For as long as I can remember I suffered from sinus infections every six months like clockwork. Occasionally, in addition to sinusitis, I would also come down with bronchitis. In accordance with Western medical practices I would take antibiotics to rid my body of the infection. It became a routine that I adhered to for more than 20 years as an adult. But I eventually reached a point of desperation that I decided to visit a local naturopathic doctor and I have now not had a sinus infection, bronchitis or an antibiotic in more than three years.
For many of the years that I battled sinusitis I lived in the United States as one of 50 million Americans who didn’t have health insurance. Due to the expense of visiting a doctor to obtain a prescription and the cost of filling that prescription at a pharmacy, I would instead purchase black market antibiotics from corner stores in a Dominican neighbourhood of New York City. According to rumour, they were horse antibiotics smuggled in from the Dominican Republic. I didn’t care. They were cheap and they worked.
During many of the years I worked as an investigative journalist working regularly in Colombia covering the US war on drugs I would stock up on antibiotics while in that South American country. They could be purchased cheaply over the counter without a prescription and I suppose bringing them back to the United States in my luggage made me a drug smuggler of sorts.
Upon my arrival in Canada ten years ago I finally had medical coverage. And so I regularly visited my family doctor with sinusitis and occasionally bronchitis. I would spend five minutes with the doctor who would prescribe me a regular dosage of antibiotics. There was no discussion about the possible causes of my constant sinus infections or how to prevent them; treatment simply consisted of doling out medication.
A little more than three years ago when I again came down with sinusitis and received my regular antibiotic prescription from my family doctor I decided that there had to be a better way to address this problem. I was tired of spending three to four weeks out of every six months feeling like crap. My partner had just visited a naturopath for women’s issues that our family doctor had suggested she address by going on the pill at 43 years of age.
My partner was very impressed with Dr. Nicole Gaskell, one of two naturopathic doctors in Sydney, and convinced me that I had nothing to lose by visiting her. I was apprehensive to say the least. What the hell was naturopathic medicine? Was she some sort of Shaman? A witchdoctor? A quack? But I was so tired of my chronic sickness that I decided, “What the hell! I’ll give anything a shot at this point.” And so I scheduled a visit with Dr. Gaskell, who preferred to be called Nicole.
I was told that my first two visits would each be one and a half hours long with any subsequent visits lasting about 20 minutes. A dramatic contrast to the five minute visits with my family doctor in Western medicine’s assembly line health care system. Nicole asked me a wide array of questions about my lifestyle and history. She asked me about my sleeping habits, my stresses, my work, my pleasures, my worries, my sex life, and my family history of mental and physical health. In other words, she got to know me and how I lived. She then asked me to keep a record of everything I ate and drank over the next two weeks.
On my second one and a half hour visit, Nicole dissected my dietary habits and came to the conclusion that allergies were causing my sinus infections. She said that eating dairy aggravates allergies to the point that they can trigger sinus infections. Cutting dairy out of my diet would not eliminate the allergies but it would end the sinus infections and the need for antibiotics. And she was right! I quit eating dairy that day and more than three years later I have not had a single sinus infection (or bronchitis) and have not needed any antibiotics.
I had also told Nicole that virtually every type of food upset my stomach, particularly raw fruits and vegetables. She said that the dairy was irritating my stomach thereby making it difficult for me to properly digest many foods. Since then I have had few upset stomachs regardless of what I eat.
Upon reflection, what Nicole told me makes a lot of sense. We are what we eat. It’s logical that what we put into our body will impact how we feel. After all, food and drink provide the necessary nutrition required to make a body function smoothly. It should not come as a surprise that putting the wrong food in our body will mess up the system and cause a negative reaction. It’s like putting gasoline in an engine designed for diesel fuel, the engine will not run smoothly and eventually critical parts will begin to break down.
But Western medicine too often ignores such basic preventative approaches to health. Instead, it focuses on addressing symptoms through prescribing medication rather than determining the root causes of the problem. This is precisely what had occurred with my repeated sinus infections (and occasional bronchitis). The symptoms were addressed with antibiotics and never once did a medical doctor actually seek to determine the cause of the problem.
