Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving

Naturopaths are jumping onboard #NutritionMonth and this boat ain’t big enough for all of us

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As you probably know, March is Nutrition Month. Traditionally this is the month in which dietitians come out in full force on social media, and in news articles, with nutrition tips, recipes, etc. This year I noticed a change. Yes, dietitians are still out there telling everyone to eat more vegetables, promoting the profession, and encouraging people to “unlock the potential of food”. Interspersed throughout those posts and articles though are ones from a new voice, naturopaths.

On March 15th the Institute for Natural Medicine put out a news release titled “Naturopathic Doctors Complete 155 Hours of Nutrition Education in Medical School: March is Nutrition Month“. In the linked FAQ: “What advanced nutrition education do naturopathic doctors receive?” the INM states that, “Naturopathic doctors provide individualized nutrition assessment and guidance utilizing evidence based nutritional recommendations” (emphasis mine). On addition, one of the “areas of concentration” is “collaboration with Registered Dietitians, as needed”. While part of me is glad to see Nutrition Month catching on, rather than being an echo chamber of RDs, another part of me is frustrated to see it being co-opted by a pseudoscientific profession.

The use of the term “evidence based” concerns me. What evidence might that be? Those of us working in dietetics and medicine often talk about the need for treatments, interventions, and programs to be evidence-based. However, these interventions are only as good as the evidence on which they’re based. Ideally, you want high level evidence like guidelines and and summaries which draw on a larger body of research demonstrating consistent results (check out the 6S Pyramid from the National Collaborating Centre for Methods and Tools for more details). At the bottom of the pyramid, are single studies. The single studies aren’t necessarily poor (they’re the foundation for the higher levels of the pyramid) but if there aren’t many and they aren’t in agreement it becomes difficult to make solid evidence-based recommendations. Also, it can be easy to cherry pick single studies to support nearly any position and proclaim your stance to be “evidence-based”. Without attending naturopath school, I can’t say how credible the evidence-base they’re drawing on is with certainty. However, based on what I see on the websites, social media feeds, and have heard from many people who’ve seen naturopaths, I think it’s wise to question the quality of the nutrition education they’re receiving.

I also question the statement about collaborating with RDs. I’m sure that someone will tell me I’m wrong in the comments but in my experience, I have never heard of a naturopath referring a client to a dietitian. Considering their 155 hours of nutrition education and their alleged nutritional knowledge I’m not sure why they would see a benefit to referring a client on to one of us.

Now, I’ll be the first to tell you that the plural of anecdote is not evidence and I’m sure that seeking responses from twitter is likely to have skewed toward my own bias, but I was curious what sort of nutrition advice people are receiving from naturopaths. I received a number of responses ranging from negative to positive. I assured everyone anonymity so names have been changed – thank you to everyone who was willing to share their experience(s) with me. Here you have it:

The good:

Emma told me that they started seeing a naturopath to improve her diet, energy, and overall health. She found the naturopath to be very down-to-earth with realistic expectations and advice in-line with current research. She said, “She’s always been incredibly supportive; always learning; always approaching everybody as an individual and very willing to make adjustments depending upon someone’s reactions to process.” This naturopath also provided affordable recipes and shopping plans.

Ava went to a naturopath for IBS and was told to try a FODMAP elimination diet.

The bad:

Emma’s naturopath promoted organic products as best and advised her to avoid GMOs.

Ava was also told to eliminate gluten (despite having expressed no issue with gluten and not having celiac disease). She was also not provided with sufficient support to feel like she could adhere to the low-FODMAP diet and quickly abandoned it.

Liam was diagnosed with hypercholesterolemia and prescribed medication by his doctor. He didn’t tolerate it well so he went to a naturopath who sold him a special drink and put him on an alkaline diet.

Sophia went to a naturopath to help her control her severe asthma. The naturopath advised her to eliminate gluten and follow a vegan diet with the explanation that, animal products increase inflammation in the body and were worsening her asthma. As she had previously eliminated gluten and experienced no benefit she followed a vegan diet for about 6 months. She experienced no decrease in symptoms during this time so she reintroduced animal products to her diet.

The ugly:

Liver cleanse supplements were part of the plan provided by Emma’s naturopath.

Olivia went to see a naturopath and was told to cut out dairy, given a stack of photocopied book chapters and opinion pieces, and $800 worth of liver detox tablets, supplements, and powders. To be fair, this was pre-Internet times so photocopies were not so odd, and the profession may have grown since then. But, that also makes the cost of supplements even more exorbitant than it sounds today.

