Many patients who seek out my care for their IBS, SIBO, GERD, or chronic constipation/diarrhea have never seen a naturopathic doctor before. Often, they find my office after failing multiple times to resolve symptoms on their own or with their medical doctor. When I previously worked as a naturopathic PCP, the percentage of patients coming to me for complex and untreated intestinal issues increased year after year. These patients were not getting the help they needed and they were lost in a cycle of trying different restrictive diets and buying expensive probiotics with little to no relief. These patients needed a thorough evaluation and treatment, and they were not receiving it elsewhere. What is it about naturopathic medicine that works so well for people with GI conditions? Here are the three top answers to that question.
We look for the underlying cause of your condition: Naturopathic doctors are trained to find and treat the underlying cause of any symptom. When treating chronic GI issues, if you only focus on treating (aka suppressing) symptoms, patients will be reliant on medications or supplements forever and their improvement will likely be quite limited. NDs spend a longer amount of time with patients than their MD counterparts (I spend 90 minutes on the first visit) so that we can fully understand our patients’ conditions and diagnose them appropriately. We also have access to testing that other doctors don’t such food intolerance testing and expanded stool testing.
We treat the whole person: Naturopathic doctors don’t believe the body is separated into different parts or organ systems or that these systems don’t affect each other. We know the body works as an integrative whole. Even though I specialize in gastrointestinal conditions, I am equally interested in ALL symptoms that my patients have. For example, undiagnosed hypothyroidism can be an underlying cause of diseases like SIBO and IBS. This is because low thyroid function can cause chronic constipation, which down the line can cause bacterial overgrowth and eventually intestinal inflammation/increased food intolerances. If I fail to identify and treat the hypothyroidism at the beginning of treatment, my whole protocol will be significantly less effective.
We use comprehensive protocols: When treating chronic GI issues, being comprehensive from the very beginning is the best way to guarantee success. Often patients need a combination of therapeutics as there is rarely just one imbalance contributing to the overall problem. For example: When treating SIBO, many patients require a combination of digestive enzyme support, antibacterial herbs or antibiotics, food intolerance removal, and herbs to support proper intestinal movement. Then down the line, we need to switch to a more anti-inflammatory protocol that also includes pre and probiotics to re-populate the intestine. If only one or two of these things are done or the protocol is done out of order, results are significantly worse.
Dr. Katie Nuckolls is a naturopathic physician and owner of Thrive GI: Natural Digestive Medicine in Vancouver, Washington. She currently sees patients that live in Washington, Oregon, and Arizona using telemedicine. For more information, visit our contact page or schedule a free 15-minute consultation online.