We live in a society that has been indoctrinated to believe that Western science can solve everything. Rather than adjusting our lifestyles accordingly to address health problems, we turn to the quick scientific fix. If we are overweight, we pop diet pills instead of changing our diet and exercise regimens. If we are fatigued, we down some kind of upper (i.e. caffeine, energy drinks, illegal drugs, etc.). If we can’t sleep, we take sleeping pills. All of these approaches address the symptoms, not the causes.
Too often, our rational Western approach to life doesn’t view anything as credible unless it is has been proven by Western science. But throughout human history there have been many things that science has not been able to explain—and there are countless mysteries that still remain. Nature provides us with many answers to our health problems and pharmaceutical companies are fully aware of this fact. This is why they scour the planet to learn about medicinal plants used by indigenous cultures in order to patent and profit from them.
As an article in Scientific American noted earlier this year:
In fact the ancients knew quite well where drugs came from. At a time when even the rudiments of science were barely known, our South American ancestors were cheerfully chewing on coca leaves to provide stimulation and energy and the Greek physician Hippocrates was prescribing a bitter powder made from willow bark that could ease fevers and aches. Similar narratives permeate the traditions of cultures around the world, with Chinese and Indian traditions playing an especially prominent role in the history of medicine. The Bolivians had no idea that coca leaves contained cocaine and Hippocrates had no idea that willow bark contains salicylic acid (from which aspirin is made), but they all knew that there was something in plant and animal extracts that could mitigate a variety of ills.
So while many indigenous cultures might not be aware of the scientific breakdown of their herbal medicines, they do know that they work. Naturopathic medicine not only realizes that they work, it has also utilized Western science to understand why and how they work—rather than simply seeking ways to profit from them as is too often the case in Western medicine. And yet, most of us have become so indoctrinated to believe only what Western science tells us that we have lost sight of the fact that everything originates in nature. As a result, we tend to look at naturopaths and other nature-based approaches to health as kooky when in fact they make perfect sense.
I have come to see naturopathy as the most logical approach to healthcare. It takes a holistic approach by recognizing that everything is interconnected. In other words, it recognizes that our diet, our stress, our lifestyle, our mental health, our work and many other things impact our physical well-being. And it makes sense that since nature provides all of the sustenance required for us to live healthy lives then achieving the right balance with nature would diminish the number of health problems we experience.
As Nicole told me on my first visit to her: “I focus on preventative healthcare. If I do my job then you will rarely ever have to come back and see me.” This stood in stark contrast to the approach of Western medicine, which ensured that I regularly had to return for my antibiotic fix, thereby making me a financial bonanza for doctors and pharmaceutical companies.
And so, without any invasive testing or pharmaceutical drugs, I have cured my sinusitis simply by changing my eating habits. Nicole had also recommended that I drink an herbal mix specifically concocted to address a wide array of allergies. I didn’t heed her advice on this issue following those first two visits. So while I didn’t have any more sinus infections I still endured the misery of allergies twice a year. But when I finally returned to her office two and a half years later to address my allergies, she again recommended the herbal mix and while I still experienced allergies this past fall, they were much milder than at any other time since I moved to Cape Breton.
I haven’t seen my family doctor since my first visit to Nicole more than three years ago. This doesn’t mean that I don’t value Western medicine, because I do. After all, if I break my leg or experience some other similar medical emergency then Western medicine often provides the best treatment. However, what it does not do well is provide preventative health care that can often be achieved more naturally through different lifestyle choices.
Sadly, our provincial health care system does not cover naturopathy despite the fact that naturopathic doctors are required to complete seven years of education in order to become certified. Covering naturopaths under provincial health care would help alleviate the shortage of doctors in Cape Breton, as would permitting midwives to practice in the province. But medical practitioners and pharmaceutical companies are opposed to such changes beause they would diminish the number of dollars that flow into their pockets from the cash cow that is Western medicine.
Author: Garry Leech is a lecturer in the Department of Political Science at Cape Breton University and a member of the J. B. McLachlan Media Collective.
For more information about naturopathy, visit the Nova Scotia Association of Naturopathic Doctors