Isabella told me, “I got “nutrition advice” from a naturopath. I walked in, he fat-shamed me, and gave me a whole sheaf of paper basically outlining how I already eat.”

Mia was advised to consume raw milk, and to give the same to her three year old child.

Amelia has both celiac disease and multiple sclerosis. Despite following a gluten-free and dairy-free diet, taking recommended supplements and medications, she still experienced digestive issues. She went to see a naturopath who advised her to get IgG allergy testing. Due to the nature of this not recommended form of allergy testing the naturopath told her she could no longer consume the foods that she was consuming the most of leaving her with very little that she could still eat.

Harper went to see a naturopath after being diagnosed with breast cancer. After spending over $15, 000 on a “natural” treatment overseas she ended up having a double mastectomy but sadly died within a year.

If this is the sort of nutrition advice that naturopaths are providing I’d rather have Nutrition Month remain the echo chamber of dietitians promoting truly evidence-based nutrition recommendations.

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Author: Diana

I'm a registered dietitian from Nova Scotia, living and working in Ontario, Canada. My goal is to help people relearn how to have a healthy relationship with food.

5 thoughts on “Naturopaths are jumping onboard #NutritionMonth and this boat ain’t big enough for all of us

  1. From what I‘ve experienced and what I’ve heard from others it really is that bad. Basically everyone I know that went to a naturopath came back with the diagnosis of a gluten sensitivity … many were told to eliminate dairy. Now I don’t know how much nutrition education a German naturopath gets (I would guess far less than 155h) but it is just so frustrating because people rather go to a naturopath because they can tread „the whole person“ rather than going to a dietitian because the „just treat the diet“ and probably because we show them what they are doing wrong. When being told a food item is the problem they can just blame something else instead of having to realize that in many cases it is their relation to food that needs work (in cases of weight loss which where the most frequent problems they went to seek help for).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for sharing. In Canada another reason many people choose a naturopath over a dietitian is that many health plans cover naturopathic services but not dietitian services. It’s a bit of a mess.

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  2. My story kind of fits what you are asking. I didn’t see a naturopath for help with my diet – but that didn’t stop me from getting advise from a natural healer – who I later learned was educated by the MLM companies she worked for then later refined her knowledge through online naturopathic and nutrition courses. (So not a naturopath and likely why she calls herself a natural healer – but that doesn’t stop her from diagnosing and treating people.)

    The natural healer is my sister’s friend and they were discussing her daughter’s allergies. My sister mentioned I have had environmental and animal allergies my whole life (no food allergies) and was going through a course of allergy shots for treatment along with medication to help control symptoms during peek allergy season.

    After that conversation, my sister called me because it was important to tell me what her natural healer friend suggested I do to cure my allergies (yes CURE not treat – how exciting!) The first concern was that I was poisoning my body with the allergy shots and pills because in her natural healer friend’s opinion they are unnatural and often more harmful than helpful. These chemicals build up in the body and make things worse and could ultimately be the source of my allergies instead of the animals and grasses that I am allergic too.

    The best thing I could do would be stop the pills and shots then detox to get rid of the harmful chemicals and reset my body (I could buy a kit at the naturopathic store in town). Then I needed to cut all dairy and gluten from my diet and follow a strict clean eating diet that focused on vegetables had low consumption of meat, carbs and sugar. This diet would ensure that my allergies did not return, if they did I should detox again and closely monitor my diet to make sure I was strictly eating clean. (insert eye roll here – cause if I didn’t get better then it was my fault for not eating clean)

    I was appalled that this so called natural healer would diagnose me without ever meeting me and was willing to offer a cure to all my ills via proxy and never even offer to follow up on her treatment plan. And I was horrified that someone would be so reckless as to suggest dropping a prescribed course of treatment from a doctor and swap it for a detox and clean dairy free / gluten free diet.

    I had to reassure my sister that I was working with my GP and Allergist – who are professionals and spent many years studying and practicing medicine after getting educated at university – and that my treatment plan is safe and working well for me.

    I also convinced her that her healer friend was not only untrained but very unprofessional and as a result she could not be trusted to know what would be best for me – and likely anyone else.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow! That is really horrifying. I think a big problem with self-proclaimed experts is that they don’t have the accountability or scope of practice that we regulated health professionals have. So they’re more than happy to diagnose and provide a cure.

      That’s really great that you were able to help your sister see the light though. All too often situations like this can put a huge strain on relationships.

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      • It wasn’t easy with my sister and it took some time. She resented me for a while, due to loyalty to her friendship. But she did come around and saw that what her friend was doing isn’t good.

        Liked by 1 person

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