Dr. Doni Wilson explains the difference between naturopathic medicine and conventional medicine, and shares her 3-step plan for restoring wellness – addressing the root cause.
Many of my patients tell me they have turned to naturopathy in desperation, after suffering from ongoing health issues – sometimes for many years – that have not been relieved with conventional medicine. Why does conventional medicine fail to help some patients?
I believe it has to do with the approach to medical problems. In conventional medicine, general practitioners are trained to examine symptoms, determine a diagnosis, and prescribe medication recommended for that diagnosis. Medical specialists focus on diagnoses for specific areas of the body, often without considering their relationship to the whole.
But symptoms, while they might trouble us, are NOT our underlying problem; symptoms are indications that something needs attention. Naming those symptoms with a diagnosis and taking medication to relieve them does not solve our health issue. The only way to resolve ongoing health issues is to look at the whole body – not isolated parts of it – and identify the underlying cause(s) of those symptoms, using scientific and clinical data.
This is precisely what practitioners of naturopathic medicine (and functional medicine, which was born from naturopathic medicine) are trained to do. Naturopathic doctors learn how all the organs and systems in our bodies are interconnected, and how to use that understanding to determine the root cause of a patient’s symptoms.
In other words, they focus less on naming the condition and more on identifying what the body needs to heal. Moreover, their aim is not just to help their patients heal from specific ailments, but to stay healthier overall.
Because it is so important to make the right choice when seeking a medical practitioner, I thought it would be valuable to write an article about what led me to develop my approach to healing. I’ll also share my proprietary system, which will give you an idea of how I guide patients to get – and stay – healthy.
Growing Up With a “Naturopathic State of Mind”
My father is a retired pharmacist. Now, you might think my father’s occupation would have led me to use a lot of prescription medication as a child, but the opposite is true. My dad always used to talk about how to keep healthy, so you won’t need medication.
Even at the dinner table, he’d tell us how to prevent specific health problems by taking certain nutritional supplements. And even though we had samples of just about every over-the-counter medication in our home, if we ever had a cold, we were given a hot or cold pack, and we waited out the fever while snuggled under a blanket on the couch. I only took antibiotics once in my childhood (and I have not taken them since).
Oh, and things like sugary cereals and soda were strictly off limits in our house!
Essentially, I was taught at an early age to embrace a “naturopathic state of mind,” although that is not what my parents called it.
Having been brought up in this kind of environment, as a young adult I became increasingly aware that what I ate made a difference in how I felt. This made me curious about how food could be used as medicine. Thus, when I went to college to study science, I added a second degree in nutrition. Later, instead of following my father’s footsteps by going to pharmacy school, I opted for a doctorate in naturopathic medicine, which I completed in 2000.
How My Own Health Experiences Evolved Into My Professional Approach
Despite my interest in holistic health, I was not immune to health issues as a young woman. At college, I developed acid reflux and severe allergies. Instead of taking a medication, I applied what I had learned in my nutrition classes and found that dietary changes helped solve my digestive issues and allergies.
When I was in naturopathic medical school, I experienced severe menstrual cramps and migraines. Being a naturopathic medical student, I had access to every natural treatment option you could find. I tried them all, including acupuncture and liver detoxification. But what I found made the biggest difference was eliminating gluten from my diet. This started my fascination with gluten sensitivity and leaky gut, and how they impact our overall health.
Around the same time, I also experienced unpleasant side effects from birth control pills, including weight gain and large bruises. I stopped taking them immediately, which stopped the side effects, but I was still curious about why I had experienced such symptoms, when other women I knew did not.
Years later, I discovered that I have “MTHFR” (or, more precisely, a mutation of the MTHFR gene), which made me more susceptible to these side effects, as well as to the menstrual cramps and migraines. The connection between my genetic profile and my tendency to developing certain health issues fascinated me. It became one of my lifelong passions, and a cornerstone of my personal approach as a health practitioner.
Some years later, after training to be a midwife, attending over 200 births (most of which involved being up all night), having my daughter (at a home birth) and going through a divorce, I became utterly depleted and had what many people would call “burnout.”
I had some tests done and learned that my adrenal function and neurotransmitter levels were all low. I read all the research, learned to use amino acid therapy in addition to herbal adrenal support, and finally recovered. This experience helped me understand first-hand how our bodies can recover from adrenal distress.
My Approach – Seeing STRESS as the Root Cause
All my personal health experiences helped make me more observant when patients came to me. Over the years, I have noticed that my patients often demonstrate the same patterns of symptoms (and their underlying causes) as I experienced in my own health.
When you are the patient, ongoing health symptoms can be overwhelming and seem impossible to fix. But if there is one thing I have learned from working in the field of naturopathic medicine, it’s that:
Our bodies CAN heal when they are given the support they need.
