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What Is Naturopathic Medicine And How Can A Naturopathic Doctor Support Dementia?

Written by: Dr. Romi Fung, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

 

I was on track to medical school during high school and my freshmen year of college when the realization hit me.

Young woman doctor holding hand of senior grandmother patient

I have always wanted to become a doctor and be the one to cure Alzheimer’s disease. I dreamt of a career in researching and treating patients living with dementia with the most innovative of treatments and pharmaceutical interventions. Despite seeing the grim successes in current clinical trials for Alzheimer’s disease, I had never thought an important factor of cognition would be learned from my experiences going through my journey in mental health.


About 20 years ago, I was a teenager just entering high school. As eager as I wanted to experience high school life, I suffered from debilitating depression and anxiety from my challenges of getting along with my peers and family. Eventually, I could not function and had to withdraw from eighth grade and be sent for therapy. I have had suicidal ideations but had no plan of harming myself; there were considerations of having me monitored at the hospital, but fortunately, that never happened.


I recall being medicated with at least three different Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs), a common type of antidepressant: Fluoxetine (Prozac), Sertraline (Zoloft), and Escitalopram (Cipralex). Each one gave me a different set of side effects, including digestive upsets and apathy. The medications only helped manage my mood but did not make me thrive.


While on medication, I attempted to transfer schools to see if a new environment would help. After four different transfers (three high schools within the city I lived in, and one where I decided to move in with my aunt in the neighbouring province), I had concluded that high school might not be where I belonged.


I have worked with several counsellors. However, it wasn’t until my most recent counsellor, who had a different approach to working with my health, that expanded my understanding of cognitive health. She worked with me on my nutritional intake and diet. She taught me that the brain requires nutrients to make the happy hormones. She also taught me the importance of sleep and exercise on the brain and how it impacted my mood. Having worked with her for some time, I was able to muster the strength to restart high school at the age of 18.


I have become more grounded, and happier, my thoughts were clearer. I have not had to take any medication upon graduating from high school.


Why hasn’t anyone told me that what I eat, what I do, how I sleep, and how I move can affect the brain? Would this also be the same for other brain conditions like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, where the only approved treatment is Donepezil (Aricept)?


My exploration of how I can support an individual’s brain through diet and lifestyle brought me to become a naturopathic doctor, and I have not turned back on my decision.


So, what exactly is Naturopathic Medicine, and what is a ‘Naturopathic Doctor?’


Naturopathic Medicine is a kind of medicine that combines the wisdom of nature with the rigours of conventional medical sciences. Naturopathic medicine utilizes traditional and natural forms of medicine, including nutrition, herbs, and acupuncture, and focuses on the impact of lifestyle on one’s health.


Naturopathic doctors are primary health care providers who integrate standard medical diagnostics focused on understanding the root cause of disease. Naturopathic doctors provide individualized treatment, including clinical nutrition and supplementation, and lifestyle counselling that addresses the individual’s physical, mental and emotional health.


My training as a naturopathic doctor equipped me to think more about cognitive and brain health. Through my education, I have learned to focus not only on WHAT the beta-amyloid plaque is, the principal factor in the development of Alzheimer’s disease, but WHY beta-amyloid plaque is made. This approach makes me believe naturopathic doctors are very well equipped to support brain health and those living with dementia.


Naturopathic doctors explore links that could contribute to the development of beta-amyloid plaque. There are many contributing factors a naturopathic doctor will have to explore, including:

  • Hypoxia, or the lack of oxygen: Hypoxia increases the expression of genes (known as epigenetics, where the individual’s choices and environment depict what genes get turned on/off) that promote the production of amyloid plaque (Lall et al., 2019). Knowing this, naturopathic doctors will consider all avenues that could lead to affected delivery of oxygen to the brain, such as respiratory disease, including bronchitis and asthma, anemia, sleep apnea, stroke or transient ischemic attacks, physical inactivity, and congestive heart failure.

  • Lack of nutrients, including magnesium, vitamin D, DHA Omega-3 and choline that, all have functions in building neurons and synaptogenesis (creation of brain connections)

  • Chronic inflammation, which could also be from chronic lack of nutrients, that would impact the environment of the brain. There is speculation that amyloid plaque is an antimicrobial peptide that acts against bacteria and viruses (Fulop et al., 2018), and chronic infection could contribute to chronic inflammation. Some of the sources of infection can come from oral health and the external environment, such as mould infection.

  • And many more that I hope to share in future articles!

A naturopathic doctor can, therefore, support and optimize brain health by exploring all the different avenues that could impact the brain and cognitive health. A comprehensive consultation with a naturopathic doctor involves exploring all these factors and even looking into the foundations of health: sleep, diet, lifestyle, family history, medical history, and stress management.


Why would it be that we’re seeing a rise in the prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease? That has to do with our changes in environments and lifestyles. Our adaptations to the changing built environment, including work cultures, food processing, and agriculture, amongst others, are harming our cognitive health and depriving us of optimizing our health. Naturopathic doctors explore these avenues and coach their patients in finding realistic changes in habits that could optimize one’s lifestyles.


Naturopathic doctors can also request lab work, as primary health care practitioners and medical physicians do. It is said that biochemical factors can start to be seen as early as a decade before clinical symptoms arise with cognitive decline. Imbalances in blood sugar, insulin, ferritin/iron, magnesium, vitamin D, vitamin B12 and many others could be identified early on and dealt with.


Ultimately, naturopathic doctors are trained to optimize health. Most diseases today are from a chronic etiology, and chronic conditions arise from what we do on a daily basis. Deficiencies that remain chronic for decades translate to chronic conditions, including dementia. We simply cannot medicate poor sleep, poor diet and poor lifestyle. And that’s where naturopathic doctors come in!


Follow me on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and visit my website for more info!


 

Dr. Romi Fung, ND, M.Sc, Ph.D (cand.), Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Dr. Romi Fung is a naturopathic physician practicing in Richmond, BC, Canada with a special focus in dementia and cognitive health. Dr. Fung works with patients living with cognitive decline and dementia by augmenting their brain's environment. He believes there is more to dementia than just working primarily with the brain; several metabolic and biochemical factors affecting our brain emerge from the body. Dr. Fung takes a comprehensive approach in working with his patients, from screening for inflammation, insulin resistance, and imbalanced hormones – all of which contribute significantly to our brain health, to interventions, including lifestyle coaching and clinical nutrition.

 

References:


  • Fulop, T., Witkowski, J. M., Bourgade, K., Khalil, A., Zerif, E., Larbi, A., Hirokawa, K., Pawelec, G., Bocti, C., Lacombe, G., Dupuis, G., & Frost, E. H. (2018). Can an Infection Hypothesis Explain the Beta Amyloid Hypothesis of Alzheimer's Disease?. Frontiers in aging neuroscience, 10, 224. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnagi.2018.00224

  • Lall, R., Mohammed, R., & Ojha, U. (2019). What are the links between hypoxia and Alzheimer's disease?. Neuropsychiatric disease and treatment, 15, 1343–1354. https://doi.org/10.2147/NDT.S203103

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