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With so many options for healthcare these days, it can be confusing deciding which type of practitioner is best for your specific health concerns. While both naturopathic doctors (NDs) and medical doctors (MDs) have education in biomedical and clinical sciences, and are clinically trained to diagnose medical conditions, where they differ is in their treatment approach and scope of practice. The treatment approach of ND’s is targeted at finding the root cause of what may be causing your symptoms, and focuses on treatment options that provide the least amount of harm, versus simply treating the symptoms.

In today’s article, I’m breaking down when it might be beneficial to consult with a naturopathic doctor (ND) or general physician (MD), based on your health needs.


In order to determine the root cause of your health concerns, naturopaths thoroughly assess each body system and lifestyle factors (such as stress, diet, digestion, mood, energy, sleeping habits, exercise, and social history) to uncover possible triggers related to your symptoms. Initial appointments with an ND typically range from one to two hours, and this is so they can perform any necessary physical exams and look at the full picture of your health history.

Naturopathic treatment emphasizes individualized treatment plans and preventative medicine which support overall health and prevent chronic disease. Treatment is targeted at using natural therapeutic modalities to encourage the body’s own healing, rather than using drugs to suppress symptoms. An ND’s approach also seeks to empower patients to take an active role in taking their health into their own hands.


  • Clinical nutrition: Detailed dietary assessments as well as nutritional and supplement recommendations based on food sensitivities/allergies, nutrient deficiencies, gastrointestinal and skin concerns, weight, energy, and general health.
  • Botanical medicine: This includes the recommendation of herbs in the form of teas, tinctures or supplements which target specific health concerns (for example, hormone-balancing, adaptogenic etc.)
  • Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM): ND’s are trained in TCM diagnosis based on a thorough intake of symptoms as well as assessing your tongue and pulse. Acupuncture protocols are often tailored to a patient’s needs based on specific TCM diagnosis and chief complaints (such as anxiety, digestion, fertility concerns etc.)
    • Some ND’s are also certified in facial rejuvenation and cosmetic acupuncture! This can help treat fine lines, sagging skin and stimulate collagen and elastin production.
  • Counselling: ND’s are trained in mental health and lifestyle counselling, which is usually incorporated into each visit.
  • Vitamin B12 shots
  • Intravenous (IV) therapy (if certified)
  • Gynecological exams and Pap smears
  • Physical medicine:
    • Cupping, massage and manual treatments (such as therapeutic laser and ultrasound) for musculoskeletal concerns
    • Spinal adjustments
  • Hydrotherapy: Hot and cold water treatments which can help stimulate immune function and circulation, reduce inflammation, and encourage detoxification and tissue healing.
  • Homeopathy

Areas of focus: Some ND’s like to focus on treating specific health concerns like fertility, digestion, women’s health, paediatrics, sports medicine, mental health, or hormones. They often also work in collaboration with other healthcare practitioners to make sure patients get the holistic support they need.


Some specialized tests that ND’s often order and interpret, can include:

  • Food sensitivity testing: IgG or IgA antibody presence to specific food allergens to help guide diet plans and protocols.
  • Hormone testing (such as the DUTCH test): To help uncover the root cause of specific symptoms.
  • Stool analysis: To test for bacteria, parasites or viruses, and issues with nutrient absorption.
  • ND’s often order extensive blood-work testing as well (for example, in the case of hormonal or thyroid concerns).


  • Natural health products (NHP’s): Supplements such as vitamin C, fish oil, probiotics etc.
  • Prescriptions for bioidentical hormones and desiccated thyroid (if certified).
  • Botanical and Chinese herbs, homeopathic remedies
  • Nutrition plans, lifestyle modifications, exercise protocols, self-care regimes


  • Pharmaceutical drugs requiring a prescription*
  • Administering of vaccines*
  • STD or STI testing
  • Oral contraceptive pill (OCP)/Birth control prescription*
  • Requisitions for some specific blood-work markers
  • Referrals to specialist physicians

*Currently, naturopathic regulations in B.C. allow ND’s to prescribe some antibiotics, OCP and give some immunizations.

In these instances, seeing an MD is indicated. Naturopathic regulations can differ based on province or state. It’s always best to check with an ND in your area about what treatment or testing they are able to provide if you are hoping for something in particular.

Many ND’s often offer free 15 – 20 minute consults. You can ask any questions you may have about your specific concerns and their treatment approach. These can be great to take advantage of to learn a bit more about what a naturopathic doctor may be able to do to help you!

In good health,


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