A primer on naturopathic medicine

A jury in southern Alberta has found a couple guilty of failing to provide the necessities of life for their toddler son, who died of bacterial meningitis in 2012. Court heard the 19-month-old had been sick for about 2 1/2 weeks. His parents gave him natural remedies and smoothies at home and sought the advice of a naturopathic doctor. The naturopath testified that when she learned the boy might have meningitis, she advised the child be taken to hospital immediately, but the mother picked up some echinacea for the boy instead. He later stopped breathing and was rushed to hospital, where he died. Here are some questions and answers on naturopathic medicine:

What is naturopathy?

The Canadian Association of Naturopathic Doctors says naturopathic medicine aims to stimulate the body’s own healing power to fight underlying causes of disease. Treatment of people of all ages with various health issues can include diet and lifestyle advice, botanical medicine, hydrotherapy, homeopathy, traditional Chinese medicine and acupuncture. Costs vary and are not covered by health care.

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How are naturopathic doctors regulated?

They are licensed or regulated in five provinces — Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia — although they can practise elsewhere. The five provinces have colleges and associations that set standards and handle complaints. There are about 2,300 trained naturopathic doctors in all of Canada.

How does one become a naturopathic doctor?

There are two accredited schools in Canada that provide four-year programs for those who already have an undergraduate degree. Students must complete 1,200 hours of clinical training before passing board exams. They must carry malpractice insurance.

Do naturopaths refer patients to medical doctors?

The Canadian Association of Naturopathic Doctors says its members are required to identify when health issues are beyond their “scope of practice” and to refer patients to physicians or other health-care professionals.

Beverly Huang, president of the College of Naturopathic Doctors of Alberta and a naturopathic doctor in Calgary, says she tries to work with a patient’s family doctor or other specialists, such as a midwife or physiotherapist. She says her clinic will call an ambulance when needed — staff once called 911 when they recognized a client had suffered a stroke.


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