Diary of a Diabetic Chef: Why I went to a naturopath

I'm not opposed to seeing conventional medical practitioners, and they certainly play a role in the upkeep of my health.

diaryJPG.JPGView full sizeKen Gordon, owner of Kenny and Zuke’s Deli, was diagnosed with diabetes early this year. He will keep a diary of his efforts to help treat his condition with diet and exercise.

As impressive as the turnaround in my health has been — a loss of about 40 pounds in six months, a huge drop in cholesterol, blood pressure and triglyceride levels and the complete reversal of my diabetes — I think the fundamental key to my success was my decision to seek treatment through a naturopathic doctor.

I’m not opposed to seeing conventional medical practitioners, and they certainly play a role in the upkeep of my health. But I now believe in the care and guidance offered by naturopaths — and perhaps some other “alternative” health care practitioners as well — as the first line of defense in the prevention and treatment of physical ailments, with conventional doctors coming into play in more dire circumstances when naturopaths have no immediate answers to emergencies or more pressing physical needs.

Why this change in perspective? In part, it’s because of what a naturopath does, and how that’s different from most conventional doctors.

A lot of the difference is philosophical. Imagine your body as a house with a leaky roof, I once read. Conventional medicine might see the water as a symptom, and the leaky roof as a disease. It would measure the water, test it and try to find a chemical that would absorb it. And maybe patch the roof.

Naturopathy would see the water as a clue to other problems and try to trace the leak to its source and fundamental cause. It would repair the roof, but also try to determine what led to the leak. And how to prevent it from recurring. And look for other leaks as well.

This is, of course, an oversimplification. But I believe it’s representative of the basic approaches. Conventional doctors treat the symptoms and try to cure the disease that caused the symptoms.

Naturopaths may treat the symptoms, but they view them as indications of an underlying metabolic problem. They look at it from a holistic perspective, and try to prevent other problems that may share the same root causes.

Naturopaths look at diet, levels of physical exercise and stress, exposure to sunlight, fresh air and water, a healthy mind and emotional state, and environmental toxicities, among others, no matter what your symptoms might be.

How many times have you gone to a doctor for, say, a strep test, and had them ask you what you’re eating or how much exercise you’re getting or what might be causing stress in your life? I get asked these questions every time I see my naturopath.

Increasingly, doctors and health insurers are seeing nutrition, exercise, environmental factors and stress as important for disease prevention. And prevention is starting to get the attention it deserves as more doctors and health organizations are dealing with the problems associated with childhood obesity, diets laden with processed foods, and the deleterious effects of an increasingly sedentary lifestyle. This is all good.

Still, it seems to me the chief role of a doctor is to treat the disease, as represented by specific symptoms.

When I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, the disease was almost incidental to what my naturopath (Dr. Martin Milner) talked about. Certainly, we looked at my blood glucose and insulin levels. But we also looked at cholesterol, triglycerides, my heart, weight, blood clotting speed, levels of all the important vitamins, exercise patterns, stress levels, diet, skin condition and just about every aspect of my physical well-being.

We discussed whether drugs might be beneficial in the treatment of what ailed me — Milner can prescribe pharmaceuticals and has the ethical responsibility to offer them as a possible course of treatment — and I made an informed decision that I would prefer not using any. We talked about a plan, but this was not really geared toward fixing my diabetes as much as toward getting my body fit and healthy.

The assumption was that if we could do that, the diabetes would take care of itself. Boy, did it!

I don’t know if the naturopathic way is for everyone. Some have concerns, such as, “This is serious and I don’t want to take a chance on something new.” Or, “my doctor has taken care of me every time I see him for something; how can I trust this new guy?”

And certainly, there are many times when conventional medicine can — and should — provide the answers. If I needed an appendectomy, that’s where I’d go. Or needed my broken wrist set. Or antibiotics for an infection. My son needed his finger stitched up the other day and the emergency room folks took great care of him. There are plenty of other circumstances where conventional doctors work wonders. And, I hope, it will become increasingly more likely that conventional doctors will consider nontraditional courses of treatment.

But I also think just about everyone could benefit from seeing a naturopath. They’re not just about fixing the body when it’s sick, but also about helping that body avoid sickness. Not just making the body get better, but helping it feel better.

My experience is that conventional medicine tends to be geared toward treating pathology, and for the most part does this well. Alternative medicine is geared toward getting you into the optimal physical zone, where pathology has difficulty gaining a foothold.

Any questions about Ken’s regimen or, well, anything? Email him at kgnyport@aol.com; you can also find him at facebook.com/chefkengordon or on Twitter; search for chef Ken Gordon