Treatment by naturopathic doctors may reduce cardiovascular risk, study shows

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Adding naturopathic care to enhanced usual care may reduce cardiovascular disease among those at high risk, suggests a study conducted by the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine (CCNM) in conjunction with Canada Post Corporation (CPC) and the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW).

Cardiovascular disease is the second leading cause of death in Canada. While lifestyle intervention is widely recognized as beneficial to its prevention, few individuals with, or at risk of cardiovascular disease receive intensive dietary and lifestyle counselling.

Regulated naturopathic doctors in North America are trained in and emphasize this form of self-directed care.

The results of the randomized controlled trial, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ), is the first to rigorously examine the effectiveness of diet, health promotion advice, and strategic use of natural health products as delivered by naturopathic doctors to patients at risk of cardiovascular disease.

The report demonstrates that naturopathic doctors may be an effective addition to health-care teams or to individuals struggling to make effective gains relating to cardiovascular health.

“The support, knowledge and expertise of a naturopathic doctor to create an individualized approach to health and wellness achieves real, positive dietary and lifestyle changes, ultimately saving lives, improving quality of life, and preventing harmful diseases from manifesting,” says Kieran Cooley, BSc., ND, associate director of research at CCNM.

This study was part of an innovative research and evaluation project on workplace health linking the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW), Canada Post Corporation (CPC), and the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine (CCNM). “It was an exciting partnership, creating a unique opportunity to work with a respected national employer and union, committed to examining what sort of impacts naturopathic medicine can have. The partnership helped create healthy employees and developed a work environment that fosters health,” adds Cooley.

Participants in the naturopathic group experienced a reduced 10-year cardiovascular risk profile and a lower frequency of metabolic syndrome compared to the control group who received only enhanced usual care.

Researchers screened 1125 workers at Canada Post across three sites -Toronto, Vancouver and Edmonton. Of those screened, 246 consenting participants aged 25-65 with highest relative risk of cardiovascular disease were randomized to the pragmatic clinical trial. Of the 246 active participants, 207 completed the year-long study. Participants in both groups received care from their family physicians; those in the naturopathic group also received health promotion counselling, nutritional medicine and/or dietary supplementation from regulated naturopathic doctors seven times during the year.

Primary outcomes included the prevalence of metabolic syndrome (a risk factor for heart disease) and the Framingham 10-year cardiovascular risk score, (used to estimate risk of heart disease).

For those who received naturopathic care, the 10-year cardiovascular risk as measured by the Framingham score decreased by 3.1 per cent—which translates into about three fewer people out of 100 with intermediate risk experiencing a serious cardiovascular event (e.g., heart attack, stroke or death) during the next 10 years.

Researchers also found the prevalence of metabolic syndrome was reduced by 17 per cent over a year as compared with the control group, implying that one in six individuals receiving naturopathic care benefit by not developing metabolic syndrome over the course of a year.

“I am delighted to have the results of this important study published in CMAJ,” says Bob Bernhardt, PhD, CCNM president and CEO.  “This study demonstrates that personal healthcare counselling, involving targeted dietary and lifestyle interventions as provided by naturopathic doctors, can be effective in reducing the risk of strokes and heart attacks. My hope is that this information will contribute to treatment changes that will leave fewer Canadians suffering from the loss associated with sudden cardiac events.”

About the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine

The Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine (CCNM) is Canada’s premier institute for education and research in naturopathic medicine. CCNM offers a rigorous four-year, full-time doctor of naturopathic medicine program. The College educates, develops and trains naturopathic doctors through excellence in health education, clinical services and research that integrate mind, body and spirit.

In Ontario, naturopathic doctors (NDs) are regulated health-care practitioners.  Currently, the profession is transitioning to new regulation within the Regulated Health Professions Act.  Visits to naturopathic doctors are typically half an hour or more in length, and involve standard medical diagnostic assessments as well as a range of therapies including lifestyle counselling, nutrition, botanical medicine, acupuncture/Asian medicine, homeopathic medicine, and hydrotherapy/massage.