What do I mean by “the support they need”?
FIRST, we must identify and address the root cause. And through all my experience, I have found that root cause to be:
STRESS, in all its various forms.
I firmly believe that understanding and addressing stress is the only way to become truly – and permanently – well.
But examining “stress” through a wider lens – and seeing it as the root cause of ALL illness – does not normally fall within the philosophy and practice of conventional medicine. It’s not really at the foundation of naturopathy, either.
I developed this outlook as a result of my own health experiences, and from working with thousands of patients for almost 20 years. It’s why I wrote the book The Stress Remedy, and why I developed the Stress Remedy Program.
Additionally, experience has taught me that knowing your genetic profile can help you understand how and why certain kinds of stress affect you more than others. That’s why I often start my work with patients by encouraging them to do a genetic panel.
When we know your genetic tendencies, it helps us create the right treatment for your body. Your genetic profile, combined with your stress environment, can give us a more complete picture of your health:
Genetics + Stress = Your Health
I call this formula your “Stress Fingerprint” because it unique to you and you alone.
In my opinion, the main reasons why conventional medicine fails so many people are that this Stress Fingerprint is never identified, and the root cause – stress – is never addressed. In fact, medications that treat the symptoms frequently put the body under more stress.
I have used this “Stress Fingerprint” approach with thousands of patients for almost 20 years and have developed my “Stress Remedy” brand around it. In a nutshell, the Stress Remedy is a 3-step process that I have found to be the most efficient and effective means of giving your body what it needs to heal:
- Remove the Stressors
- Restore the Balance
- Build Resilience
This support model can be used to address any health issue. When followed with care and diligence, I have seen it work over and over – for myself and for my patients.
Let’s look at this 3-step process in greater detail.
STEP 1: Remove the Stressors
“Stress” is not just a feeling or mental state; it’s also a physical state. Your body becomes stressed when it cannot handle what is happening to it. Anything that puts your body in a state of stress is a “stressor.”
Psychological stress, injury, infection, toxins, and trauma – all these kinds of stress will affect four main systems in our bodies: Digestion, immune system, nervous system, and hormones. When these systems become imbalanced, the can lead to three main health issues that can trap us in an ongoing state of poor health: Adrenal distress, intestinal permeability (leaky gut), and imbalanced metabolism (blood sugar issues).
Every one of us is exposed to stress/stressors every day; it is impossible to eliminate them altogether. However, some stressors – such as toxins or allergens in our air, food or water, or infections in our body – can trigger inflammation and dysfunction in our bodies, making us feel unwell in some way.
Taking an over-the-counter medication for headaches or allergies, for example, cannot “fix” our problem. The only way to start the healing process is to eliminate (or at least minimize) our exposure to the stressors that are triggering our symptoms. Without first removing these stressors from our environment, we’ll just end up going in circles, experiencing the same problems over and over.
Of course, you won’t necessarily know WHAT to remove, simply by looking at your symptoms. The only way to know for sure is to get checked for food sensitivities, toxins, metals, and infections.
Whenever I start working with a new patient, the first thing I usually do is discuss which specialty panels are available to help us identify what is most likely triggering negative health symptoms. The next step is to create a plan for removing those triggers from their environment.
Sometimes, this can require significant changes in the patient’s diet and lifestyle. Also, if the exposure has been going on for a while, it may take some time for the effects of those changes to become noticeable.
If tests show the presence of infection (or overgrowth of yeast and/or bacteria), it is also essential to take steps to address the infection before anything else, as it can put stress on the immune system and the entire body.
Most conventional medical doctors will prescribe antibiotics to address bacterial infections, and while in some situations they are necessary, they can compromise the digestive system and become a “stress” if used over and over. For that reason, my goal is to teach patients how to use natural remedies (like herbs and nutrients) to get rid of infections whenever possible.
STEP 2: Restore the Balance
To perform as it is meant to, ALL your bodily systems – hormones, metabolism, digestion, nervous, adrenal, and immune system – need to be in balance. The reason stressors trigger ill health is that they create imbalances in these systems.
And because all these systems are interconnected, if one system gets out of balance, it can affect one or more of the others. If this imbalance is left unaddressed for a long time, it can create a snowball effect, resulting in a vicious cycle that continually creates greater imbalance.
If your body is caught in this vicious cycle of imbalance, eliminating the stressors from your environment probably won’t be enough to restore health. The only way to do that is to restore balance to the systems that have gone out of whack.
We cannot begin addressing these imbalances without first knowing which systems are out of balance. Again, there are specialty panels to help us identify these. These panels are not often recommended or used in a convention medical office, but they are essential for finding the underlying causes and what is needed to restore balance.
When I work with patients in this phase, my goal is to balance hormone levels, blood sugar, cortisol levels, gut bacteria, nutrients, neurotransmitters, and antioxidants.
