The drive to unite conventional and complementary medicine

Written by Endeavour College of Natural Health | 10 July, 2020

Two out of three Australians see a natural health practitioner or use complementary medicine products. Even though natural medicine is an established part of health care for the majority of Australians, it is still not considered mainstream.

Here, two Endeavour academics discuss how natural and conventional medicine can work together and who will drive change in our healthcare system.

For Maria Kalliris, it’s an injustice that natural medicine is not offered before synthetics. She is a lecturer in Naturopathic & Nutritional Medicine at Endeavour and runs her practice, the Clinical Nutrition & Naturopathic Centre in the Sydney northern beaches suburb of Palm Beach. Maria has degrees in chemistry and health science, as well as a Master of Health Science (Herbal Medicine). She is completing a Master of Applied Science (Acupuncture) and beginning a Master in Neuroscience.

“My clients have often spent a lot of time in the system, seeing specialists who don’t look deeply enough into their problem,” Maria said. “They are frustrated, and they’re not getting value for money. Often, it’s something simple that we can fix through diet and a detailed analysis of their nutritional status. The medical profession simply doesn’t address nutritional biochemistry in the way that we do.”

“Some people also come to me to remove the medications that they are prescribed. Of course, I refer them back to the original prescriber for a review. I ask that the person is reassessed by a specialist in their field of disease,” Maria said. “Some people need to be on these medications, but these prescriptions need to be monitored and reviewed. Many should only be prescribed in the short-term and not to the extent that I’m seeing. There are many things we can do to treat the body, starting with the original medicine – nutrition. “I don’t want people taking oral medications when they don’t need to. I also don’t want them coming back, again and again, to see me when we are here to educate them so they can manage their own health well.”

Naturopath Fin MacKenzie agrees. Fin lectures at Endeavour and runs her business, Green Door Health on Sydney’s northern beaches. She has a health science degree and is completing a post-graduate in medicines management.

“Doctors receive very limited training in nutrition. With our knowledge, we can reduce the burden on our healthcare system and help people look after their health. Of course, if someone comes to me with a serious medical issue or emergency, I refer them immediately to a doctor. But often people want help with a chronic health condition, where a GP can only offer symptom relief.”

“Many people come to see me after failing to get to the root of their health problem with their doctor. “I understand there’s a lot of pressure on GPs, especially with 10-minute consultations, but I think the main difference is that we approach health differently. Doctors are looking for symptoms of disease. Natural health practitioners are looking at the whole person, not just their symptoms. We are focused on preventative, holistic health and the root cause of illness. People come to us because they are looking for an alternative to conventional medicine.”

Fin was appalled when the Australian Government removed naturopathy and 21 other natural therapies from healthcare rebates in April 2018. It is a decision that’s currently under review. “The government changes made it more difficult for people to access natural therapies, but more importantly it undermined the legitimacy of our profession,” Fin explained. “We are highly qualified health professionals with appropriate insurance, and many people use our services, even if the powers that be do not acknowledge this. Conventional medicine doesn’t have all the answers. Neither do we, which is why we need to work together.”

“Some doctors are open to working with natural health therapists, others are not,” Fin said. “Some of my clients’ GPs get really offended that they’ve consulted a naturopath. Doctors can be very dismissive of our profession. Yet, there is so much that we can do to complement conventional medication, and the evidence exists to support this. Take the research that’s found magnesium, zinc and Omega 3 fatty acids can help antidepressants to work better, for example.”

Maria believes that people still don’t know enough about natural medicine, due in part to the medical profession’s quest to control the system. “We have seen some big breakthroughs that apply simple treatments, like the studies of Vitamin B6 reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease,” she said. “Why is the medical profession not telling their patients about this? It’s evidence-based. Rather than treating one another as the enemy – we need to unite and use the available science.”

“We need people of significance in power – scientists who are prepared to push for change that will benefit all of us – patients, doctors and natural health practitioners. We need to improve guidance for all health practitioners so we can work together confidently. I am willing to work alongside any professional for the benefit of my patients because I know there is no one model to medicine,” Maria said.

Fin would also like to see more communication, education and mutual respect between conventional and complementary medicine. “Working together, we can achieve better health outcomes for our patients. But I think this will be driven by the community pushing for change, rather than from the top.”

Endeavour College of Natural Health

Endeavour College of Natural Health is Australia's largest Higher Education provider of natural medicine courses.

The College is known as the centre of excellence for natural medicine and is respected for its internationally recognised academic teams and high calibre graduates. Endeavour offers Bachelor of Health Science degrees in Naturopathy, Nutritional and Dietetic Medicine, Acupuncture Therapies and Chinese Medicine, Undergraduate Certificates, a Diploma of Health Science and massage courses.

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