine who firmly believes in evidence-based practice but also dabbles in essential oils, eats a predominantly whole foods, plant based diet and loves a good tincture and potion, I often find myself frustrated. Frustrated at the division between what people perceive as western medicine and all other forms of complementary medicine out there. Because I don’t believe there has to be a division. I believe many forms of alternative medicine and allied health professions, whether that be Chinese medicine, naturopathic medicine, registered massage therapy, physiotherapy etc., are just that COMPLEMENTARY and can be integrated into the overall management and support of an individuals health and wellness.
And so, I consider myself evidence based crunchy (a term I wish I could say I coined, but I heard it from a fellow colleague and thought, hey that’s how I practice medicine!). So what does this mean? It means that if the evidence shows that there is a non-pharmacological treatment or remedy for something a patient is presenting with, I’m game to try it, and to be honest, often times recommend them. Kiddo has a cough? Try some honey. [Just not under the age of 1 for the theoretical risk of botulism in unpasteurized honey]. Struggling with mild to moderate depression? The first thing I suggest are lifestyle changes including exercise, meditation, mindfulness practice and yoga. But want to try some herbal supplements or natural health products? Go for it. There is some evidence for St. John’s Wort, Omega 3’s and SAM-e’s. Want to try to bring your cholesterol down with diet changes? Damn straight! But you got a kid with fever? I will advise against using your essential oils to bring the fever down and suggest you go with something we know works like good old fashioned acetaminophen A pregnant woman with a UTI? You need more than cranberry juice, my friend. If some evidence in a peer-reviewed scientific journal comes out saying differently I’ll pay attention and adjust my practice, but until then I use what I know is safe and effective and is based on the evidence.
So why am I sharing this with you? I guess it’s because I want people to realize that a lot of us in medicine see the grey between the black and white; we see the desire that many patients have to pursue what they believe to be more natural remedies; we understand your desire to take control in your health and actually DO want to support you in that. But we want to do it in a safe, evidence based manner. I think what is often misunderstood is that natural doesn’t necessarily mean safe. Plants are powerful. Many of our most potent drugs in medicine come from plants. Digoxin, a cardiac medication that needs to be monitored very closely for it’s narrow therapeutic window, comes from Foxglove.
Many chemotherapeutic agents used to treat cancer come from plants. Tamoxifen, a drug that dramatically improved the treatment of breast cancer, is derived from the bark of the pacific Yew tree.
I can’t speak for other physicians, though I suspect that many feel the same way that I do; we DO want you to be engaged, to take control of your health, to get engaged, to educate yourself, to make diet and lifestyle changes, but we want you to do it safely. By all means, go see a naturopath, use essential oils but please talk to us about it. We’re here to listen and support you on this journey because some of are quite crunchy ourselves.