Once we know which systems need attention, restoring balance is often a two-step process. First, we would restore calming support in the body. For example, we would aim to lower cortisol levels if they are too high, or increase calming neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and GABA, if they are too low. We would also take steps to calm blood sugar fluctuations and reduce any inflammation in the body.
Once the body has “calmed down,” we would start working on restoring natural stimulators like adrenaline and cortisol (if either is too low). These can help restore energy levels and mental focus.
It is essential to work on the calming support before introducing stimulating supplements, or you are likely to end up feeling worse. These ideas are explained more fully in my free eBook A Guide to Adrenal Recovery.*
STEP 3: Build Resilience
Once you have restored balance to your body’s systems, your next aim should be to help your body maintain that balance, no matter what stress/stressors it might face in the future. This is what we mean by “resilience.”
Resilience is the ability to go out into the world and bounce back when faced with things that may have made you sick in the past. It means your adrenal response is optimal, which, in turn, helps optimize your digestion, immune function, hormones, and neurotransmitters. When we are resilient, we get sick less often and recover more quickly. We become less susceptible to infection, allergens, and sensitivities.
In other words, the ultimate goal of my proprietary system is to help you STAY well, rather than make you feel “better” when your body is, essentially, unwell.
The Value of Knowing Our Genetic Health Tendencies
As mentioned earlier, our genes determine our health tendencies. Our unique genetic profiles explain why one person is more likely to develop allergies, while another is more prone to joint pain or autoimmunity.
But while genes make us more likely to develop certain health conditions, it is vital to remember that our genetic destiny is not set in stone. I mentioned earlier that I have an MTHFR gene mutation. This means the methylation process in my body is not as efficient as it would be if I didn’t have the mutation. It also makes me prone to many unpleasant health symptoms, including migraines and severe menstrual cramps.
Having the MTHFR mutation does NOT mean I have been given a life sentence of health problems. I have HEALED myself from the negative symptoms of MTHFR following my own 3-step protocol – remove the stress, restore the balance, and build resilience.
Yes, it’s true that my professional training has made me more aware of things like homocysteine levels, and the right amount of methyl-folate and other methylation nutrients I need to take.
It has also helped me understand why taking folate can make me feel worse if other stresses are creating “blocks” in my body, such as inflammation from gluten and leaky gut. But that’s just me; understanding the science of these things at an intellectual level is NOT essential to YOUR healing.
Get to know your genetic tendencies, so you can see where your body is most likely to need support. Then, using the wisdom of naturopathic and functional medicine, follow my three-step process to modify your stress exposure and support your body based on your unique genes. In this way, you will finally get to the root causes of your health issues and…
…change the course of your health story.
When you’ve been struggling with poor health for a long time, you can sometimes wonder if you’ll ever feel well again. I also know that, even when you’ve found a naturopathic doctor who can help you, the changes in diet and lifestyle you are being asked to make, and the learning curve of all the new information, can feel overwhelming.
I hope by breaking down the process of recovering with my three-part protocol – remove, restore, and resilience – I have helped make your journey back to wellness a little easier, and inspired you to get started. It doesn’t matter what age you are. When you start supporting your health, your body will respond rapidly, as if it has been waiting for you to make these changes.
To help you along that path, I’ve developed many one-on-one consultation packages to guide you through the three-part protocol. Two that might interest you are my Total Wellness package (where we look especially at adrenal function and food sensitivities) and my MTHFR package (where we review your genetic profile and integrate that information into your healing plan). You can read about all my consultation packages here.
If you prefer to work on your own, you might wish to start your wellness journey with one of my Stress Remedy Programs, which include nutrients and supplements for restoring balance, and as well as daily emails to guide you through your journey and an eBook filled with recipes.
If you know you have an MTHFR SNP (like me) and you’d like to take my one-hour online MTHFR and genetics class – it’s available here for you as a recording, so you can listen and learn anytime.
And if you’d like to participate in the MTHFR online workshop – 6 part series – that is coming up soon, you can register for it here.
And finally, I invite you to browse through my blog for hundreds of health articles, and to sign up for my Weekly Wellness Wisdom newsletter, in which I share quick tips and new articles every week. When you do, I’ll send you my 35-page eBook A Guide to Adrenal Recovery as my gift.
Until next time, I wish you well.
26th January 2018
*Please keep in mind that any and all supplements—nutrients, herbs, enzymes, or other—should be used with caution. My recommendation is that you seek the care of a naturopathic doctor (with a doctorate degree from a federally-accredited program) and that you have a primary care physician or practitioner whom you can contact to help you with individual dosing and protocols. If you ever experience negative symptoms after taking a product, stop taking it immediately and contact your doctor right away.