Many people come to see a naturopathic doctor only after they have already been to see everyone else, having run around the ring of the conventional medical establishment, all to have them conclude, “there’s nothing wrong with you.” Sometimes a patient might have heard, “it’s all in your head,” but they basically mean the same thing: “there’s nothing we can do for you. Now please leave us alone.” For the patient it might be a nice to hear that nothing serious is the the matter with them when the blood tests and other diagnostic testing come back negative, however, the symptoms that caused them to seek help in the first place still persist, leaving them feeling hopeless and confused.
After traveling to Costa Rica I experienced rapid weight gain, which I could not attribute to a change in diet or a sedentary lifestyle; I still watched what I ate and exercised. The feeling that I was gaining weight despite what I did made me feel helpless, like my body was acting of its own accord. It damaged the trust I had in my body, hindering the relationship I have with it, and the feelings of getting larger in a society that praises thinness made me feel self-conscious and ashamed.
I sought help from specialists and general practitioners. I had blood tests done, all of which came back negative. Along with the weight gain, I was experiencing debilitating fatigue. I Googled my symptoms and diagnosed myself with a plethora of ailments, but none of the diagnostic test results supported these diagnoses. I was told that there was nothing wrong with me.
And yet, there was. Despite what the tests said, I still felt the same fatigue and I was still not losing weight. I felt lost and confused. I awaited the results of each test with a combination or worry and hopefulness; if the tests came back positive, at least I’d know what I had and then I could do something about it. I was told by one doctor to go to a psychiatrist or to reduce my calorie intake to even less than what it was (which happened to be a dangerously low, unsustainable number). Feeling dismissed, I was never provided an ear to explain my story, my symptoms or feelings and I left the visit feeling blamed for my symptoms and like a failure when it came to managing my own health.
Dr Brian Kaplan, author of The Homeopathic Conversation, has this to say about the subject:
I am a little amused when doctors tell patients there is nothing wrong with them. Why would a sane or even an insane person consult a doctor if there is “nothing wrong with them?” What doctors mean when they say this is: “We cannot detect any abnormality in this patient with the clinical skills and investigations at our disposal at this juncture in the history of conventional medicine.”
When it comes to conventional medicine, many conditions that patients present with, fatigue being a classic example, can defy medical testing. When the medical reasons for fatigue have been ruled out, the patient is left with no answers and yet still feels tired. This phenomenon, which has become more prevalent in our society is due to a variety of reasons:
1) We don’t know everything there is to know about the body. Despite the leaps and bounds made in medical research we still don’t understand everything that goes on in this miraculous body of ours. Doctors have at their disposal a variety of diagnostic possibilities to explain an ailment like fatigue or weight gain and a list of tests that can detect these abnormalities. However, when that list has been exhausted and all the tests have come back negative, it doesn’t mean that nothing is wrong, just that we don’t know what’s wrong. Because of this limitation, naturopathic doctors recognize other “diagnoses” such as sub-clinical hypothyroidism, adrenal fatigue and chronic fatigue syndrome that are as of yet not widely recognized by the conventional medical establishment.
2) The risks of conventional therapies may outweigh the potential benefits. The main treatments that can be offered by the medical establishment are drugs and surgery, which are often invasive and have negative side effects. It is therefore important for medical doctors to only prescribe medications when their patients fall within the zone of being “sick.” To do anything else would be irresponsible. Because naturopathic remedies are safe and gentle, we can intervene much earlier, when symptoms first start to appear, or even (preferably) before that, preventing the onset of full disease, the need for medication and also, most importantly, offering solutions for patients who are suffering.
3) Lab tests in the “normal” range may not be normal for your body. Oftentimes a lab test comes back within the “normal” range and naturopathic doctors treat the patient anyways. For example, vitamin B12 in conventional medicine is thought to be normal when it falls between 198 – 615 pmol/L, however many naturopathic doctors report that their patients feel their best when their B12 is over 600. Therefore vitamin B12 injections or oral supplementation may be prescribed to patients whose B12 is “normal” and who, therefore, have “nothing wrong with them” but still exhibit symptoms of deficiency. Medical reference ranges are based on levels at which the average person in the population experiences symptoms of disease. Not everyone is average, however. One person’s lab tests might be “normal” according to the majority of the population but, for them this level may be higher or lower than their optimal “normal” and therefore they experience symptoms.
In my story, I finally sought help from a naturopathic doctor who, not only validated my symptoms, but introduced me to a whole world of things that could be negatively affecting my health, excessive dairy intake among them. My health was tackled from a variety of different angles: emotionally, psychologically, energetically and environmentally as well as just physically. The visits allowed me to set out on a road to better health and balance, giving me the energy to make healthier lifestyle changes and the strength to make choices that supported my happiness and well-being. Most of all, however, I was given hope.
This philosophy is one of the reasons I am so drawn to naturopathic medicine. Not only are patients listened to and symptoms given validation, we look at the body differently. Naturopathic doctors look for the root cause of disease by making the effort to understand their patients. We also believe in supporting the whole person, in an individualized manner, through our therapies and lifestyle interventions; we believe that no two people and no two conditions are the same.
For me, I couldn’t imagine practicing any other kind of medicine. I still see my medical doctor frequently and use pharmaceutical and other conventional treatments when they are indicated, but I see the body differently now. I attempt to look beyond the symptoms – my own and those of my patients – questioning what imbalance might be causing them: is my headache really caused by a lack of Advil, for example? But I also try to remember that if there is but one aim of a professional entrusted with the care of another’s health it is this: to always instill patients with hope. To do anything less would be to fail our higher calling.