As a naturopath, I whole-heartedly believe in the power and healing capacity of herbal medicine, diet and nutritional supplements. I have seen them work wonders in my patients (often in record time!) and have experienced their ‘magic’ multiple times on myself. One of my favourite herbal medicine stories is how I managed to get through dental surgery last year (a tooth extraction and bone graft – ouch!) without taking any antibiotics or painkillers (ok, that’s a slight fib…I did take one painkiller the night after the operation to help me sleep, but my surgeon had said I’d have to take pain killers for 2 weeks given the extent of the surgery – I did love proving him wrong just quietly!) What I did do though, was rely heavily on herbal medicine and nutritional supplements to get me through and while I had to take a lot of supplements to ensure I got a therapeutic and effective dose, I loved the fact that I wasn’t putting anything synthetic or chemical in my body.

I’ll never be completely ‘anti-medication’

Similarly, I’ve never been ‘anti-doctors’ and I never will be. Some of my patients get shocked when I tell them this. I’m not sure what they expect me to say, but I suspect it’s something along the lines of being an ‘alternative’ rather than something that is ‘complementary’, and believe me, there is a very big difference. To me, alternative makes us think that we have to choose ‘one or the other’, where as complementary allows us to use multiple things at the same time. This is also one of the reasons why I can’t stand the phrase ‘Complementary and Alternative Medicine’. It’s bantered around the health industry all the time as a way of distinguishing naturopathic medicine from orthodox medicine. The way I see it, shouldn’t all health care be considered complementary? Shouldn’t we be sourcing the best possible solutions for that individual, at that point in their life, to have them experience the highest possible quality of life and health? I’d much rather see us moving towards different terminology, but that’s a story for another day!

I’m a runner and sometimes, runners get injured.

Unfortunately, I’m also in the middle of training for a marathon (which is only 6 weeks away!) so the timing isn’t great. A few weeks ago, I felt something strange going on in my left knee. I know my body and I know how things are supposed to feel, so when I started warming up for a run a few weeks ago, I just knew something wasn’t right. I went straight to see my physio who diagnosed me with a (wait for it…) inflamed fat pad! There was so much swelling in my knee that he suggested the possibility of cortisone injections (something I am not willing to entertain at this point). I prescribed myself a combination of herbal medicines and nutritionals to help reduce the inflammation and while they were helping, the amount of inflammation that I was experiencing was just getting out of control. That’s the thing with inflammation – it can become like a vicious circle, where the chemicals produced by the inflammation, make the inflammation worse and create more tissue damage, which in turn creates more inflammation!

I was still determined to sort things out completely naturopathically and then after 2 weeks of hobbling around, not being able to run (or cycle) and almost being in tears every time I stood up from a sitting position, I decided that it was time to be truly complimentary. I went to see my doctor and decided to go with some prescription anti-inflammatories from a class of drugs called NSAIDs. This class of drugs also includes Voltaren, Nurofen and aspirin. Normally for a naturopath, we think of NSAIDs as ‘gut destroying, ulcer-contributing, kidney-straining’ medications and it’s true to a degree. The side-effect profile of these drugs is extensive which is why they should only be used in really special circumstances.

I’m less than thrilled about taking these medications, but for me, it all came down to a risk: benefit evaluation.

What were the risks of me taking these medications? (a cranky tummy and possible ulcers) What were the risks of not taking the medications? (The inflammation (and pain) getting out of control, not being able to exercise, losing fitness and not being able to run my marathon)

To some people, I’m sure this sounds like a poor excuse for taking the ‘drugs’, but for me, it’s actually really important that I’m able to get myself in the best possible position to run 42.2kms in 42 days time! I truly believe that when used appropriately (and this is the key!), medications and pharmaceuticals can have a dramatic impact on improving someone’s health and wellbeing. We do need to make sure that our body is in the best possible state to handle these drugs (I’ve also been taking supplements to protect my gut lining) and we also need to examine what else is going on in our life, diet and body to assess why the need for medication arose in the first place (I’ve been working with my physio to strengthen different muscle groups so I don’t have to go through this again!)

Generally, I don’t believe that people should be on medications forever…

However there are some instances or conditions where the risk: benefit evaluation warrants their use. That being said, I do believe that it’s important to look at the whole picture and putting things in place to support optimal bodily function. Drugs come with side effects – there is no way of escaping this as a reality, but what we need to do is take steps that reduce these side effected in instances where drugs are required.

Our body is amazing and it has an incredible capacity to heal itself. Sometimes though, it needs a bit of a helping hand and as long as you are sensible and work with skilled health professionals, there is nothing wrong with taking medications every now and again. Just be sure you don’t make it a habit and you don’t use it as a cop-out for leading a poor lifestyle or eating bad food!