We get it. Supplements can be confusing and some of us question how well they really work at times. In a day and age where we can get our hands on strong medications pretty much any time we want, the gentle, pervasive power of supplementation and lifestyle changes can simply feel like it takes too long to be of any real use.
Then there’s the other piece of the puzzle. Many healthcare providers discourage patients from using supplements; either because they’re afraid of patients harming themselves, or because they think they’re a crock of…you know what.
So, we took some of our questions about this divisive area of health and wellness to Dr. Emily Moore. Dr. Moore is a naturopathic physician and Bastyr alumna who holds the position of resident Doctor of Naturopathy at the Goshen Center for Cancer Care in Indiana. She has nearly two decades of experience providing excellent, wholistic care to her patients, and we’re so thankful she took time the time to answer our questions. *
Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, we were unable to meet with Dr. Moore in person or via video chat as her schedule is very busy. The following interview was conducted via email.
WS: Hello Dr. Moore and thank you so much for taking the time to answer our questions! First off, what’s the difference between a Naturopath and a Naturopathic Doctor? We’d like to make sure and clarify the differences between the two.
Dr. M.: “A Naturopathic Doctor (ND) has attended an accredited, four-year, in-person naturopathic medical school where they study anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, pathology, and pharmacology in addition to naturopathic coursework and clinical care. Naturopathic doctors are eligible for a license in many states, which allows them to practice as a primary care doctor. They can order diagnostic tests and prescribe medications when necessary.
“A naturopath is unlicensed and can have variable levels of education, most often online or correspondence courses. These practitioners may study topics such as iridology or herbology, but do not have a medical education. In a state that licenses NDs, these practitioners would not be able to call themselves a doctor because they are not eligible for a license to practice medicine.
“You may not know if you are consulting with an ND or a naturopath, because often these titles are used interchangeably, especially if you live in a state that does not license NDs to practice medicine. Naturopaths are often found working out of health food stores or chiropractor’s offices. They may use computer programs that use sensors to touch the skin and print out a report of supplements to take. They may muscle test to determine what supplements to recommend. A naturopathic doctor (ND) will more often assess your needs through a thorough medical intake including your health history, current medications or supplements, and may order medical tests as relevant. While both professions may have a place in your journey, remember that a naturopath may not understand medical conditions, drug-herb interactions, or use proper assessment to make such recommendations.”
WS: Now we know that Naturopathic Physicians are the supplement experts, but do they really use them? How often do you use supplements in your work and are there any supplements that you recommend everyone should take?
Dr. M.: “I recommend supplements for most patients. However, NDs work from the foundations of health. This means that we prefer to start with the least invasive intervention (diet, lifestyle, exercise, sleep quality, stress management), before working our way to other interventions (supplements, herbs, acupuncture, prescriptions). Any time I recommend a supplement, it is individualized to the patient in front of me. I cannot say that there is one single supplement that would be good for everyone. A lot can be accomplished with lifestyle, and patients can often feel better with fewer supplements if they are willing to put in the time and energy to work on those basics.”
WS: When choosing supplement brands, what do you look for? Do certain criteria make some brands better than others?
Dr. M.: “Third party testing. I don’t like to see companies that only do internal testing (meaning they test their own products). The best supplement companies hire an outside company to test their raw materials but also the finished products. They should be able to show that the final product is not contaminated (bacterial elements or heavy metals), and that the contents and dose listed on the label is actually accurate. If a company cannot provide these assays, I would be suspicious.”
(We would like to take this moment to point out that Wholesome Story has been third-party testing since the very beginning. Kudos to us and everyone else who has their products third-party tested!)
WS: Are there any supplement brands you recommend people not buy? We don’t want to point fingers at other companies, but we do want to keep our clients informed and safe.
Dr. M.: “I generally steer people away from multi-level marketing type companies. I worry about the ambassadors or those selling these having very little medical knowledge making recommendations for supplements. When someone is financially benefiting from the sale of a supplement, that is a red flag for me.”
WS: Next question is one that many of us have had. Why does it feel like my doctor doesn’t know very much about supplements, or even that they disapprove of them?
Dr. M.: “Medical doctors don’t have very much formal training in supplement efficacy or use, and very little nutrition curriculum either. I think part of their concern is that these supplements may interfere with any prescription medications you are taking, or that they may cause more harm than good, or that they simply may not provide any benefit and are a waste of time and money. All three of these scenarios are real possibilities, which is why it’s important to seek the advice of a naturopathic doctor when making supplement decisions.”
WS: It’s so good to know to know that NDs are the supplement experts and that they are the ones to consult with questions about supplements. But, let’s say I am not able to see a Naturopathic Doctor, who should I go to with my supplement questions?
Dr. M.: “These days, many NDs across the country have Telehealth practices, so access to care might be improving. You can consult www.naturopathic.org for more information on naturopathic medicine and to find a licensed naturopathic doctor near you. If you absolutely do not have access, you should start with your family doctor, and possibly a pharmacist. If you are taking prescription medications, a pharmacist may be able to answer questions about drug-herb interactions.”
WS: Here is a scenario we see frequently in our product review comments. What should I do if I feel like a supplement is doing what I want, but’s it’s also causing unwanted side effects?
Dr. M.: “Stop it immediately and consult a doctor.”
WS: To many people, supplements seem a little superfluous. Isn’t a healthy lifestyle with good food and lots of exercise enough to make my body function at its best?
Dr. M.: “Yes, the foundations of diet and exercise are absolutely adequate to support optimal health. But when all the foundations are in line, and you still do not feel your best, then it is time to investigate. This is really the specialty of a naturopathic doctor. Sometimes even an exam and basic lab work all come back normal. Then an ND will start digging into other areas – how the nervous system is functioning, what is the stress tolerance of the body, what is the quality of sleep, what external factors are depleting you, what else might be going on with hormones or underlying conditions.”
So, there you have it. Supplements can be an effective, important part of your healthcare plan. Now, thanks to Dr. Moore, you have some tools to better evaluate products and to find help in managing your health with lifestyle choices and supplements (as appropriate). Once again, we’d like to thank Dr. Moore for answering our questions and teaching us some new things about the world of natural healthcare and supplements.
*Disclaimer: The contents of this article are not intended to diagnose, treat, or provide medical advice. Please consult your doctor or other healthcare provider with specific questions pertaining to your health.
In parting, remember that eating healthy, whole foods, and lots of plants foods is one of the simplest, safest, and most effective things we can do to promote good health in our bodies. As with every preventative/restorative measure though, sometimes these changes alone are not enough to help our bodies function the way we want or need them to. If you are struggling with health problems, please contact your doctor or other healthcare provider such a Naturopathic Doctor, Dietitian, or Mental Health Professional to see if they can offer appropriate guidance and care. We at Wholesome Story believe that healthy communities require community effort, so we advise you to keep your healthcare community aware and involved in your journey as you pursue better health.
Let us know what you'd like to read about next time by clicking on the suggestions button below!